Tips for giving a good presentation

  • Do not delay conveying your key message. With each passing minute, you are likely to lose more and more of your audience. Thus, convey the central message of your presentation right at the beginning
  • Present for the audience, not for yourself. Your presentation will not meet its goals if the audience does not understand it or does not care for it. Put efforts to earn their attention and caring.
  • Create a simple decluttered story. Focus on a single clear goal and present necessary and sufficient information to meet that goal.
  • Practice. Practice helps bridge the gap between what you know and what you need to say.
  • Be a mindful presenter. When presenting, engage in a dialogue with the audience.
  • Share your story ahead of the presentation. Identify key audience members and ensure that they get to see your story or slides ahead of time.

Presentations matter. A presentation is often how you convey your idea, your plan or your results to the stakeholders at workplace. A great idea, a great plan or a great result is no good if people don’t know about it.

Presentations matter. A bad presentation can create a perception of a bad idea, a bad plan or a bad result. In the eyes of the beholder, perception is reality.

In the first part of this series, we looked at tips for speaking up in team meetings. In the second part of this series, I am sharing a few key ideas that I have picked up over the years for giving great presentations.

Do not delay conveying your key message.

Stories and movies run sequentially, scene by scene. Suspense of not knowing what will come next and the surprise that comes as each scene unravels is critical in keeping the audience engaged and hooked. Business presentations are different from movies and stories. They often deal with complex material which puts a heavy cognitive load on the audience. In all likelihood, your presentation is a distraction in their busy day for the audience. I believe that the half-life rule applies to presentations - Every 10 minutes, you lose 50% of your attentive audience. Thus, convey your key message right at the start of your presentation as succinctly as possible and in as easy to understand manner as possible. Then, send the rest of the time elaborating on that message and reasserting it from different angles.

Present for the audience, not for yourself

When it comes to creating the presentation, most people, to their own detriment, fail to consider who the audience is, what it knows and what it cares about. Thus, they end up creating a presentation that looks great to them, but not that great to the audience. Every time you are working on a presentation, start by putting on the audiences’ shoes. Pay attention to the curse of knowledge — Do not use terms that your audience does not know. Do not skip information that might be obvious to you but might be unknown to the audience. Pitch your message in a way that will resonate with what the audience cares about. For example, don’t ask them to sponsor you because you will succeed — Ask them to sponsor you because you will help them succeed.

Create a simple decluttered story

When you present, you should have a mission. Everything that you put in your storyline or presentation should be necessary for that mission. The content should have a logical flow. If you create slides, each slide should have a clear take away message. Everything you put on the slide should be intentional. Ask yourself — Can my story work without this piece of information? If the answer is yes, do not add that piece of information to your story. Just as much as deciding what you will say is important, it is equally important to decide what you will not say. Too much information often harms rather than helping. Pay close attention to numbers, percentages and graphs —I always get those reviewed by someone not involved in the creation of the presentation to ensure that a second person can understand the material.

Practice

Often, people spend all their preparation time creating slides, but forget that slides only tell about twenty percent of the story. Majority of the story is conveyed based on what the presenter says. I always create speaker notes for my presentations. I do this even if I feel that I know the content thoroughly. The shorter the presentation, the more diligent I am in creating speaker notes and doing dry runs. While practicing, I break the presentation into parts and do a rough time allocation for each part. I also identify the parts that I can skip if there is a delay due to questions and discussions.

Be a mindful presenter

While I always create speaker notes and do dry runs, I never look at the speaker notes during a presentation. During the presentation, my focus is on engaging with the audience. I try to maintain eye-contact. I talk at a slow pace paying attention to the audiences’ facial expressions to ensure that they are with me. I lean in and talk in an emphatic tone every once in a while to give an impression that I am saying something important. I keep an eye on the clock and skip sections if there is a need to speed up. When someone asks a question or raises an objection, even if I don’t know the answer or I disagree, I ensure that I repeat what I have heard. I am always nervous before important presentations — I have found that doing nothing in the hours leading up to the presentation is a great way to calm the nerves. It somehow allows the content to better consolidate in the head as well. Your presentations will go better if you enter with a calm state of mind rather than with an agitated state of mind.

Share your story ahead of the presentation.

In wine tasting, there is a three sip rule. The first sip of a new wine is often not that tasty since it is a foreign taste for your tongue. It takes three sips for the tongue to get used to the taste of the wine. I think that the same applies to new ideas as well. A new idea, when seen or heard for the first time, can be foreign and repulsive to the audience. Thus, you don’t want a formal presentation to be the first time key stakeholders hear your story. Share the deck or at least a summary of what you are going to present to the key stakeholders well ahead of time. Try to find one-on-one time with them to talk about your idea and get their early feedback which you can then try to address before the big presentation.

Conclusion

Often, people think of presentations as an overhead — a distraction from real work. There is an alternative way to use presentations. One, you should use these as forcing functions to set deadline for yourself and your team to meet certain milestone. Once you commit a date to present certain piece of work to an audience, it acts like a motivator to push to meet that deadline. Second, presentations can act as a forcing function to help you create your strategy, plans or designs. When working on a fuzzy and hard problem, preparing for presentations can force you to think from another person’s perspective which helps bring clarity to your thinking which is not possible otherwise.

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I work @Google leading teams on hard data problems. In personal life, I am an armchair philosopher. This blog shares my thoughts and experiences — Ashish Gupta

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Selfish Altruist

Selfish Altruist

I work @Google leading teams on hard data problems. In personal life, I am an armchair philosopher. This blog shares my thoughts and experiences — Ashish Gupta

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