My previous article lamented the growing epidemic of poor presentations that seems to be infecting the corporate world. Flashy slides in funky colourscannot disguise poorly presented information. It reminds me of the Professor Emeritus of Yale University, Edward Tufte's comment, "If your words or images are not ON POINT, making them dance in colour won't make them any more relevant." So, how can we ensure that our presentations achieve their objective of imparting key knowledge to our audience? The following can make a huge difference when conveying a message to a mass audience:
1. Hold off on the Re-Hash. There are quite a few red faces in my
seminars when I ask how many people create a presentation by using old slides. Most directors and senior managers are pushed for time. When you have a number of corporate presentations to do in a week, what could be more efficient than re-hashing an old presentation?
Although this may be time efficient, it is not the most effective way to deliver information, especially if you want that information to change your audience's opinion or behaviour. Your original presentation may have been well received by that international symposium but to final year university kids the same presentation may be so boring that they spend the next 30 minutes texting their friends.
Worse still is if you re-hash someone else's slides. Call it borrowing, cribbing, plagiarizing, it's basically using someone else's creativity and calling it your own. Fine, if you take time to think about the subject matter, and expound the concepts with your own examples so that your delivery has feeling and passion.
But what tends to happen when someone 'borrows' material is they just read the slides! There is no audience engagement. No delivery or style. The presenter just hides behind the podium mumbling and stumbling on words that are not their own.
Even if the topic is something you have spoken on a thousand times, make the effort to tailor for the audience receiving it. Any great public speaker will tell you that even if the material is the same, they will still make each performance unique in its own right. Each interaction with a new audience brings something different and a good presenter will utilize these new aspects to create something different each time.
2. Tell a story. What is your favourite childhood story? When I ask this question at my seminars most people look puzzled, but practically all will give me an answer. No matter how old or how senior in the organization he or she is, they will always fondly remember their favourite story. Even the scariest CEO's face will soften into a smile as he recalls the tiniest details of the story his mother read to him some 50-odd years ago. Yet, when I ask the same group to remember a corporate fact I relayed to them just 10 minutes ago they struggle. Why? Humans are story tellers. We are wired to remember stories with characters, imagery and emotions more than abstract facts and figures. Our brains see the pictures as we are told a story.
So how can we use this in a corporate presentation? Try to give context to facts and figures that you want people to remember. Punctuate the presentation with anecdotal evidence and they will remember your presentation far better.
3. It's all about the audience. When most people make a presentation their minds are in the panic loop: have I got all my slides? I'm not sure how this laptop works? I have sweat patches on my shirt! It is imperative that before you start your presentation you get your mindset correct.
A good presentation is like a great romance. Each member of your audience must feel special, as though you are speaking solely to them. Any Casanova will tell you that when your language, your gestures, your expressions clearly show how much you enjoy being with someone, it is the highest form of flattery.
So how do you 'romance' your audience? Make them feel acknowledged. Thank them for coming to hear you speak. Ask how they are today. Can they hear you at the back? Is the A/c too high? Show you want them to be comfortable before you start. These questions ready your audience and put them in an anticipatory state for what you are about to present.
Once you start, be mindful of the visual cues they give you. Are they making eye contact? If they start looking away you have lost them and the onus is on you to re-engage them. Learn to read your audiences. Facial expressions, body language, expressions are all indicators to see if they are listening and absorbing what you are saying.
A savvy presenter will change the tack of his presentation to re-engage an audience. He will try different verbal expressions, change the tone of voice, even move his body differently.
He won't be afraid to skip slides, or even go as far as ditching the whole slide show to make the audience sit up and listen. A poor presenter will just plough through the slides and endure the pain. His poor audience will be doing the same.
Ultimately the aim of a good presentation is to be an interesting, and informative experience for both you and your audience. If it doesn't do this, why bother wasting their time and yours?
(The Employment Federation of Ceylon (EFC)'s Media Specialist, Tanya Warnakulasuriya has spent over 20 years working in the media and corporate communications industry. She will be running a half day workshop at the EFC auditorium on "How to Make Powerful Presentations" on 29 June using the latest trends and tips in corporate presenting).