In my job, I often have to make presentations both to internal teams and external clients. Despite the hard work I put into them, I feel that my presentations fall short – people seem bored and are unable to grasp the points I try to put across. Any tips?
– Presently Unpresentable
Dear Presently Unpresentable,
Presentations are tricky things indeed! It’s difficult to keep your audience engaged while making sure that your key messages are effectively communicated. Paul Dillon, a Baird’s CMC associate, is an expert presenter and trainer – here are some of his top tips:
Talk to your audience: Talk to your audience, not at them. It’s your job to keep them interested, so go beyond the dry facts and statistics. Tell a story to communicate a point. Use an anecdote to illustrate a trend. Crack a joke if the opportunity presents itself. Ask questions to generate a discussion if you have the time. Your aim should be to keep the audience engaged so they don’t start making mental to-do lists or answering emails on their smartphones!
Do your homework: There are few things more embarrassing for a presenter than not being able to answer questions from the audience. To avoid such a debacle, make sure you know your subject inside out. While preparing, pre-empt possible questions and think about how to answer them. If you don’t know how to answer a question, come clean. Say you’re not sure about the answer, put it in the “parking lot” and make sure to come back with an answer at the next meeting.
Use effective metaphors and visuals: Typically, a certain number of charts and diagrams are unavoidable in presentations. However, wherever possible, get creative. Come up with a metaphor to explain a situation. Use an unexpected visual to make a point. Your audience probably has to sit through dry, dull presentations on a daily basis – if you get their attention, they’ll remember your key messages.
Get creative: If you have the leeway, think outside the box. Play a game. Have a quiz. Throw in a song. There are plenty of online resources where you can find interesting tools that are relevant to most areas of work, from finance and pharma to politics and literature. A word of caution – use these tools sparingly; don’t force all the aids you can think of into one presentation. The idea is to entertain your audience with a view to getting your point across. Your message shouldn’t get lost in the razzle-dazzle!
Pay attention to the conclusion: Many presentations just peter out unimpressively or end unexpectedly with a “Thank you” slide popping up one screen. That’s not ideal. Think about what you want to leave your audience with. Try and reinforce the takeaway for your audience or come up with a thought-starter for the Q&A session to follow. Depending on your personal style and the context of the presentation, you can choose to end with a relevant story, a compelling visual or a great quote. Steve Jobs would often conclude his presentation with a final surprise: “And one more thing…”. (If you present regularly to the same audience, you could come up with a similar trademark presentation move – it makes you and your presentations more memorable .)