According to the distinguished entrepreneur and public speaker Seth Godin, a presentation has only one purpose: change. Presenters should decide beforehand what change they intend to bring about in their audience, and then work hard to achieve it. Without this well-defined and focused effort, a presentation can be reduced to a lousy time-waster.
Now here’s the million dollar question: “Once you’ve decided on the change you want, how do you make it happen with your presentation?” To answer that question, let’s examine the four elements of a successful presentation – one that causes the change you’re seeking.
Most presentations are divided into three sections: introduction, main body, and conclusion.
A great approach to the introduction or opening is to feature a brief but compelling story, experience, or statement. It should lead naturally to a clear and compelling reason for the audience to give you their valuable time and attention the next 20 to 30 minutes.
In the second section – the presentation’s main body – lay out the major points you’re there to convey. Based on the results of a famous study conducted by George Miller, the optimum number of major points is 7 plus or minus 2. You definitely should not go beyond 9, due to the limitations of the working memory.
Before you end your presentation, summarize the major points of your message, and draw conclusions from the facts you’ve presented in the second section. Getting back to the purpose of your presentation – the change you’re aiming to bring about – in this closing portion of your talk, you subtly connect your conclusions with your intended change. If you still have time, answer any audience questions, and perhaps take a moment to cover another relevant point or two.
Though content and structure are the basis of a strong presentation, they’re worthless if they do not fit the audience. This is why a crucial part of your presentation preps is thoroughly researching your listeners. Learn their age range, their general background (at least professionally), and as much as you can about their needs, their expectations and the problems and challenges they face. This knowledge is priceless in determining how to present your points most effectively.
Much has been written on how to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, but only one thing remains important: your audio and visual materials should strengthen your key points. If your slides simply distract the audience, you are mentally driving them away.
Below are a few guidelines on how to make your PowerPoint slides visually and analytically appealing:
● The background should remain a background. Choose a background color, texture, or photo that won’t distract audience attention. You want them to concentrate on the main message.
● Select colors that subconsciously elicit a desired emotion. Take heed of the fact that people tend to associate colors with past events, and with certain feelings and emotions. (Much has been written on this – it is worth studying.)
● Use graphics, images, charts, animations, tables, diagrams, and other visuals meaningfully. Their presence should further your message, and be pleasant to both the mind and the eyes.
● Font style and size need to be easily readable by the whole audience. Pick a font color that stands out against your background, too.
No matter how awesome and informative your slides might be, do not make the mistake of relying on them to do the whole job. You are the presenter, the person offering new knowledge and the stimulus for change. As the person in the driver’s seat, be responsible enough to project yourself professionally and confidently. And remember: the biggest secret to confidence and professionalism is practice, practice, practice.
Here are some tips on how to practice for a presentation:
● Present in front of your close friends or family. After the presentation, ask for some constructive feedback on your performance.
● Practice in front of a mirror. Observe your hand movements, facial expressions and other gestures. Make sure your nonverbal cues reinforce your message.
● Put on the clothes you intend to wear during the presentation. It’s the best way to know if you’ve chosen the most comfortable getup.
● Use a timer during practice. Do you spend too much time on a specific slide? Have you gone beyond the expected presentation length?
Practice really does work wonders for presenters, especially for the inexperienced. When you rehearse what you will be saying over and over, you’re able to spot places where more appropriate words could be used, what gestures and expressions will be most effective, where you should pause, and so on — and to practice all these things until they are comfortable and natural. Ultimately you can gain a sense of mastery, which adds significantly to the impression you create on your audience.
If you seriously consider each of the elements we’ve covered here, your presentation will give the audience real value – value that precedes change.
About the Author
Toke Kruse is the CEO of Slideshop.com, a leading provider of pre-designed PowerPoint templates. Toke is a graduate of Copenhagen Business School and has launched nearly a dozen companies since entering the world of entrepreneurship at the age of 18.