Want to give better presentations?

Start by improving the content

I have been discussing how to improve presentation skills with one of my clients.  For me, a presentation is a performance – it is an art rather than a science – and it should be looked at this way.

The first thing to focus on is the script.  What are you going to talk about?  

I have five tips to help you with getting the content of your presentation right.  Let’s start with an obvious one that everyone knows but never does.

1) Prepare

Most people know about their presentations weeks, if not months, in advance.  Yet they still wait until the last minute to pull it together.  Usually this means bringing the final version of slides (we will discuss slides below) with you, having completed them hours earlier.  Apart from the fact that it drives event organisers crazy, a presentation prepared at the last minute looks like a presentation prepared at the last minute.

Set aside time well in advance to think about your presentation.  You will need the time to determine the key ideas, to prepare the content and to practise.

Giving yourself time lets you think.  So when thinking about your topic what do you think about?

2) Ask why

Ask yourself why it is urgently important that we discuss this topic?  The answer to this question is the introduction to your presentation.  If the answer is credible you will have your audience’s attention.

You should use the “why” question throughout your preparation.  Keep asking yourself: “why is this important?” “why do they need to know this?”  If you can’t find a good answer then take it out.

3) Focus on the story not the data

The purpose of a presentation is not to convey information.  This you can do by handing out a data sheet.  The purpose of a presentation is to show how that information has meaning in the lives of the people in the audience.  

Humans like to here stories – it’s why we watch films and read books.  Your presentation should tell a story too.  The more you make it about people, places and real life, the more people can relate to it.  If you have something that you want to speak about, spend some time coming up with a story to tell.

Remember, your stories should be interesting, which leads to the next tip.

4) Be controversial

A presentation where the content is “too safe” is likely to come across as boring and nothing new.  People like to be challenged.  Aim to put something in your presentation that sparks their interest –either positively or negatively.  People remember bold statements, even if they don’t agree with them.

As a final note, while computers and PowerPoint have made slide preparation easy there is one thing that you MUST remember.

5) Slides are a visual aid

Someone once told me “If a person can understand your presentation by reading your slides - you’ve created speaker notes, not visual aids!”

Prepare your presentation first – only then, if you must, go back and create your PowerPoint slides. Use slides to emphasise the points of you want to get across.  Make them visual.  Avoid the use of text unless it is crucial to the message.  For an example you can check out one of my presentations.

So they are my five tips for improving presentation content.  Even more important, in my view, is how you present.  I will talk more about that in the future.  Of course if you have a presentation coming up and you can’t wait, contact me now.

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