Presenting Well

June 30, 2011

Chapter 11 – Remote Presentations

Giving presentations is a skill that improves with practice. Over time your presentation skills will improve as long you remember the fundamental rule of good presentations: always think about your audience’s point of view. You already understand the material. You are giving the presentation to benefit them, so present it clearly and put it in context.

Breathe. Presenting makes people nervous and nervous people rush. Being nervous is fine, but you need to pace yourself. Take a moment to breathe and slow down while you are speaking.

Enunciate. It doesn’t matter how good your material is if nobody can understand you. Don’t mumble and don’t slur. Choose someone with a reassuring voice to emulate. Think about good presenters you have seen. Focus on how clearly they spoke every word. Don’t make your audience work hard just to understand you.

Be confident. Everyone is there to listen to you. A good presentation needs to be authoritative and a big part of that is being confident. You should speak confidently, or at least fake it well.

Rehearse your material. Rehearsing will help you be more confident. When a stage actor recites a monologue they make it look as natural as a friendly chat, but it takes them many hours of practice. Rehearse in three ways: in front of a mirror, into a voice recorder, with a spouse. You don’t always need this much preparation, but it is worth it for big presentations.

Be interactive. Encourage people to interrupt you and to ask questions. The more people ask you questions the more you know they are really listening to you.

Burst your content. Nancy Duarte, the author of Slide:ology says, “Most remote situations have a major distraction for attendees called their [email] InBox. It’s pretty assured that attendees will not be solely focused on the presenters. We advise our clients to create intentional distractions in an effort to regain attention.” Most people’s attention starts to lapse after about 10 minutes. That is a good time to burst your content by doing something a little different. Surprise people. Tell a story, show a video, do an activity: whatever it takes to make sure your audience stays engaged.

Ask questions before you answer them. Questions are a powerful tool to keep your audience engaged. It makes them think about the answer instead of waiting for you to give it to them. Start your presentation with a larger question and lead to the answer at the end. This can be much more interesting that just starting with the answer. It isn’t always appropriate, but it works well in the right cases.

Stay on topic. Keep your subject in mind for your entire presentation. Don’t get bogged down in details and don’t let your audience pull you off to other topics.

Don’t let someone else control your slides. You should be the one advancing the slides on the main copy of your presentation. Letting someone else control your slides just wastes time and energy while you coordinate with them. Don’t interrupt your presentation every couple of minutes to say “next slide.”

Have fewer presentations. Most groups have too many presentations. Don’t spend the time and effort to prepare a presentation when a design document and an informal discussion will do the job.

Don’t use a slide when you want a reference. When you are sharing reference material, like a list of links or a set of guidelines for your team, don’t use slides. Slides are the wrong choice for information like this. Present reference information with a Wiki page, a text document, or another more permanent medium.

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