10 tips for effective presentations

This post originates from an article that I had published a while back in the ACCA – Accounting and Business Ireland magazine – enjoy!

1.      Decide your key message

As you prepare your presentation it is absolutely vital that you decide on your key message or messages – try and keep the messages to a maximum of 3.

When you have decided your message you can then choose the essential points that you need to make to help you get your message across.  Sounds simple, but amazingly many presenters put a lot of content together and end up over-loading their listeners with facts and figures leaving them totally bamboozled.

2.      Know your audience

Have you ever been to a presentation where you thought “this presenter really does not have a clue about me?”  That really is the last thing you want them thinking because it significantly reduces your chances of connecting with them and selling your message.

Finding out as much as you can about the audience you are presenting to can really help you to tailor your message and make that all important connection to create rapport.  So how can you do this?  If it is a company you can obviously scrutinize their website in particular their About Us, Blog or News sections.  You can Google them as that way you might find out recent additional information through the Press.

Most of all you need to know what they are expecting from your presentation or talk so that you can not only get your key message across  but address their needs too.

3.      Use a good structure

Just as a good meal has a starter and dessert in addition to a main course –  so too should a good presentation have a pre-planned opening and a pre-planned closing in addition to the main body.  It is a good idea to know your opening and closing almost verbatim.  This means that no matter how the presentation has gone in the middle , you will have given a good first impression and left with a lasting positive impression.

4.      Put meat in the middle

Back to the food analogy – in order to keep the attention throughout your presentation it is important to have a well-structured main body.  Here they key is to divide this part of the presentation into 3 ideally but up to a maximum of 5 main topics.   For each of the topics or themes be conscious of varying the content between facts, figures, anecdotes, use of slides, props – no-one wants to sit through a presentation with a sea of bulleted lists and a tsunami of charts!

5.      Bring your figures to life

The most common question that I get from Accountants is “how can I make a presentation full of figures interesting”?  I have to agree it is challenging but it is possible.    One way is to make the figures relevant to something your audience can relate to.

Let’s pick the figure of 250,000 – if you are presenting to an audience and you know that the audience have an interest in rugby or there has just been an International at the week-end, why not say this is the equivalent of filling Twickenham 3 times.  Better still, if you are using PowerPoint put up a slide showing a picture of the stadium in triplicate.

You can also have a bit of fun with the figures, again with figure of 250,000 you could show a picture of a foot and tell them that the number of sweat glands in the foot is the same number.  It might not contextualise the number but it might just lighten the moment.

6.      Practice, practice, practice

Sometimes we hear people say that practice makes perfect – while there is no guarantee this is true, training your presentation skills will certainly make you more familiar with and more comfortable with your material.

So how do you practice effectively? 
Practising out loud is by far the best way to practice effectively – if you can get a colleague or even a family member to listen, all the better.  For a big presentation you may even ask someone to video you, this allows you  experience what your audience will see and hear.  A good option for a less important presentation is to record yourself on your phone, this way you can play it several times to familiarize yourself with the content.

7.       Slice and dice the PowerPoint

If you want to be guaranteed of getting and holding your audience’s attention you absolutely must keep the content on each of your PowerPoint slides to a minimum.  Your audience did not come to see how good you are at reading your slides – they came to hear you expand on the bullet points on the slides.  For the slides that contain figures they came to hear you expand on the numbers.  It is not necessary to put every single figure on every single slide.

Have 2 versions of the PowerPoint – one you present from and the other you give to them as a hand-out with the additional figures.  This may sound like a lot of work – giving a great presentation takes a lot of work in the preparation but the pay-out comes when you deliver with impact and your audience “get” your message.

8.        The SOS – the best tool your voice can use

When we write we use commas, semi-colons, full stops and even new paragraphs to break up our content and make it meaningful.

Why don’t we punctuate our presentation in the same way?  Silence allows you time to let your mouth catch up with your brain and your audience digest what you have just said.  Don’t be afraid to have good long silences…… that way if at some stage during the presentation you forget what you were going to say and need to stop and think – it will come across as a natural element in your delivery style.

9.        Watch your default face

Your default face is the face you have when you are not conscious of making any face.  You can check your own one by glancing in the car mirror the next time you are sitting in your car at a red light.  You might be surprised at how serious you look!  When presenting it is inappropriate to smile constantly but having a pleasant face and smiling occasionally can really help an audience warm to you.  A smile at the beginning and at the end is usually very appropriate – unless you are the bearer of bad news!

10.      Start on time and finish early

How many presenters run over time?  Wouldn’t it be nice to stand out from the crowd as being the one who managed to get their message across clearly and finish in under the allotted time.  With the right preparation and plenty of practice you will be able to do this – you will then discover the secret of a good presentation is like a mini skirt.  Long enough to cover the bare essentials but short enough to keep them interested!