Presentation Skills

The Path To An Impactful Presentation

Author: Shaun Parker

Most roles in business require good presentation skills. Not only is proficient communication essential to convey information, an exciting or entertaining delivery is an integral ingredient for keeping an audience’s attention and ultimately getting the response you want. A successful presentation will have energy from beginning to end, engage the audience, use dynamic body language and include innovative and creative ways of bringing facts to life and making them memorable. All the while, ‘death by PowerPoint’ should be avoided at all costs. Competent presentation skills can be used in many aspects of working life, from winning pitches, to getting a pay raise. Getting your messages across with impact will give you the best possible results.

Preparation is synonymous with success. A poorly planned presentation, lecture or pitch will leave you nervous, easily distracted and vulnerable to a feisty audience if you haven’t got your facts straight. You will need to identify your target audience, pin-point the purpose of the delivery, and be clear about what your key messages are. After that you need plenty of practice to ensure you stay within the allotted time, get over any potential tongue twisters and fine tune the content. There are so many tangents that an inadequately planned presentation can go down; the more you rehearse, the more of these winding paths you will discover, along with dead-end statements that you can choose to avoid. More importantly you can ensure you can bring your content to life and make if highly impactful. If you can practise in front of someone who will give you feedback, or video yourself, so that you can see how you come across, that will be highly beneficial. Ideally, for a big and important presentation you might like to have some individual presentation skills training or coaching for some expert and tailored advice.

First of all it’s necessary to understand your audience. Knowing who the audience are their roles, objectives and interests should inform the way you plan and deliver a presentation. Right from the start, all your key messages should you be tailored to meet your objectives and theirs. Make sure that all references, anecdotes and metaphors relate to the topical issues and interests of your audience, ensuring sure that you keep it relevant to the ideas under discussion.

It’s very important to open your presentation with a bang. It’s far easier to present to an audience who’s attention you’ve grabbed and which is engaged. There are several ways to do this: you might like to start with a striking or surprising fact, ask them a question, introduce an analogy or crack a joke. These are just a few ideas – there are many more ways to open with impact.

Using PowerPoint, or another form of media display can bring a presentation to life, clarify points and help them stick in people’s minds. However, it can also have the opposite effect, so it’s crucial to get it right. Any slides used in a presentation should be kept to a minimum and include only the key points. As a guide, you should include no more than 6 words per line and 6 lines per slide. This keeps the slides clear and easy to read and avoids overload. It can also be helpful to reveal each point separately as you talk about it, to avoid the audience jumping ahead and not concentrating on what you’re saying. If you do this though, ensure your reveals are consistent and that they’re not whizzing in from all sides with crazy sound effects for each – this will just distract your audience and make you look amateur. Instead, it should be the words you use, the anecdotes and stories you tell and the relevant imagery you use that engage, amuse and inspire the audience.

Pictures, diagrams and graphs can help bring facts and figures to life and help them stick in people’s minds. A carefully chosen image or chart can drive a point home far more successfully than a whole slide of words. Sometimes it can also be useful to use video clips to change the pace and add interest. They should be kept short though, to avoid the audience’s attention drifting.

Finally, be prepared for questions. A well planned and informative speech will inspire listeners to respond with ideas you may not have considered, or inadvertently overlooked in research. It’s a good idea to flag up from the beginning when you will be responding to questions, to avoid disruptive questions throughout. Once again, knowing the topic inside out will prepare you for questions from any angle. Give yourself time to respond, repeat the question back for the audience, try not to waffle when you reply and don’t get emotional! If you don’t know the answer, it’s ok to admit that, but tell them you’ll find out and get back to them. Or give them an answer to the best of your ability, but explain that you’re not 100% sure.

There are many more tips to creating the perfect presentation, but these should get you started and help you to make your presentation clear, impressive and engaging. Presentation skills training will take you through many areas of tips and advice, give you the opportunity to practise and offer personalised feedback and advice.

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About the Author

Shaun Parker is a leading business consultant with many years of experience in the industry. Find out more about presentation skills and a variety of communication skills at Speak First.