Whether you’re a seasoned instructor or someone who only presents now and again, giving a presentation can be equal parts nerve-wracking and exhilarating. And if you’ve given a presentation, you know that they’re a lot more complex than compiling some notes and creating a handful of PowerPoint slides. The challenge is to create an informative yet compelling presentation that keeps your audience engaged throughout the duration of your discussion. Additionally, presentations are great opportunities with which to establish yourself as a knowledgeable resource in a particular field, opening the door for additional professional development opportunities.
As you prepare for your next presentation, keep the following tips in mind. These simple, actionable ideas will help your audience or learners get more out of the session — plus, you’ll feel more confident and comfortable in front of the group. Before we dive in, keep in mind that the following tips won’t fit every situation. Use your best judgment. Rather than adhering to all or any of these, think about your audience/the learners and what they want. If you keep that perspective in mind, you’ll do well.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. Before stepping foot in the room, do a dry run of your presentation with a small group of willing co-workers. Practice timing, get reactions to learning activities and hear what questions come up so that you can incorporate that information into your presentation.
When it’s time for class, arrive early. As busy professionals, we often have our calendar scheduled to the minute. Depending on the type of class (one-hour, full-day, somewhere in between) and the complexity of the equipment you’ll use, arrive 15 to 30 minutes early. Then you can test equipment, check that the room is set the way you want and be on hand to greet people.
Make sure you can be heard. If the room is large enough to require a microphone, use it correctly. Hold a hand-held mic close to your mouth, not at your chin, throat or neck. Check a lapel mic to make sure it’s not covered by your lapel, necktie, scarf, etc. and is close enough to your mouth so that the audience can hear you. And no matter what model of mic you use, make sure it’s turned on!
Don’t block your slides. Stand out of the way of your slides as much as possible so that your audience has a clear view of the materials. And while you’re speaking, use notes instead of turning your back on the group to look at your slides. Maintaining eye contact with audience members signals that you’re invested in the group. Turning away from them creates a disconnect. Speaking of slides? Don’t fill them with information. Instead, use them merely to guide your discussion. Include just a few bullet points and, where applicable, an eye-catching image–that way, the bulk of the attention remains on you and your remarks.
Go for the gadgets. Use a remote to change slides rather than walking to the computer each time. Many remotes now have a laser pointer feature that can be helpful if you want to highlight a particular piece of information or image on a slide.
Repeat questions. When an attendee asks a question, repeat it for the group. Not only will this help everyone in the room hear the question, you’ll also have an opportunity to verify that you heard the question correctly.
The more, the merrier. We’ve all been in a presentation in which an audience member offers a lot of input and commentary. If you have a “know it all” in the group, use them! Say something like, “Bob clearly has a lot of knowledge in this area, and, after the class, he may be a great resource to you.”
Pay attention to the group. If you sense they’re not engaged, stop for a moment and do a quick “turn to your neighbor” activity and ask them to discuss the point you just made. It will help them re-engage, and it’ll give you a short breather! Another tip? Don’t be afraid to introduce other elements into your presentation instead of just relying on PowerPoint. Add a short video, for example, or act out a topic or example with a (properly prepped) audience member. The changing pace will help keep your audience’s attention throughout the presentation.
Troubleshooting tips. Know who to contact if something goes wrong and be prepared to make adjustments to your presentation. Rarely is the issue so grave as to require stopping a meeting or class. But you may need to use a different mic or talk instead of viewing slides, for example. Have a back-up plan so that if you do encounter a glitch, you’ll be able to seamlessly switch gears.
Practice makes perfect. If any of the tools referenced above (like a remote slide advancer) are new to you, practice with them ahead of time. That way, you’ll not only be comfortable with them, you’ll also know they’re in working order and ready to go at your next presentation.
By planning and preparing for your presentations, you’ll create a better, more enjoyable experience for everyone involved — including yourself! What additional tips do you have for giving more effective presentations?
Sue Maden is Education & Training Manager for Burns & McDonnell. She oversees Burns & McDonnell University, providing professional growth and development to move employees’ careers forward.