Matt Hammerton: Perfecting presentations

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Despite all of the modern communications technology at our disposal, someone talking directly to us is still the most powerful and persuasive tool we have to convince people that we’re their best choice.

You only have to look at the television news this week and last to see this is true. If it wasn’t, then why would Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump, Teresa May and Jeremy Corbyn be making speeches to a live audience? After all, they could have sent an email, issued a press release or posted a video on YouTube rather than standing there in front of all those people.

Presentations are part and parcel of working life. Love them or loath them there’s no escaping them.
Over the last 22 years in the PR industry, I’ve delivered hundreds of presentations – some great, some good and yes, some dreadful. But how do you avoid going bright red and wishing the floor would open up beneath you?

Preparation

Someone once told me, that for every ten minutes of presenting time, you should rehearse for an hour. So, a 20 minute presentation needs at least two hours preparation. I guess this does depend on your personality, confidence and experience of presenting though. One thing is for sure though, the more preparation you do, the better the presentation will be.

Fill the set-up silence

You need to be confident as soon as you enter the room. If you’re using PowerPoint or another presentation programme or if the presentation is on a USB stick and needs loading onto a laptop, then there’s going to be a period of silence whilst you set up. Think about how you can fill this period. What questions can you ask? What little story about your trip to the venue can you tell? If you have some colleagues with you, can they engage your audience in some way whilst you set up the IT equipment? Getting off to a good start is crucial.

Be confident, be bold

The opening of your presentation needs to grip the audience. It needs to engage them. It needs to tell them what great things await them. No one wants to sit through a dull presentation. If you’re not confident and bold at the start, people could switch off.

Speak slowly and breathe

When we’re nervous we breathe quicker and talk faster. If you get nervous when presenting, deliberately slow down the pace of your voice. Your nerves will work against your slower tone, and ensure you’re speaking at a normal speed. Focus also on breathing. Deliberate deep breaths will also help to slow your voice down.

Don’t read out your slides

If you’re using PowerPoint and your slides are mainly text – don’t read each line out word for word. The audience is already doing this. You need to add to the words on the screen. What else can you tell the audience about these key points?

Don’t have (too many) words on your slides

Do you really need words on your slide? Could a picture be more useful? Replacing words with pictures will focus your audience on what you’re saying. They will have to actively listen to you to connect the picture to the points you’re making. If you can’t or don’t want to lose all the words from a slide, try to limit them. Six lines of text with no more than six to ten words on each line is a reasonable ambition. Guy Kawasaki recommends that presentations follow the 10-20-30 Rule: no more than 10 slides, no longer than 20 minutes and no less than 30 point for the font used in the presentation.

Be confident, don’t hide

Try to project a confident image. Move out from behind a lectern. Use your hands to illustrate key points (but don’t go overboard), smile and try to enjoy your moment. Make eye contact with people and hold it as you deliver a point. Don’t break eye contact with someone half way through a point as it will look like you’re uncertain about what you’re saying.

Do you really have to stand up?

If you’re presenting to a small group of people, do you really need to stand up in front of them? Probably not. Why not make the presentation a little bit more informal by presenting off a laptop on the table next to you. You can then sit down and look your audience in the eye and make the whole experience a little bit more relaxed whilst still retaining the professionalism.

Tell people what you’re going to say

Presentations require a bit of repetition. The best presentations open with the speaker telling people what they’re about to hear, then they tell them and finally, they wrap up by telling people what they’ve heard. Have a look at some of Steve Jobs’ presentations when launching Apple devices and you’ll see what I mean.

Thank people for their time

When you come to the end of your presentation, thank your audience. They’ve given you their time and if you thank them for listening, you should receive a thank you in return (maybe even applause) and that should give you a great sense of satisfaction and put you in a great mood to take questions from your audience.

I hope these tips help you when planning and delivering your next presentation. And remember, Clinton, Trump, May and Corbyn have spoken in public for years and have much more experience than us. Presenting takes practice.