Preparation: The Key to a Successful Presentation
How can you make your next presentation as successful as possible? The following steps certainly can help. Consider:
1. Why are you giving this presentation?
There’s a reason it’s you and no one else who is giving this speech. Why? Did you volunteer? Were you asked? Are you an expert on the subject? Is it something of particular interest or importance to you? Something you want to make sure your audience is aware of? Maybe you want to persuade the listeners to take some sort of action. When you determine exactly why you in particular are the person to give the talk, you have discovered your theme or message. Then you can point up for your audience.
2. What is the occasion?
Is there a particular reason you’re giving this talk at this time? If so, what is it? An annual report? A meeting of the local historical society? No matter what the occasion, you have a much better chance of success if you keep it in mind when preparing your outline and content. This means staying focused.
3. What is the point of the presentation?
Closely tied to the occasion is the reason. For instance, if it’s an annual report, it has something to do with last year’s progress or history. Keeping the point of the presentation in mind will also help you focus on what you say.
4. Why will an audience attend your presentation? Who is your audience?
Of course, this is tied to the previous points. But it is important always to keep your listener in mind. Are they there to learn something interesting, for motivation, for instructions on how to do something, or simply to be entertained? Your approach, of course, will be different depending on the reason or combination of reasons.
5. How can you try to make sure your listeners are attentive and interested?
The first thing is to make sure you know your subject as well as possible and that you cover all the pertinent points. This means preparing a good outline, important because it shows you what’s lacking, overstated, or off the subject.
Make sure your language is clear and easily understood. Be as brief as possible and still cover the subject.
6. How can you try to make sure you have prepared the best talk possible?
Take some time off. Go for a walk, to the beach, or to your favorite coffee shop. That way you can come back refreshed, better able to see the strengths and weaknesses of the talk. In other words, you can approach the material more objectively, in a more focused manner.
Be sure your information is accurate and up-to-date. You may want to quote sources and experts to back up what you way.
7. How can you do your best to hold the audience’s attention throughout your presentation?
First, of course, make sure you’re prepared. That means following all the steps listed above. It also means coordinating everything that will be a part of you speech—the talk itself and any supplementary material.
If you are preparing handouts, be sure it’s relevant and adds to the talk. Don’t use complicated. Then give the listeners a few moments to look at them before you say anything about them.
Consider when to pass them out. Maybe you’ll want to do it before you begin your talk. That way the audience can look them over briefly—as many of them will do whether you pause afterward or not. Or you may hand them out during the talk when you come to a particular point you want to make, a point supported by the handouts. If this is the case,
give them material to the audience as quickly and quietly as possible, so you don’t lose control. Or maybe you can hand out the material at the end of the speech. Then, of course, you have to have given an audience a reason to want to read the material rather than throwing it in the nearest trash can.
8. How can you make sure any Power Point slides you use are effective?
Plan well. Don’t slack off just because the slides are supplementary material. Take time to decide when to use them and why. Don’t just throw something in indiscriminately. Make them easy to understand. If you’re preparing a chart, for instance, cut out anything that is not absolutely necessary. You want the audience to focus on what you’re saying rather than on trying to understand the slide. You want the slide to be clear and easily understood. And certainly the listeners should grasp immediately why you’re using it and its significance.
When possible, use images rather than text. They’re easier for the audience to grasp immediately, as opposed to the time it takes to read something. And images generally have more impact.
9. How can you make sure your delivery is effective?
You need to practice—as many times as it takes for you to be confident that you know the material as well as possible, and that you’re effectively using your voice and body. Practice in front of a mirror and in front of family members or friends. I have a friend, for instance, who is both a writer and a speaker. He always presents his speeches at least two or three times in front of his writing workshop.
Don’t allow distractions to bother you. Maybe the lights are flickering, someone keeps coughing, or a road crew is working outside. Learn to tune these out and concentrate on the moment. You do this in normal life—at a restaurant, for instance, where other customers are talking, dishes are clanking, and the espresso machine is hissing.
Give it all you have. This is your one chance to give this particular speech, at this particular times, to this particular audience. Maybe you’ll give the same talk again. But circumstances will be different and so will the audience.
By focusing on all the above, chances are you will have a successful presentation.