I regularly run workshops and trainings as well as do a little keynote speaking at events, around the topics of building powerful business and personal brands. I love presenting, because I love to feel I’ve engaged and entertained my audience and taught them something useful and new.
But I wouldn’t love it so much without the confident feeling that comes from a) enjoying myself and feeling my presentation went well and b) receiving regular positive feedback about how much someone enjoyed and benefited from my presentation.
So I thought I’d share my top tips for powerful presenting that will ensure the experience is enjoyable and beneficial for both you and your audience. While these tips are not new, there’s a reason they are the top tips for more than just this speaker.
Tip #1 Think about your audience and see them as individuals
You are inviting your audience to travel with you on a little journey, but you have to start with where they are, or they can’t get on the bus! In preparing your presentation, you must think about the particular interests and needs of that audience and build your talk on that. Not only your content, but your language, manner, length and structure of your presentation can vary according to whether you are presenting to lawyers, construction workers, high school students or start-up businesses.
To give an example from my own audiences: If I’m speaking to a small group of women new to business, I’ll base my talk on my personal story and speak in an intimate and heartfelt way, whereas if I’m speaking to a room of seasoned professionals, I’ll include lots of specific content with a few intelligent (I hope!) jokes thrown in! I can still use my signature relaxed style while adjusting to the audience expectations.
The other thing I like to do at every presentation is arrive early so I can complete my set up before audience members arrive, leaving me free to circulate and talk to as many of them as I can before the presentation. This usually guarantees I’ll be able to connect with my audience by using examples like, ‘I was speaking with Jane earlier who mentioned she’d like me to explain how to…’ or ‘I’ve had a similar experience to Susan (looking at Susan) who says that…’. Powerful stuff, not just for Jane and Susan, but for the rest of your audience who sees that you are interested in them as individuals.
Tip # 2 Know your content inside-out and put a ban on lengthy notes
The reasons you need to know your content inside out are twofold:
1. It will give you a powerful confidence that will impress your audience and make them want to listen to you
2. It will allow you to connect powerfully with your audience because you are not looking at notes but looking at them – all the time. You are in the room with them.
But there is another very important reason to know your content inside out: You have been given the opportunity to speak to a room full of people who have given up their time to listen to you – so they deserve the respect of a worthwhile presentation. Nervous? There is no room for nerves, because your audience requires more from you. You will probably feel nervous at times – find a way to deal with it! The good news is that when you really know and care about your content, most of your worries are dissolved.
I create notes for my presentations during the preparation and practice stage – but I don’t learn them by rote or refer to them at all during a presentation. I bring with me an outline with timings for each section, and a Powerpoint that is image-heavy, with a light sprinkle of subtitles and key words to prompt me.
This was a huge step that totally changed my presenting from ok to powerful, and it came from one suggestion from an audience member who worked with people on their sales presentations. She said to me, ‘You have a great personality and you know your stuff – and you want people listening to you, not missing the great stuff you’re saying because they’re reading notes on a screen.’ So I did away with all notes during the presentation, including what I had on screen or in the workshop notebook. I realise now that the presentation is so much more powerful when I see people listening, discussing, taking their own notes, and not reading or watching me read.
Tip #3 Make it personal while you make it professional
Achieving a fine balance between personal/human and professional/formal is absolutely key to ensuring your audience walk away feeling inspired and impressed. You should relate your own and others’ stories (being careful to respect any confidentiality requirements and being respectful in the telling), but you should not assume that laying out the ‘warts and all’ is going to be effective or appropriate – again, think about your audience and what they require of you. If you are telling a bare all story, you should tell it in a way that is positive, highlighting what you learned from it, not moaning about how tough life was for you and how hard it is to achieve a particular goal.
Being human is very important to connect with your audience, but you can be human AND professional. You should be prepared, dress appropriately, respect their time by not going overtime, anticipate questions and have satisfying answers on hand, try to cover your most important points so that the audience is walking away with valuable content.
You may wish to consider audience ice-breakers (but stay away from the clichéd daggy stuff and find an innovative, simple way to do it!) or activities/discussion points to get people interacting with you, each other, and the material. This will make it more fun and more meaningful.
Putting thought into the ‘technical aspects’ of your choice of dress, the lighting on stage, the sound quality and audience comfort (chairs, water, breaks, pens that work…) will be an important factor in ensuring your message is not lost due to distractions.