- Presentations are now part of our daily job (want it or not)! In many, many of the organisations I know, people are now presenting to their teammates in one way or another. This means that if you want to be good at your job, you need to be able to deliver a good presentation.
- The level of the expectations of your audience is nowadays higher than ever! Today each one of us has seen at least one great presentation – be that a fantastic TED talk, a technical session from TechEd (and I am not saying that the presentations there are all good! Some of them are actually really bad!) or just one of the presentations of Steve Jobs. As a result, every single time someone is attending your presentation, he/she expects at least as good presentation as the one that they have already seen and if you can’t deliver it – bad for you.
- Every single time you present in front of an audience you represent yourself! Nowadays, everyone is a brand and if you do not care what is people’s opinion about you, then you have a problem and it’s a serious one.
Convinced that presentation skills are important? I hope so, because if those 3 are not enough, I would strongly recommend you take some break, breath some fresh air and reread them again!
Now, let’s face it – I do a lot of presentations and trainings! I teach students and external companies, I lead many of the internal trainings for our team, I am a frequent speaker at the local user group, SQLSaturdays, I do participate in podcasts, webcasts and I’m the lead of the SQL Hangouts! I am not just someone that has read a lot of books on how to deliver good presentations(even though I had), I have actually done them and I have first-hand experience with various formats of presentations! (even today while I am writing this, I have just ended my preparation for a training on presentation skills for managers that I will be leading tomorrow morning!) And because I love sharing my knowledge and helping others (have led trainings on Presentation Skills/Design countless times), I decided I will do a series of 3 blog posts related to how to deliver better presentations! Here is how we are going to do that:
So if that is the plan, let’s start with Step 1: Fundamentals of a good presentation!
Before we actually go to the real stuff, I want you to understand something that’s quite important and it’s the following:
There will always be someone that will either think that you, your slide deck or your delivery is not good enough!
Please understand, however, that this is not something that you should worry about that much, because even the best speakers have the same “problem”! Take a look at any of the keynotes Steve Jobs delivered and carefully watch his audience – are all of them constantly listening him? I don’t think so! The question is can we make those people less and if yes, then how? This is exactly what I want to help you with, so let’s start!
- What’s your goal? – One of the most important things for delivering an amazing presentation lays in the answer of the question: “What do you want to accomplish?” or “What is your goal with this presentation?”! If you haven’t figured that out, stop immediately and answer to yourself first! It makes a ton of difference when you know what you want to leave your audience with and this “knowledge” will be extremely helpful to you when the moment to build your story, slides, demos, etc comes!
- Who is your audience? – Once you are aware of what the goal of your presentation is, think about who is going to be your audience? That’s very, very important, because if you know that, you now know how to talk to them, what words and acronyms you can use, what jokes you can tell, etc. Of course, because that’s not always possible you can either ask the organiser of the event or at least try to guess! The final goal of this exercise is for you to prepare and build your presentation and materials in a way that will be “suitable” for your audience! Remember – your presentation is for them and not for you and it is your responsibility to find the proper way to deliver your message!
- Prepare! – You know what you want to accomplish and who are the people that will be there. Now is the perfect time for you to start preparing your story, materials, demos, tools, technology, etc. As a rule of thumb prepare more information than needed and then prioritise and remove the not so important one(however, if there’s time left at the end, you can give them this additional info thus bringing even more value to them and showing that you respect their time). Try to also think of questions that may be asked and always prepare to support your words with examples. That’s one of the best ways to “illustrate” your point! Do not also forget to save all of your materials for the presentation to at least 2 places – HDD, USB Flash Drive, SkyDrive, it’s up to you! And of course – buy a wireless presenter and make sure you have spare batteries for it. Here are just 2 of the devices that I would recommend – here and here.
- Have a structure! – Tell your audience what you are going to talk about -> talk about it and then tell them what you have just talked about! Many of the presentations nowadays have an agenda slide and the reason for this is hidden in the above sentence! You want your audience to know how your presentation is structured, because not only it will be easier for them to keep up with it, but because this shows them that you respect their time – sometimes people want to hear just part of your presentation and it would be great if you let them somehow know when is the part they want to hear. In the mean time they can, for example, finish other project, attend another session or make an important call and that’s important!
- PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! (please…i’m tired of this!) –
You know the goal, you know who’s your audience, you have prepared the materials, now practice! And no – practising does not mean going through the slides and just thinking of what you are going to tell on slide 5 and what demo needs to go after slide 13! Practicing means delivering the presentation as you are going to deliver it in front of the audience! Period! Rehearse at least 3 times and you will see the difference it makes!
- Watch the clock! – Practicing is very helpful for one more thing – timing! Respect people’s time as this is the most important asset we have! By just taking a quick look at what’s the time before you start rehearsing your presentation, you will know how much it will take for you to deliver it. I personally always leave 10 – 15 extra minutes for Q&A and technical problems, so if my sessions needs to be 1 hour, I set the goal to prepare and rehearse the presentation for 45 – 50 minutes. Better finish your session 10 minutes earlier than 10 minutes later. People hate when they cannot leave in time and the reason for this is simple – we are all really busy nowadays and we all have quite a lot of things to do after your presentation ends!
- Stage fright kicks in! – Once you are ready with the previous six points, the time for you to deliver your session comes! Now, however, stage fright kicks in, but that is something that believe it or not is normal. You have a problem if you don’t have a stage fright and not if you are faced with it! What you can do about it though is something that I personally call “shatter the fear”. Many people say to me: “I am scared”, but that is not something that will help you at moment like this! Ask yourself what exactly are your scared of – you think you are not dressed well – then ask your family what you should wear, you think that your demo will fail – then rehears it 5 more times and prepare for a disaster too (will talk more about it in the last post of the series). By “shattering the fear” you will be able to eliminate many of the things that are actually “scaring” you and thus you will help yourself get in front of the audience more confident and prepared!
- Once you hit the stage don’t forget – you … are … the … emotion! – This means that if you sound boring, your audience will also be bored! Remember – it is you that will “dictate” what and how the room feels, so be emotional and let them all see that you love and you are passionate about the topic you talk about.
- Start strong! – Many people will advice you – start with a joke, make your audience laugh! I say – do not do that! How are you going to be sure that your joke will “work”? I have seen many of those attempts fail miserably and that’s why I always suggest starting with a personal story, because everyone has them! Another common(and fatal) mistake I see very often(and I mean really, really often!) is that presenters start their presentations by excusing themselves for something – not enough time to prepare, not enough time to sleep, they are not sure whether or not the topic is cool enough, etc. Are you serious? Never ever start your presentation this way! If you do that, the expectations of your audience will drop significantly and now they think that they will not hear anything interesting or anything that is well-prepared. Guess whether or not they want to listen to you anymore? Huge, huge mistake, so please – never start with an excuse of any type! Always start strong!
- Tell them “why” before telling them “how”! – Stress why is the thing that you are going to talk about so important? Tell your audience what the problem is and why do they need to care about it? Tell them why they should listen to this presentation and then tell them why you and not someone else is going to talk about it? Assure them that you are the right person that they should listen to! Once you do that tell them how are you going to resolve the problem that you just presented to them. “Why” before “how”!
- Follow your structure, be extremely precise and confident in what you talk about! – In the preparation phase you created a structure of your presentation(story). Now is the moment for you to follow it and while you are doing that try to speak as clear and precise as possible! What’s more – your audience has to see that you are confident in what you are talking about! The best presenters I have seen possess these 2 – they are not only looking confident with their knowledge, but they speak so clearly that you have no chance, but to understand them no matter how complex the subject is! Strive for that! Rehears and practice with the thought of that! It makes a difference and you can easily see it when you compare a novice speaker with someone that is on the top of it’s game!
- Who’s your audience? – While you are delivering the presentation we need to go back and speak for your audience again! This time you need to consider it not because you want to know how and what words and jokes to use, but how to involve it in your presentation. Are you going to ask questions? Are you going to give prizes? Are you going to do a demo that needs their help in some way? Engage them, because this will help you hold their attention during the presentation and you want that!
- Nonverbal communication – another very important and at the same time hard thing for you to learn, practice and think of while you are presenting is the nonverbal communication – how you move, how you standing, what are your hands doing during your presentation, etc. Obviously I cannot show you what I mean, but here are two great resources on this topic – here and here. Watch them, learn from them, apply them to your presentations (and not only), because the only thing that nonverbal communication does is to strengthens the delivery of your presentation!
- Q&A – first of all, don’t forget to repeat the question you are asked for the whole audience to hear! That is your responsibility especially in a large room and especially if there are no additional microphones set(not to mention if your presentations is broadcasted – than it’s a must!). Many speakers also think that they should be able to answer to each and every question that is asked by the audience, but that’s not true either. There is no problem for you to tell that you don’t know the answer of the question you are being asked. However, what you can do and what not that many presenters do, is to follow up in some way – try to help by asking for an e-mail and checking later or ask the person to discuss the topic after the presentation, or even sit down with him and test whatever he asked for(especially true in technical presentations). I have done all of those and will continue to do so, because believe it or not – it matters! And it matters in a huge way!
- At the end, don’t forget to engage your audience once again by giving them something to do after your presentation ends. Many times you see presenters leaving a slide with resources or sending something to the attendees via e-mail – this is because the presenter wants the audience to stay involved in the topic of his presentation even after it’s end. You need to do that too and depending on the topic it is up to you to decide what are the resources that you will provide them and how.
- Ask for the negative feedback! – once your presentation is over, it will be great if you can find people that are willing(because not all of them will do that) to give you the negative feedback, meaning what they did not like in your presentation. Always, always, always ask for it and even more important – learn from it, because this is the only way you will get better in your delivery! I promise you!
These are just some of the important, but indeed fundamental things that you need to consider and work on when you are about to deliver a presentation(have you noticed that they are ordered – from preparing to delivery?). There are, of course, a lot more things that may be added here(for example how one should be dressed?), but again – I wanted to share you the really important ones! Many of the presentations I see fail miserably exactly because of one or more of those above haven’t been taken into account and I really, really hope this post was and will be of great help to you!
In the second one from the series we will take a look at some very important things which you need to consider when you are delivering a technical presentation – what do you need to know about it and why it is different from any other type of presentation. You will also learn how to prepare your machine/s, your demos and what tools you can use in order to guarantee and be sure that your session will rock!