Preparing to Present
When offered the opportunity to speak, many people will find any excuse not to, seeing it as almost a punishment. In fact, being asked to speak is a compliment; you are being recognised as an expert in a particular subject area.
Public speaking can be a nerve-racking experience, but good preparation will help your confidence, by knowing your content.
What's your presentation title?
Before you think about speaking, you need to carefully think about the title of your presentation. This is important because you need to attract an audience, whether in person or online and your presentation title is a key part of this.
The title needs to make your intended audience curious and pique interest. For example:
- Instead of "The Internet of things", consider using "Why you need to embrace the Internet of things now"
- Instead of "Data protection law changes", consider using "Why data protection law changes will impact you?"
- Instead of "Staff management skills", consider using "Key management skills to improve your team's effectiveness"
It is important to ensure your presentation is promoted by its proper title. Often, the event organiser is not the facilitator/host, so if you are using presentation software such as PowerPoint, I recommend:
- Name the presentation file "presentation title - your name.pptx".
- The first slide in the presentation should be a title slide, with your name and the presentation name on.
- The last slide in the presentation should be a title slide, with your name and contact details on.
What's your message?
Think carefully about your message and the key points you are trying to convey; not every detail, but the wider message. Write it on a Post-It note. If it doesn't fit, it's not clear and succinct enough.
Think about your audience and what you want to achieve from your speech.
- What do you want your audience to know?
- What do want your audience to feel?
- What do you want your audience to do?
Structuring your message
Your presentation is essentially about getting your message across to the audience. It needs to have a start, middle and ending; remember the structure of "tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them". This helps to reinforce the message.
In the first minute of your presentation you need to hook your audience by framing the subject and creating interest and intrigue. This is vital because if you haven't got their attention in that first minute, you will find it difficult to win them back. This is even more important if your presentation is to be recorded and screened, as it is easier to turn off or move on to the next.
To keep your audience's attention, try and put your message into a form of story that is interesting and has an outcome people will wait to hear. It's the same principle as when you read a news story in a newspaper or online, it is easy to skip to the next story if the first paragraph doesn't hook you.
"Brevity is the cardinal rule; keep it simple" said Robert Hardesty, the speech writer for President Johnson. He preferred four letter words, four word sentences and four sentence paragraphs. Although it can be difficult to keep to, many of the best speeches are structured in this style, with short sentences punctuated with short gaps of silence, helping the message to "sink in".
End your presentation on a high, repeating the message that you started with, as it reinforces the message. Remember the principle of recency that states that things most recently learned are best remembered.
Key points and emphasising them
When you understand what your message is, break it down into a number of key points. Structure your presentation around them and summarise by repeating these key points.
Aim for three key points, but have a maximum of five; reel-off too many and the first ones will have been forgotten before you finish the last!
With your succinct points, you need to make sure you emphasis them in your speech - almost as if you were writing and using bold and underlining.
Repeating a point helps reinforce the message. Also, make sure you say it clearly and slowly. Sometimes it will sound too slow to yourself, but record yourself and you will see the effectiveness. These tactics are often used by politicians to emphasis a point.
If you can quote someone well known and well respected (with relevance to your point), it's like claiming them for your team and adds credence to what you are saying.
Practise, practise, practise
And finally, rehearse; don't "wing it". Practise your presentation by speaking aloud, it's very different to saying it to yourself inside your head.
Remember the old saying, "where you falter, alter".
I hope these ideas help - good luck!
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Banner image courtesy of tanakawho.