“Nailing” That Next Presentation

By John Fallon

Many recruitment and human resource specialists believe that a lack of presentation skills can be damaging to career advancement. In a survey of over 300 businesses by the Association of American Colleges and Universities' Leap initiative, 89% of employers stated that they want colleges to place more emphasis on oral, written and visual communication. That percentage was higher than any other skill, knowledge, or ability. Recent surveys conducted by Commispond Inc. (sponsored by Avery Dennison) estimate that more than 50 million presentations take place each day across the world, with a majority being poorly designed and/or delivered. The final result of this survey shows that our ability to communicate orally and visually is the single most-needed attribute for success in the business sector.

This is a new concept for many of us. With the need for communicating ideas and information now becoming everyone's job, we realize that public speaking and presenting aren’t the same beast. When compared to public speaking, presentations make greater use of visual communication, demonstrations, interactive audience participation, humor, and have a higher entertainment value. Presentations demand applying a huge body of knowledge and skills that excellent presenters make look natural, but in reality, it's an acquired talent. Seeing a final presentation is just the tip of a huge iceberg. The amount of work and time that goes into preparing what is seen and heard is mind-boggling. However there is good news. Neither the knowledge nor the skills are difficult to learn and contrary to popular belief, good presenters are made, not born. Now, we have to ask ourselves the question… do we have the necessary skills to be that “good” presenter?

For those of you who need a few helpful hints in becoming good presenters, remember that most “total package” presentations are developed and designed from three areas: the message, the messenger and the medium.

The Message: To determine your message, find the “core” idea you want your audience to remember, then develop three to seven points that will support your message. Remember, the amount of points you have may be determined by the amount of time you have to present. Don’t have more than 7 points because your audience will become overwhelmed with information. “”Twitterize” your information and make it “short and sweet” for the audience to absorb. Try to have no more than three points per presentation, that way you’ll know you’re delivering all the right information in small packets.

Then, be sure to incorporate personal stories into the message. Even though it’s cliché, the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” is still viable today. When you’re using stories, you’re creating “mental” images for your audience. People love stories, and when you conversationalize your stories and “tell” them like a storyteller, you’ll create emotional attachments between you, your audience and the topic. Remember, emotion wins over logic!

Finally, make sure that you have a good “opening hook” (an attention getter for the audience), several “timely grabs” (similar to opening hooks but found spaced throughout your message) and a “call to action” (which is what you want to see your audience do as a result of your presentation). In any presentation, you want to immediately get the audience’s attention, keep their attention throughout the presentation and excite them enough so want to take some type of action at the end of your presentation. A good presentation generates excitement on many different levels.

The Messenger: The physicals and vocals of your presentation will be what helps you create a relationship with your audience, so use your facial expressions, vocal inflections, gestures and body movements to develop that relationship and reflect the content of your message. Incorporate all your vocals and physicals into the storytelling process, they’re part of your story as well.

Next, find those qualities about your presentation delivery techniques that are going to distract your audiences. Audio tape yourself and really listen to the quality of your voice. There really are certain voice types that turn an audience off and once they’re off, the message is pointless. Video tape yourself to see exactly what you’re doing on the platform in front of an audience. Now, re-play the recording in “fast forward” and if you’re moving all over the stage, chances are your movements are going to distract your audience.

Also, be sure to dress for success and your role. You are the presenter and even though the presentation isn’t about you, dress so you physically and visually create no distractions that will cause your audience to lose the message.

The Medium: With whatever software you’re using to create and deliver your “digital storytelling”, make sure that the technology doesn’t become the focus of your presentation. Moving text, transitions and other pointless animations really don’t do anything to enhance the presentation. As a matter of fact, it can cause so much distraction that the audience loses the message entirely.

Also, use images on slides in place of text to support your message. Most audiences will remember images before they’ll remember text, charts and statistics. Also make sure that you use quality images. There’s nothing worse than looking at a screen with a fuzzy or blurred picture.

Lastly, design your digital storytelling support material last. In most cases when people are told to deliver a presentation, the first thing they do is open up the software, create the support and then develop the message. Start with pen and paper first and end with the technology. The message should drive the digital storytelling, not the other way around.

Follow these guidelines and make every presentation your best!

Read other articles and learn more about John Fallon.

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