Handled properly, presentations present an excellent opportunity to portray yourself in a positive light and build your profile in your organisation. Here are five tips on how to make the most of your performance.
1. Realise the opportunity. Done well, a presentation is the closest thing you’ll get to a 20-minute advert for yourself. When you’re on stage, regardless of your actual role, people perceive you as a leader, and if the audience is big, delivering a presentation gives you the chance to reach parts of the organisation you might not normally get to address. Good speakers get noticed and promoted. Most people, however, are poor speakers, which means that if you make even a half decent job of it you’ll shine.
2. Be prepared. The key to a good presentation is preparation. Research your audience and tailor your message; think about what interests them. Rehearse your presentation in front of colleagues, family or a video camera; do not use a mirror. It is common for people not to rehearse at all. But you need to remember that great speakers spend hours practising in order to sound off the cuff and effortless. Rehearsing should also mean that you don’t need to read your presentation; this will improve the rapport with your audience.
3. Less is more. Many novice presenters try to cover dozens of points. Don’t. Audience members will only take a few points away, so you need to trim your presentation down to two or three important ideas. Try to tell stories and don’t be afraid to use a little theatre. Walking around the stage is fine, as is standing still, but whichever you do, your body language should be relaxed and the event should feel intimate, even if it’s big. Individuals should feel as if you’re addressing them individually, not as a vast, monolithic crowd.
4. Keep it simple. Slides or visual props, such as photos or graphs, can help. But complicated PowerPoint presentations and slides with reams of writing will kill your presentation dead. If you have eight hours to prepare, spend seven working on what you’re going to say and rehearsing it and one doing the PowerPoint, not the other way round.
5. Alter your tone, be positive. Think in terms of an arresting opening to draw people in, vary your energy levels to keep the audience interested and occasionally poke them verbally to keep their attention. Remember, you’re in control, so don’t be afraid to tell people what to do – they expect you to lead. Use positive language, vary your tone and emphasise key words and points. A big finish, with a build-up is good, too. Start your final stretch slowly, then as you near the finale, become more animated and raise your voice. Audience reaction is as much about delivery as content. It’s not a bad idea to restate your final point, after you’ve taken questions, either. People learn through repetition.
—Rhymer Rigby is author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work.