How many times have you sat in a presentation where the topic is exactly what you want to hear about, but around half way through you’ve hung a DNR notice around your neck and drifted off to sleep? (Or simply jumped on to Social Media?)
Over the past four years, the team at Southpoint Films have filmed and edited well over 1000 presentations with topics ranging from Project Management to Baking Cakes. As a result, we’ve learnt quite a lot about about how effective presentations are delivered, and what some of the common mistakes are. Just don’t ask me to start baking any time soon!
So with that in mind, here are my tips for making sure your presentations are simple, clear and easy to understand – and most importantly, engaging!
KISS & TELL
KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID, THEN EVERYONE LEARNS LESSONS!
Most people who give presentations use PowerPoint or similar software to support their messages. Please note I say support on purpose, as the main delivery should be done by the speaker themselves. Despite popularity of the phrase “Death by PowerPoint”, I still find myself filming conference talks where the presenter has tried to cram an entire novel on each slide.
Slides should never have too many words on them. 30 – 40 words per slide should be the target maximum. This could be five bullet points with 6 or 7 words each, which is just enough to highlight the message. It’s the speaker’s job to explain in more detail.
“I’ll share the slides with you later” isn’t a good excuse to cram your slides full of information as this leaves the audience feeling cheated of information that they should have received during your presentation. Prepare a separate hand out for the audience to take away, if you must, or give them information on how to find out more once the presentation is over. For example, give them a link to your website or your contact details.
When we deliver external presentations at Southpoint Films, we tend to use a rule of one sentence per slide. In fact, most of our slides have no text at all as we prefer to use images and video to avoid distracting from what our presenter is saying.
Body Language Matters
When giving a presentation, it’s important to consider your body language. First and foremost, eye contact between the speaker and audience must be established and maintained. Speakers who present to their slides, or present to their notes, generally lose the audience quickly.
Likewise, when it comes to the content of your slides, as soon as the audience’s attention is directed to the screen they get confused as to whether they should be reading the slide or listening to the speaker – they can’t do both!
It’s also important to consider how you’ll present to the audience. Will you be stood behind a lectern or will you move around the stage area? This doesn’t just influence how the audience engages with your speech, but also can have technical implications. If the event is being recorded and you plan to move around, is there a wireless microphone available? And will the stage be lit in the areas you intend to move to?
Generally, speakers who move around the presentation space are more engaging, but there is a limit. I’ve seen speakers leave the presentation area completely and speak from the middle of the audience or the back of the room to intentionally be “different”.
In these cases the audience is less engaged because the speaker is working against the design of the room – the audience doesn’t have eyes in the back of their heads – and the presentation is fatiguing to watch. (It also makes it very difficult to film!)
Keep To Time
Finally, it’s important to remember that the purpose of giving a presentation is to share knowledge with an audience who have committed time to attend and listen. For most people, time is their most valuable resource. You can always find more money but when time is gone it is gone… only Doctor Who can get it back!
Because of this, keeping to the event schedule is incredibly important, and you should make sure that your presentation doesn’t overrun. I’ve seen event organisers employ a sign or signal method to cue speakers that they need to come to a close, but this only works if the speaker is paying attention. (You’d be surprised at how often the signals are ignored.)
Other speakers will keep a timer in view, or set an alarm on their watch or phone. This also works, but none of this is as effective as rehearsing your presentation in advance. If you have two hours of content to fit into an hour, you don’t want to find this out on the day. Both you and your audience will be disappointed that you couldn’t cover all of the topics that you’d intended to.
While this may seem like a no-brainer, your audience will become restless and distracted if they feel your presentation going over time, especially if you’re presenting before a break or the end of the conference. Instead of focussing on what you’re saying, they’ll be thinking about the things that they had planned to be doing in that time instead. Phones will start coming out, emails will be answered, and Twitter will be checked, all while you continue presenting to an audience of blank faces. As soon as that happens the speaker has lost and may just as well stop the presentation as nothing will get the audience back.
Be Prepared To Make Mistakes
Delivering a presentation isn’t easy – especially if it’s not something you do often. The pressure that people face when public speaking can be debilitating – but you’re not alone. Most people find delivering presentations incredibly nerve-wracking.
Also, nobody actively tries to give a bad presentation, but sometimes it happens. Be prepared for things to go wrong, accept that your presentation might not be perfect, and don’t let mistakes stop you from trying again.
Getting in front of an audience to share your knowledge is a highly commendable undertaking. You never know who might be in the audience and how they’ll respond to what you might say. So calm down, take a breath and enjoy it. If you follow our tips, you’ll smash it!
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