In my short time here at the iSchool, I’ve given several presentations, and witnessed many more. Some people are top-notch speakers and love to get up on stage and talk. Others are mic-shy and avoid being in the spotlight as much as possible. Regardless of where you stand on the spectrum, as a modern information professional, there’s no escaping presentations and pitches.
This is apparent by the fact that presentation classes are an integral part of the curriculum, both at the undergrad (IST 444) and grad (IST 601) levels.
From my experience, a great presentation is achieved by excellence in five dimensions:
If possible, understand the makeup of your audience in advance, and tailor your presentation to their needs. For example, presenting to a group of software developers is not the same as presenting to management. The former will want to know more about the technology, while the latter will want to focus on the bottom line.
Avoid jargon that sounds cool – you will only throw people off the key concepts and the message that you want to convey. You wouldn’t want to mention “flux capacitor” unless you were addressing an audience of exclusively 80’s Sci-Fi movie enthusiasts.
Ultimately, youll want to connect with your audience by maintaining eye contact and being friendly. The more you achieve this, the easier it will be for the audience members to trust you and absorb the content you’re delivering.
If you know your content well, you are almost guaranteed to stay confident throughout your talk. The easiest way to ensure this is that you prepare your own slides. That means that you personally do the research, design the PowerPoint and rehearse the talk. If that doesn’t inscribe the material on your memory, nothing will.
PowerPoint, Prezi and other software tools are nice to have, for these visual aids makes it easier to drive the point home to your audience. However, do not be obsessed with fancy transitions, colors and animations. These options, when done right, break the monotony for the viewers and pique their interest, but when done wrong, simulate vertigo and annoy their eyes.
Never, ever include entire sentences or lines on your slides. No one will have the patience to read it and it will only unleash a yawning epidemic on the crowd. Stick to keywords; or even better, use pictures and charts (judiciously).
Keep track of your time to ensure optimal delivery of your talk.
A few seconds over the limit is alright, unless the timings are strictly controlled. Respect any prescribed time limits. If your talk is too long, your audience can get restless and bored. If it is too short, you’re missing an opportunity to completely utilize the time and make a killer presentation.
Knowing the presentation time beforehand can also help you plan your speech. You can break it down to timings for each slide, and adjust the content on each one accordingly. Pace your talk to a speed that you are comfortable with, while ensuring that your audience can clearly understand what you are saying.
If you are running out of time, don’t panic; rather, chop off the unnecessary portions and spend your remaining time on the more important sections. Talking fast is hard on the listeners and a complete waste of time.
Attend to your basic psychological needs before you can attend to the presentation. You will hardly be in the mood to pitch with a rumbling stomach or other discomforts. Be well-dressed and well-groomed for the occasion. The neater you appear, the more likely that people will take you seriously.
Everything considered, be yourself and project your personality. If you’re giving a business presentation, it doesn’t mean that you need to be all stiff and serious. You can always inject a little (appropriate) humor to lighten things up.
Some people will start sweating bullets as soon as they are up on stage. Understand that this is natural, and that many in the audience would feel as frightened as you are. Smile, relax. The more you present, the better you get at, and the less anxious you become.
Ultimately, here’s the most important, yet poorly developed aspect of a great presentation for most people. Some are naturally gifted orators; they can spin words out of thin air.
However, for the rest of us, there’s repetition. You will need to practice, over and over again. I’ve personally felt the difference between two presentations – one which I practiced for two hours, and another which I practiced for ten minutes. You can guess which one went better.
Spend time in rehearsing all the dimensions mentioned above, and do it as many times as you need to feel comfortable.
Have you ever felt that you hit a presentation out of the ballpark? How did you develop your skills? Share your advice in the comments section below!