When I was at university, I entered a presentation competition with a hard cash prize. Only 5 people entered so I felt I had a fighting chance. I looked through the list of topics from the other contenders and knew I would win the prize – because my topic was the most interesting. I spent hours preparing – time that should have been spent on coursework.
We each did our presentations, and the judges went off to discuss the winners. The judges came back, and announced the winner. I did not win. I didn’t even get runner up. The prize went to someone with what I thought was a far less interesting topic. I went away in a sulk feeling hurt and unfairly judged.
In actual fact, I was fairly judged. The winning presentation was far bettezr. It was exciting, interesting, inspiring, but I didn’t understand why. What was wrong with my presentation? How do we move from the mundane into the extraordinary? What makes a successful presentation? Here are 4 steps to successful presentations:
What are you actually trying to achieve with your presentation? To talk over some PowerPoint slides for 2 hours? Probably not, but that seems to be the purpose of most presentations I’ve seen. Know your purpose, and make it something that your audience actually wants or needs – to learn, be inspired, be encouraged, to understand.
Once you know and fully understand what you actually want to achieve, you will be better equipped to fulfill it. Your focus will no longer be to prepare a presentation, but will move to the results that you want from the presentation. Once you know your goal, stick to it! With each new idea you introduce, each new word, each new slide, ask yourself “will this get me closer to my goal, or take me further away”. You might be surprised.
You have to be the expert in the room. Why? Because you are there to add value to your audience. If your audience knows more than you do about your own presentation topic, how can you teach them? If your audience is already more motivated than you are, how can you inspire them?
That doesn’t mean you need to know the most though. For example, you may just have some new ideas to bring to a subject. In this case, you need to be the expert your new ideas. Until you are confident that you are, keep learning.
Now there might be one or two people in the room that know more than you – this can’t always be helped. Respect their time. Show that you have done your research. Show that you have done as much as you can to add value to them.
Delivery – some people will argue that delivery is more important than the content – this is a lie. If you went to a restaurant and the service was incredible, but instead of serving the dish you were expecting, you received a immaculately presented pile of horse manure, would you eat your meal? Of course not! The content represents the purpose of the presentation, and is thus the most important aspect. What about if you went to a restaurant, ordered a dish, the waiter brings it out and it’s exactly as ordered, but he slops it into your lap? Would you eat it then? Great content with a poor delivery is almost as bad as poor content with great delivery, but at least the presentation has a purpose. Get both right and you’ll have a powerful presentation. What does a great delivery look like?
- Confidence – if you don’t sound confident, how can you expect your audience to have confidence in what you’re saying?
- Energy. Dynamics in voice – monotony is a sin and is the fastest way to disengage your audience. refer to public speaking post
- Audience participation – got to be careful here. If the audience isn’t interested then you will just be embarrassed
That phrase that was drummed into us when we were growing up. Practice makes perfect. Practice makes perfect. Practice makes perfect. Our parents knew that in order to improve, we have to practice. So why do so few people actually do it?
Try running through your next presentation from start to finish, preferably recording yourself or getting someone you trust to watch and give you feedback. At first it feels ridiculous to be giving a presentation to a wall, but it will pay off.
Yes of course its hard work. Yes of course everything else appears to be more important. However, without practice, you will never move from the mundane to the extraordinary. And the more experienced you get, the less practice you will need for each presentation.