14 Aug Seven principles of effective presenting
We are more scared of public speaking than we are, apparently, of may other things – real or imagined. This fear is a natural result of our biological history and cultural conditioning, but it does not need to be the defining factor in our presentations. The dread of being judged, of stepping in front of your peers, can be conquered. With practice, it is entirely possible to overcome it by remembering that every presentation is less about you than it is about the people you are talking to. And there is no magic involved!
The fundamental point to remember is that public speaking is not simply speaking in public. A presentation is a particular kind of communication and is governed by its own rules. It is not an opportunity to dump all available information in the audience’s lap. It is a very different discipline from written reports or other kinds of communication and it is not a chance to prove how mind-numbingly clever you are, unless you actually want to numb a few minds and turn them off the content of your talk.
An effective presentation is of course about the right content but it is also, in large part, about skillful treatment of the audience (psychology), beautiful, impactful and informative slides (design) and also a bit of showmanship. A good presentation balances all of those elements and the result you want is that the audience walks away remembering the main points – the essence of what you were talking about. (If they want more information, you should make it easy for them to get it but it is not your job to cram ALL the information into your presentation.)
Concentrate on the key message, repeat it a few times in different forms and remember the old adage : Less is More.
So here are the seven principles of effective presenting :
1. Start strong. You need to set the mood, grab the attention, maybe even wake them up if the previous speaker excelled at the skill of putting people to sleep with a boring talk. (And the chances of that are, as we know, unfortunately high.)
2. Keep it simple. Of course, if you are presenting detailed data or offering complex insights to people who are familiar with the subject then do not dumb it down but generally it is more effective to prune the amount of information so as to keep to the main points which they can remember and use. Overload leads to only one thing – the audience forgetting everything you told them as soon as they leave the room.
3. Pace yourself. Figure out the best speed at which you need to talk, within the time you are given. Do not rush madly through one half of the talk only to realise that you have no material left for the second half. This can be only achieved with proper preparation and several run-throughs so you are familiar with the talk enough to know when to speed up, when to slow down for effect, when to pause to make a point.
4. Use Emotions. People may forget the details but they will remember the feeling. If you are giving a motivational talk, you want them to walk away, well, motivated! If you are giving a sales presentation, you want them to recall the gist of why they would want to buy the product, and not necessarily all of its features.
5. Trust design. Principles of good design can – and should – be learned with practice. Use the tools at your disposal : colours, type, graphics, balance and so on. Learn the basics of the craft and you will be able to lean on it, as you would on a good friend!
6. Tell a story. Nothing captivates the audience like a good narrative. This does not mean necessarily : “Once upon a time…” It means getting personal with your information. If it’s a business presentation this is just as important – people want to know WHY they should care about the thing you are selling. Take them by the hand and tell them a good story.
7. Practice. Practice. Practice. A famous musician was once asked by a traveller lost in Manhattan, “excuse me, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer was: “practice young man, practice, practice, practice.”
And Master Bruce Lee is believed to have said “I’m not afraid of the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks. I’m afraid of the man who has practiced the same kick 10,000 times.” Enough said.
Here’s to effective public speaking!