We’ve all been there… you’re trying to listen to the speaker, but their presentation slides are so distracting that your mind wanders. You see people looking at their watches, wondering what’s for lunch, and perhaps slipping gently into a slide-induced coma.
It doesn’t need to be like this. You can use visual aids to bring your message to life and to help you connect with your audience. All it takes it a little preparation and seven simple steps:
Step one: Create a persona for your audience
Think about the reason you’re being asked to present, the size of the audience and what they may already know about the topic. Nothing induces boredom more than explaining something that someone already knows, or causes more confusion than assuming they know all the acronyms and jargon that you’re using. The most useful approach is to build a ‘persona’ to help you think about people in the audience, or more than one if it’s a diverse group. Give your persona a name and think about what they’re like, why they’re here, their hopes and fears and how you might solve their problem.
Step two: Develop your idea – but stick to just one message
Your presentation should have one message. It could be to solve their problem by buying your product, investing in your project or changing a policy. In the seven habits of highly effective people, Stephen Covey says ‘begin with the end in mind’ – this is especially true when it comes to presentations. If you’re not sure what the audience should think, feel and believe by the end of your presentation, then grab a few PostIt notes and start doodling. I tend to find that the first ideas are rarely the best, but with a few iterations you can come up with something much more compelling. You can turn ‘buy my market research service’ into ‘hear how XYZ improved results by delighting their customers’. Remember to focus on the benefit to the audience.
Step three: Plan your presentation – by stepping away from your computer
Step away from the keyboard…. If you really want your talk to have an impact this is where the magic happens. Pick up your PostIt notes, plan out the key points, then add a story or anecdote for each. Rather than saying that your taxi company has more drivers than anyone else, share a story of how a client had been able to get to the airport after a last-minute flight change. Although most business presentations need to contain facts and figures, it’s the stories and emotional connection that we remember.
Think about how you’re going to share facts and figures. If you’re showing a trend or comparison, then a well-constructed line graph or bar chart may be all that’s required to make your point. But, always ask ‘will this chart make it easier for THIS audience to understand THIS message?’. If not, try something different. If you do need to provide the detailed data, then make it available through a handout or a follow-up email.
Step four: Choose your visual aids carefully
Look for images that support your points and stories. You can find plenty of free-to-use photos by searching online for “Creative Commons”, there are also low-cost photo libraries. Or use your own photos. Photos, quotes and video from your current customers can help, however, avoid using a video at the start of your presentation. I’ve been to many conferences where a speaker has opened with a generic corporate video, and no matter how interesting the topic, the audience had switched off before the speaker even started. If you are presenting at an event, make sure that your first and last slides have your name and contact details, and the event hashtag if there is one.
You may be required to use a corporate template, and whilst that can seem restrictive it’s also an opportunity to get creative. Ensure that the images that you use are consistent with the corporate style and colour scheme, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that every slide needs to contain your logo. If you’re 20 minutes into a presentation and people don’t know who you are, then a logo isn’t the solution.
Consider your use of text carefully; use it sparingly and use a large, clear font. Remember that your audience can’t read and listen to you at the same time, so always pause after revealing something on the screen.
Step five: Put time aside to rehearse
You’re not aiming for perfect, but practice will make you better. Rehearse what you’re going to say and how you’re going to use your slides. Go back to your persona(s) and imagine their reaction as you make each point. Make any notes that you need, but don’t read to the audience. The rehearsal process builds confidence and also allows you to practice your timing. If someone has given you 20 minutes to present, don’t prepare 60 minutes, – far better to aim for 15.
Step six: Always take a back-up
Always check what equipment you’ll need to use when presenting and pay particular attention to connectors for screens and projectors. Bring spares of everything possible in case something goes wrong and take a power extension cable too. Having your presentation on a USB stick can get you out of trouble in an emergency. Remember that things can change at the last minute, so be prepared to adapt, and try to arrive early so that you can test that everything is working.
Finally, take a deep breath. Smile at the audience. Then enjoy the experience of delivering your powerful presentation to an audience that will be enthralled, delighted and convinced by your message.
Steve Campion is from Toastmasters International