Delivering a Successful Presentation: How to prepare for a presentation that will educate, inform & engage by Jessica Hodges
White-knuckled and gripping onto the lectern, I remember one of my 1st speech presentation classes in college. Although I had performed as both a musician and an actor, this presentation was a bit different: all I had was a piece of paper, my personality and what little courage I could muster up to maintain the interest of 40-odd freshmen at 9:00 a.m. in the morning. I’d always considered myself fairly well-spoken and confident, but my merciless professor eagerly pointed out every ‘uhh’, ‘umm’ and ‘like’ during my presentation to the point where I was ready to call it a day & high-tail it out of the lecture hall.
Looking back on that moment, I realize that a lot of the success or failure of your presentation-giving abilities has to do with self-confidence, which is often a characteristic you can build only through time and life experiences. When working within a business capacity, whether in a corporate environment or a non-profit setting, speaking in front of a group can often be a daunting task that many adults dread. Nevertheless, it’s a known fact that presentations are indeed a valuable marketing technique, allowing companies to actively promote and pitch their products in an immeasurably effective and dynamic way. What other opportunity do you have to make such a personalized or targeted impression on a potential client or customer?
Despite our knowledge of the role presentations play within our business relationships, many professionals are still uncertain as to their approach or methods of preparation. There are certainly tools, tips and techniques you can use to deliver a memorable and effective presentation, allowing you to channel your nervous energy into a thought-provoking lecture – the key is knowing how to utilize them to your maximum advantage. Use equipment such as PowerPoint and overhead projectors along with a well-written outline and the right mindset, and you’ll be making a winning speech in no time. Here are a few tips to get you started:
The best contacts and resources to help you get it done
Customize Your Outline:
Getting organized seems like a logical first step when preparing for any speech or presentation. However, how you go about outlining your presentation will make all the difference in the world with regards to the final result. While PowerPoint and other software programs may make the process easier, don’t rely solely upon them to lay out your groundwork. Instead, take the old-fashioned approach – believe it or not, you’ll want to use note cards to prepare your outline, with a beginning (intro to your topic) a middle (or body – going into more detail) and an end (summarizing key concepts). Once you’ve created a draft, you can then update your notes to PowerPoint, bulleting key ideas. This visual aid is simply used to reinforce & highlight general concepts. Keep wordage and imagery simple & use it as a guideline, not a substitute for clear dialogue and a thoughtfully-worded verbal presentation. When you’ve completed your presentation, reiterate crucial points with examples.
First, write out your summary on index cards or paper as a 1st draft. This allows ease of editing, as you can re-arrange your thoughts & ideas in the most conducive order; your presentation will be more effective as a result.
Use Visual Aids – Sparingly
Everyone knows the value of an image – it’s human nature to gravitate towards pictures, photos or anything with color or visual appeal. On the other hand, bombard a viewer with too many images, graphics or charts, and you can quickly lose their interest and dilute your point in the process. Instead, choose a few concise clips that will reinforce your message and maintain the interest of your audience. Placement is also important, too – opt for a few targeted images in the beginning, middle and end of your presentation, alternating with bullet points. Again, it’s important to remember that PowerPoint merely serves the purpose of outlining and supporting key concepts which will be delivered during the spoken portion of your presentation.
Check with your graphics team (or other knowledgeable source within your office) that you’re using copyrighted and licensed material in your clips & photos. Also, if you’re unfamiliar with PowerPoint, consult an expert in your office for assistance or (if it’s withing your budget), hire a freelance consultant to create a dynamite presentation. Mediabistro.com is a great source for freelance professionals in the graphics and design industry, and many freelance consultants offer reasonable hourly rates to suit your budget.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Just as you’d prepare for a musical or theatrical performance, practice makes perfect when gearing up for your next presentation. After you’ve gotten your written materials & props ready, read it aloud to a willing audience – friends, family, spouse, etc. – to develop confidence and receive valuable feedback.
Make a tape recording of yourself and play back, so you can listen & observe speech patterns (I often used the words “like’ and “umm” a lot, typical verbal offenders that we often overlook in everyday conversation). Go one step further and ask someone to make a video recording – you’ll not only hear but see what you look like, further enabling your ability to identify and prevent certain behaviors or motions (shuffling, wringing hands, other nervous habits, etc.) that may hinder an otherwise solid presentation.
Mentally preparing yourself for a meeting, although seemingly easy, is sometimes a ritual we overlook. The simple act of breathing properly, whether giving an interoffice speech or a seminar presentation, can re-center your thoughts and give you a better sense of clarity and focus. Although taking a yoga class may be out of the question, you can try this simple breathing exercise to calm jittery nerves and clear your mind of anxiety before giving your next presentation: 1. Sit down or lie down. 2. Inhale slowly and say to yourself, “I am…” 3. Exhale slowly and say to yourself, ” relaxed”.
It might sound trite, but getting a good night’s rest, drinking enough water (stay hydrated; avoid dairy products and excessive caffeine) and stretching beforehand are simple suggestions you can follow to ensure you’re feeling your best on the day of your presentation. Check out Care2.com for more healthy living tips and go to Selfhelp Magazine for additional info on the breathing exercise as outlined above.