Giving a presentation can be one of the most difficult and nerve-racking parts of any job, although some people seem to have a natural gift at public speaking. Vanessa Warburton – Lawyer and Senior Manager at Macquarie Group – and Thomas Hansen – Associate and Senior Architect at Warren and Mahoney – shared some tips and tricks they have learned from their own experiences as well as from experts about making a bigger splash with your presentations at the ICON Next Step Session 3.
Preparation is one of the most important aspects of creating a coherent and engaging presentation. “Being well prepared sets you up for success,” Hansen said. The first step is to identify who your audience is and then make an effort to understand their perspective and what they want to know. Audiences will differ depending on the presentation, so you should adapt the methods you use to engage them. Members of a board meeting will respond very differently to clients; “some people will want data and others will want a story,” Hansen said. If you have a mix of different groups, try to incorporate elements that all your audience members can engage with. It’s up to you to structure your presentation around what your audience needs.
Giving a presentation can be one of the most difficult and nerve-racking parts of any job, although some people seem to have a natural gift at public speaking.
Understand why you’re giving the presentation
As Hansen said: “You’re giving the presentation for a reason”. Consider the objective of the presentation when deciding what information to include in it, and include three key points that you’re trying to convey. Visual aids are a great way to clearly show your message, but it’s important to distinguish between what you want to say and what you’re going to show. Try to keep visual aids as simple as possible; if there are large chunks of text the audience either won’t read them at all, or they’ll read ahead and stop listening.
As they say: practice makes perfect. The more you read over your presentation, the more confident you will become. You will also be able to pick out any small grammatical errors or spelling mistakes you may have overlooked before. Rehearse the presentation as often as possible, either in front of a mirror or just by reading it aloud to yourself. Ideally, practise in front of friends, family members and colleagues, and ask for their honest feedback. This is a supportive environment that facilitates constructive criticism. You will also be able to tell how well they understand the message or objective you are trying to convey.
Once you’ve done the right preparations, you’re well on your way to creating a strong presentation. But it is not over there – preparation is the first phase of building an impactful presentation, and nailing the execution of your presentation is the second phase. The following are some tips for taking your presentation to the next level by nailing the execution.
But it is not over there – preparation is the first phase of building an impactful presentation, and nailing the execution of your presentation is the second phase.
Create stage presence and show charisma
Some people – like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, for example – just appear to have a stage presence and exude confidence when presenting. They often maintain eye contact, act confident, stand strong, and speak slowly and clearly. If you’re not already doing these things, they are all minor changes you can make to seem more confident and have more stage presence.
There is a nuance between presence and charisma; presence can be difficult to create, but it’s possible to ‘put on’ charisma – during your presentation at least. You can alter your language and tone of voice, and use metaphors and analogies to appear more charismatic. Warburton drew on the well-known Steve Jobs analogy of the ‘desktop’ when describing a computer interface, making it easy for users to understand this new technology. You can also use stories, anecdotes, rhetorical questions and expressions of moral conviction to bring charisma to your presentation.
Tone and body language
Non-verbal techniques can also help your presentation be more powerful. Making your voice more animated or altering your volume and pitch to emphasise certain points is a great way to create a rhythm throughout your presentation, but Warburton warned, you should only do this in moderation. You can also pause for dramatic effect at certain crucial moments, but again, only sparingly. Your posture, eye contact, facial expressions and appropriate hand gestures will also engage people, draw their attention to key points and make your presentation more effective.
If you speak with authenticity, people are more likely to care about what you’re saying. Warburton recommended being open and connecting with the audience as much as possible. A passionate presenter can be very engaging, so even though you may not always have the opportunity to present on topics that you are passionate about, try and find something that excites you in every presentation.
Answering questionsWe often forget that answering questions from the audience is still a part of the presentation, so you should prepare for this as much as you do for what comes beforehand. There will always be a devil’s advocate in the room; the best approach is to react in a friendly manner and get them on your side. Ask them if they want to discuss the matter after your talk and use their questions as a networking opportunity to understand a different perspective. If you get asked a question that is difficult or hard to understand, paraphrase it back to the person asking, or ask them to repeat it so that you understand exactly what they’re asking. Don’t be afraid to admit if something is out of your field of expertise or that you don’t have the means to answer it but try and discuss it with them after. Most importantly, always try to answer the question you’ve been asked.