There are many books you should read if you want to become a truly great presenter, and you may want to follow some courses with a presentation specialist so you can practise in a friendly environment with honest impartial feedback from peers and professionals.
However, if you have an important presentation coming up, you might not have time to do all these important things between now and then. Fear not, for all is not lost. Here are three simple ways you can improve your next presentation.
BEFORE: Prepare properly. This does not just mean you create some slides, which is the usual preparation for most ineffective presentations. Preparing properly means you need to understand who is in the audience, why they are there, why you are there, what their expectations will be, and what your objectives are. Then you can think of creative ways to achieve your objectives and get your messages across – and please remember, bullet points and ‘walls of words’ are not good ways to communicate. Simple tip: prepare your talk on paper or sticky notes, and then if you need slides (yes, IF), then create them last. Slides are there to support your message – they are not the message, and they are not there to support the presenter. They are also not handouts (more on that later).
DURING: Engage the audience. Remember, it’s about communication, and that involves the audience at least as much as the speaker. It doesn’t matter what you say: it matters what the audience heard, understands, feels and remembers. If you want them to do all that, you will need to make a connection first of all. If you stand on stage and give your speech as if on the radio, or as if the room were empty, you will fall flat on your face. Bring the audience into your talk, make it about them, talk about their concerns and preoccupations, and make sure there is something in it for them. Make it their talk more than your talk.
AFTER: Remind them. Since speechmaking is a particularly inefficient form of communication, and people forget most of what they hear within a week (if not within a day), it is very important for you to follow up your presentation with suitable handouts. These can range from a one-page summary to a longer document depending on the length of your talk and how much you want people to remember. If you’ve used some great visual slides as ‘memory hooks’, then you should include those in your handouts, but don’t make the mistake of just sending your slides. Slides alone do not make good handouts. Try to send the handouts a few days after your presentation, so they jog people’s memory just at the point where they would start forgetting what you said.
If you can just integrate those three factors into your next presentation, you will be doing yourself – and your audience – a big favour.
(But don’t forget to book that course and read those books!)