A common statistic is that over 70% of people are afraid of public speaking. With that in mind, it’s no wonder most people hate giving presentations. Standing in front of groups of people, sharing your ideas and fielding unexpected questions… Not most folks’ idea of a fun time.
But it doesn’t have to be terrible. Here are some tips to keep your presentations crisp, clear and (mostly) stress free.
Take a look at this fake slide I created:
See the problem? There are way too many words. It’s going to be difficult to read all of that, and pay attention to people speaking. It’ll be even harder when you’re struggling to read the small text from the other side of the room.
Presentation slides should have short sentences. Or not even sentences at all: a few words might be all you need. They should serve as a guide for both the presenter and the audience, not a script for everything you’re going to say.
When trying to avoid boring the audience, a common mistake presenters make is creating slides which are filled with every color, font, animation and picture imaginable.
The end result is often akin to the vomit of a drunk unicorn.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for most of these points: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Choose a simple color scheme, a single font, and generally try to avoid animations. They can be useful for the occasional emphasis, but mostly, they’ll just be distracting and flashy.
Use Figures Correctly
Graphs, tables, and charts can all be great ways to illustrate statistics which the human brain has trouble grappling with. Don’t be afraid to whip one up to illustrate points.
That said, too much math, and most people start to glaze over. Try to keep yourself limited to only a few, or space them out over the course of the presentation.
The Why and the How
The overall structure of your presentation is essential if you want to convince everyone in the audience. Different people are going to want different information before they’ll get on board with what you’re saying.
- Why does this matter? Start your presentation by showing people how the information you’re providing them is useful.
- How does this work? Explain how you collected your information, or how your plan will work.
- How can they do it? Some people are doers. Especially if your presentation is teaching people how to do something (a new kind of program, strategy or plan), you should include an opportunity for people to put it into action.
Don’t Look at the Board
The board doesn’t need to know what you’re saying. It doesn’t have ears. Your audience does.
You can glance occasionally at the presentation for guidance, especially if you want to point to some key element, but generally, you should know the material well enough that you don’t need to rely on it.
Instead, keep your attention focused on the people you’re presenting to. Make eye contact. This will help you keep people engaged, spot questions early, and read expressions to tell how everyone’s reacting.
Of course, to accomplish this, you need to…
Some people have a natural gift for improvisation and presenting. If you don’t, it is really, really advisable that you run through a presentation at least once. Time yourself to see how long you take. Speak things aloud to avoid stuttering. If it’s a group presentation, this will especially help to create smooth transitions.