It all started in college in my required public speaking class. Get in front of 10 people and share something about yourself. It seems easy enough and I know people do it all the time. But for some reason, when I stand up to present my thrown-together-at-the-last-minute presentation, I fold. My palms go sweaty. I try to look at one or two people and laugh it off. All I get in return are blank, flat stares. Awkward.
There are plenty of benefits that come with standing in front of a crowd and sharing what you know. It’s great for self-promotion. It adds credibility to your business. And for designers, having the ability to present well sometimes means the difference between design approval and a redesign.
Here are ten ways to make your presentation more successful. While these recommendations are mostly for public speaking with a large audience, many of the points can also be applied to smaller presentations. Remember - practicing in a small setting – even within your company with your peers – is the best way to get comfortable for larger presentations in the future.
1. Prepare in advance.
Presentations, like any creative medium, need time to breathe. Make sure you’re thinking about your presentation a few weeks ahead of time. While that time might not be spent actually working on it, the content will sit in the back of your head and marinate. When you finally start writing, your ideas and concepts will be much stronger.
2. Revisit often.
Leaving your work and coming back with a fresh set of eyes can do wonders for the quality of your presentation. Don’t try to crank it out in one sitting. Open it up at least once a day and go through it for a few minutes. After a few days of this, you’ll begin to notice any awkward transitions or slides that could be handled a little better. Most people are tweaking slides right up to presentation time, and that’s okay. When you’re giving the talk, you’ll feel more confident in everything you say.
3. Use intro music.
It seems small, but this benefits both you and the audience. Music is comforting; it forces everyone in the room to relax a bit and realize this is entertainment - not a boring lecture. For speakers, starting a talk with some of your favorite music immediately takes the edge off, sets the tone, and tells the audience a little more about you as a person.
4. Meet people first.
This one is hard for some people to do, but it can go a long way in building rapport with your audience. Simply walking around the room before the talk (and during the intro music) will make the audience see that you care about them, and will also open them up for more participation during the talk.
4a. (Bonus) Include a person you just met into the presentation.
So this one doesn’t always work, but if you meet someone with a story relevant to the topic, try to work them in to the presentation. It shows you’re not a machine that is churning out template information. The goal is to make everyone in the audience feel like you’re talking directly to them. This tactic helps achieve that.
5. Use the stage.
It will be tempting to hide behind a podium, but don’t do it! There shouldn’t be barriers between you and your audience. Again, making yourself appear accessible builds rapport and allows people to trust you. As a result, they’ll also trust the information you’re sharing.
6. Get it goin’.
The beginning of a presentation is crucial. A slight pause or joke that doesn’t get the expected laugh can quickly plunge you into awkwardness. Consequently, it’s important to have a strong intro that delves quickly into the talk. If you can begin with a joke, even better. But don’t wait for the laughter, just keep going.
7. Use slides to your advantage.
Slides should drive the conversation, provide humor and serve as a visual reference for all the talking points you are sharing. Far too often, people will over-design a handful of slides for their hour-long presentation. When doing this, you are just providing the audience with a tool that is more of a distraction than an resource.
8. Admit your flaws.
It’s important the audience understands why they should believe the information you are sharing. It also indicates the concepts you are presenting result from trial and error; which means errors that the audience participants needn’t go through if they listen and apply the talking points to their own business. Ironically, it builds credibility and allows people to trust you.
9. Bring business cards.
This is obvious, but often overlooked. After finishing the presentation, giving people a way to contact you afterwards with additional questions shows you care. You want to build a relationship that will allow the presentation become a deeper tool for participants’ continued improvement.
10. Hang out.
If people care enough to wait to talk with you or ask questions, you need to show respect by waiting till everyone has had their say. Likewise, if someone is hogging the show, respectfully offer to continue the conversation after the others have had a chance or over email.
No one likes public speaking the first time. Keep that in mind when you’re deciding whether or not it’s for you. Just like everything else, it takes practice before it starts to feel comfortable. Seek out opportunities and when they come your way, find a way to make it happen. Build relationships with professors and organizations to allow yourself a platform outside of your typical client presentations and see where that takes you. And be sure to have fun with it.
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