Preparing for a presentation
Research is everything
A good presentation is all in the preparation. But first you have to ask yourself a fundamental question – is a presentation the right way to tackle this particular problem. It could be that a training manual, a written brief or a detailed submission may be a better solution at this stage. In which case do not waste your time or your clients with a presentation.
Having decided that a presentation is the best solution then ask yourself what is the purpose of the presentation.
What am I trying to do?
Then ask yourself some more basic questions.
What do I need to know?
- What message do I want to deliver?
- Who is my audience?
- How much knowledge do they possess, what technical level?
- How large is the audience?
- Where will the presentation take place?
- How long should it last?
- What result do I want?
Especially in the selling process, the best presenters try to find out a lot about their audience. Questions such as who will attend, who are the key decision makers and what they need to know, are critical.
Getting a decent and advanced brief is important. You will not win a contract if you pitch your presentation at too technical a level, use jargon they don’t understand or try to sell them something that is too sophisticated for their needs.
There are many examples of presentations where the presenter tried to ‘second guess’ the client and got it totally wrong. So know your client and give them what they want.
Another important ingredient is to get to know the people to whom you will give the presentation. What are their likes and dislikes? Any good presentation uses anecdotes and analogies. Try to make those anecdotes or analogies relevant. If your audience are cricket fans then use cricketing analogies.
Use KISS – Keep It Short & Simple.
One simple example when talking about statistics is to ask yourself what 400,000 square feet looks like? Most people couldn’t tell you. But if you said the size of two football pitches then most people will be able to visualise the size.
Don’t try to be clever and baffle your audience with big words. Here is an example:
“The major problem we encountered when undertaking the sinking of the vertical shaft for the conduit of effluent to the main channel was the hostile intrusion of impenetrable sub-strata which delayed the completion of the project by ninety days”
“The three month delay was caused by us hitting hard rock when digging the sewer”
By now you are starting to build an idea of the type of presentation, the needs of the people and the end result.
Reference was made earlier to understanding the needs of the client. If you are about to make a sales presentation then we would suggest the following checklist.
The Successful Sale
- How important is this opportunity for us and how big is the opportunity?
- What is the strategic importance and how much does this customer really matter to us?
- Is there a budget for this and who signs the cheque?
- How likely are they to proceed?
- Have we got a history of working with them and how successful was it?
- Do we have a product that can satisfy their need?
- Can we deliver the right standards of time and quality?
- Can we win it and what are the chances?
- Will it make money and do we want to win it?
- What impact would it have on our existing customer base?
- What resources are required and for how long?
Having asked yourself a lot of questions now you can begin to construct your presentation.
First of all ask yourself, ‘how will I start the presentation?’ Once you have decided on that then learn your opening lines. Many presentations and speeches fail because the speaker forgot how to start and then froze.
One of our clients attended a conference and was asked to deliver a speech for someone else. He had had little time to prepare, didn’t agree with everything in the speech and hadn’t seen it until the night before. He froze as he started to make this speech. He and the lectern had to be removed from the stage. After some training he re-gained his old confidence and now delivers excellent speeches and presentations.
So the time has come to write your presentation. Do write it even if you do not intend to use notes. Any presentation should follow a logical sequence. Like a good novel the story builds up to a conclusion.
A good presentation might start by describing the situation, then deal with some of the issues and finish with offering a solution. It might follow the sequence of:
Start by preparing a skeleton. Above is the basic structure. On this you can build up your points. We would always recommend that you think in threes and do not put in too many points. Never try to put everything into your presentation. That will make it too long and will challenge your audience with too much information.
Give them the basics and then invite questions. Entice them to ask questions. Many good presenters deliberately prompt questions such as “I will be happy to explain this in more detail at the end of the presentation”.
From the above skeleton you can begin to make some sense of what you want to say.
There are some subconscious messages you will want to give your audience such as:
- I will not waste your time
- I know who you are
- I am well organised
- I know my subject
- Here is my most important point
- I am finished.
Now you are now in a position to look at each stage of the speech.
- Open with a startling, challenging statement to get their attention
- Never apologise, talk commonplace, make trite statements, or be irrelevant
- Tell them what you are going to tell them
- Always learn your opener to prevent ‘freezing’.
- Tell them
- Never put in too much, three or four points well made and expanded
- Include research, facts, statistics, definitions, anecdotes, and analogies
- Use bridging and attention words/ phrases to ensure continuity and interest
- Make your message come alive in their minds. Use your enthusiasm to bring life to your presentation.
- Tell them what you have told them
- Re-emphasis the key point
- End with a bang not a whimper
- Never, finally . . .finally . . . finally . . .
- Learn your ending so that you can stop
There is no excuse for the professional presenter. Every aspect of the presentation is your responsibility. That means knowing the room in which you will make the presentation, what equipment you require and what back-up systems you might need.
You may have no choice about the venue, but you should make the effort to visit the venue well before you deliver your presentation. If you are using a room in the clients’ offices then go and visit them. Make an excuse to check out some facts about their requirements and always ask to see the room.
Visualising the room has two beneficial effects. The first is that you work out how you will lay out the room, or at least where the equipment will be sited. The second is that it familiarises you with the room. As part of your confidence building visualise yourself making the presentation, see all the people sitting around a table or in the rows of chairs and imagine that positive outcome.
When you visit the room there are some essentials you should think about.
- At which point do people enter the room?
- Is the seating comfortable?
- Can the people at the back see clearly or are there any obstructions?
- Is the room well lit?
- What are the acoustics like?
- Is there air conditioning?
- What equipment is provided and what do you need to supply?
- Will there be any interruptions during the presentation?
- Will the external environment be quiet?
If you have a choice how will you have the audience seated and how will they be greeted? Will they be seated already whilst you set up in front of them or can you have everything ready and greet them as they come into the room?
- In a circle is good for small groups of three to eight, tends to create informality and is excellent for interactive sessions but can be poor if using visuals
- Horseshoe style puts the presenter in a central position and encourages more discussion. The presenter can walk down the centre of the horseshoe to get closer to the audience although the angle of vision is not always good
- A shallow V is best for a small group of up to twenty and is good for visuals. It can be very informal and puts the presenter in the middle of the group
- Cafeteria layout is best for presentations where people are grouped for breakaway sessions. Some people might not be able to see visuals very well and it is more difficult to keep people focussed on you
- Theatre style is best for large groups of twenty plus. But it is very formal and does not make interactive sessions easy. Make sure that those at the back can see your display screen by raising it up.
- During the course of your preparations you will have made some decisions about what equipment you intend to use, you should think about what is available to you and what is appropriate for this audience.
- Flip charts or whiteboards are the simplest. Visually they can only be used for small audiences
- Product displays might include samples of work. In which case do you want to make these interactive by letting the audience try them out for themselves. Again only really useful for small audiences
- Slide projectors aren’t used a lot these days but if you do use them make sure you have spare bulbs and that the slide cartridge is loaded and checked before the presentation
- Overhead projectors can be used for larger audiences. If you are using PowerPoint or something similar always have an OHP available and a set of back-up slides in case something goes wrong with the computer or projector
- Video presentations if used have to be of the highest quality. You should always carry a back-up video and check the television and projector well in advance. Many a presentation has gone wrong because the correct video channel couldn’t be found
- PowerPoint or electronic whiteboards are the most frequently used these days. Wherever possible take your own. Despite my best efforts, at a recent venue it was discovered that the PowerPoint presentation prepared on Windows XP could not be read by the projector provided. Fortunately having tested out the equipment the day before a solution was found overnight.
Remember, the more sophisticated your presentation the more things that can go wrong.
Avoiding last minute emergencies
- Have more than one rehearsal in private. Do it in front of your colleagues and look for problems. Are there words you might trip over – change them. Does the presentation have ‘flow’ or are there aspects where you change from one piece of equipment to another that makes the presentation look clumsy
- Get to the venue at least one hour beforehand and check all of the equipment. Lay out your notes carefully and put all aids in their correct place.
- If there are technicians available, talk to them, remind them of your requirements and if necessary talk through the presentation with them. During one major presentation in Sri Lanka I was involved in there were sound and lighting technicians. Getting them to co-ordinate their efforts was . . . ‘interesting’. Threats of death by ‘a thousand cuts’ finally got them gelled!
- Check every bulb in the house. Always have spare bulbs for OHPs and projectors
- Check out the sound equipment. If you are using a PA system then check out sound levels well before anyone arrives. Make sure that the sound reaches every corner of the room at the right level.
- Never hand out notes, reports or course materials in advance of your presentation unless you want people to read them rather than listen to you
- If it all goes badly wrong then take a deep breath. Don’t panic, stay calm, smile, if necessary call a short break to consult with your team, decide what you want to happen next and then make it happen
And if all else fails use the best presentation aid ever made – your own voice with masses of enthusiasm thrown in. After all your product is so good you don’t really need all those visual aids to sell it.
There is a big difference between knowing the theory and making it happen. For help in implementing your communications practices email us now.