The content of any presentation is obviously important. Think about why you have been asked to give the presentation. What do your listeners want/need to know? Deliver what is expected, otherwise your listeners may feel cheated. How can you most concisely convey this information? Don’t be overly ambitious – a presentation containing a few key messages is likely to be better understood and received than a presentation packed with messages.
Consider starting your presentation with something to engage your audience – a quote or a story for instance. At an early stage, it can help to engage your listeners if you spell out how the presentation will benefit them/what they stand to gain. For instance, you could start by reiterating that their organisation is on the verge of xyz. Next, explain the benefit. For instance, explain that your talk is going to set out your personal experiences in relation to xyz and how you dealt with the relevant challenges. Play on your listeners’ fears (e.g. mention the risks, potential liabilities etc.) and/or wants (money, success, enhanced reputation etc.). Also state how long your presentation will take (and make sure this is not longer than expected!).
Is it worth bringing in real life examples and personal experiences to give context and bring what you are saying to life? This can provide context and reinforce your credibility, which can help to engage your listeners. However, you must engage with the content as well as your audience – don’t forget that – as if you do not engage with the content, how can you expect your audience to?
Plan B: it is important to have a plan B. If presenters before you have run over their allocated time slots or you suddenly need to finish earlier, know which content you can cut out at the last minute.
If presenting on a new topic, assess the extent to which your listeners will already have a foundational understanding of that topic. If (as far as you know) they are new to the topic, make sure you adjust the language and level of detail accordingly. If the content goes over people’s heads, they will stop listening and remember your presentation as being a waste of their time. It is safer to start with the basics, perhaps making a comment to the effect of “sorry if some of you already know this”.
Avoid acronyms unless you are absolutely sure people will know them – you must try to cater to everyone, despite there being differing levels of ability in the room.
Try to avoid getting distracted by your environment/external noise/people leaving/questions etc. If you do get distracted, it is ok to say “where was I?” out loud – people will not judge you and it can help you to get back into your flow without risking going off on a tangent.
Structure is incredibly important for achieving clarity. Explaining the structure of the presentation at the start and signposting each section as you go along will help the audience to follow what you are saying (and will help to ensure that you stay on track and avoid repetition).
However, you must remain flexible. If you are interrupted with a question that relates to a different part of your speech, either defer it to later or (if this is not possible), be sure not to repeat the answer later in your speech if you answer it on the spot. Knowing your content well will make this easier.
See the other parts in our communicating and presenting series to further refine your skills.