You’ve got an important presentation coming up and the stakes are incredibly high. If you succeed in winning over your audience, maybe you’ll finalise an important deal, win a particularly powerful client or offer a solution to a critical problem.
But if you fail – i.e. by not connecting or getting your audience to agree with you – the cost can be just as high and damage your personal prospects or those of the company you represent.
That’s why, when I work with my mentees we spend a lot of time not just practising and shaping a presentation or public speech… but also making sure to avoid the things that can sabotage all of that effort and hard work.
With that in mind, here are seven ways you can protect your next important presentation from possible failure.
1. Do your homework about the venue
Are you speaking in a sleek modern office before the board of directors? Or is your presentation a little more casual in multi-purpose room of a school. Will there be a projector and speakers all set up? Will you need a whiteboard – and will there be one for you to use?
What will the audience seating be like? Semi-formal around a table? Formal, with rows of seats in an auditorium?
Will you have freedom to move around the room or will you be restricted only to one area of the space?
Not knowing the answers to these questions can sink an otherwise great presentation, and undermine your confidence and ability to connect with those listening to you. So, when preparing a presentation, make researching the venue part of your process.
2. Do your homework about your audience
While we’re speaking about those listening to you… who exactly are they? What are their age ranges, professional experiences, interests and problems likely to be? Are you speaking to men or women? What might their training/educational background be? What social class do they identify as belonging to? What are their values?
In some cases, this is fairly straightforward – if you’re speaking before executives from an insurance company, your audience members, whether male or female, are likely to value a more conservative approach to your presentation and are likely to be above the age of 40.
On the other hand, if you’re presenting to an audience of tech start-up members, your presentation will benefit from far more connection with your listeners, using a less formal, more casual style.
So, before you begin working on a presentation, make sure that you have a detailed profile of your audience in mind so you ensure you engage with their specific values, concerns and background.
3. Structure your presentation with key points
Ask yourself this… what do you want your audience to take away from your presentation after you’ve delivered it?
Even more importantly – what are the three to five key points that should be clear in their minds by the time you’ve finished?
Then, once you’ve decided on your key points, ask yourself another question: what’s the best sequence of organising these points for maximum impact (generally, you want to save your most important point, or argument, for last).
Then ask yourself a final question: what’s the best way to introduce these points at the beginning, and the best way to leave the audience remembering these points at the end of your presentation.
Remember… not being clear about the key takeaways (audiences are unlikely to remember more than – maximum – FIVE), and not being clear about how to structure those key points, will undermine the potential power of your presentation.
4. Remember to stick to the format
You’re giving a presentation. Not a speech. What’s the difference?
Presentations are designed for a less-polished, more connected experience with your listeners, with enough space left in how the material is offered, for the audience to discuss or pose questions to the presenter afterwards.
Speeches are constructed for, in a sense, a performance, which may well sacrifice analysis for style. And while connection with the audience is still important, there is little to no expectation of discussion or feedback thereafter.
In short, presentations should not be written out word-for-word beforehand and should cover only the main points.
Allow room to respond and adjust to how the material is impacting your audience… don’t let your presentation turn into a speech that distances you from your listeners.
5. Don’t over-rehearse your presentation
This follows on from the last point.
Of COURSE you have to prepare and rehearse. You have to learn about your audience and the space where you’ll be delivering the presentation. You have to know what you want your audience to take away from your material and structure your presentation accordingly.
And you have to know your material and the sequence of how you present your main points to the point where you’re comfortable. But NOT to the point where you sound impersonal and even in-authentic.
One of the features of a successful presentation is having just enough preparation to present your material with authority, while remaining under-rehearsed enough to come across as approachable and genuine.
6. Ask for feedback (from trusted sources)
Feedback is important and when I work with my mentees to put together any presentation, I give a lot of feedback… and I require the mentee him/herself to self-evaluate as well.
But going the extra mile by actively seeking feedback from trusted, impartial sources (not your best friends, not your mother – preferably with shared characteristics with your upcoming audience…) will help you avoid the danger of your key messages being lost.
After all, even if you have a great sequence of tailored, audience-specific points, delivered in as authentic a manner as possible… there will still be lapses, gaps in argument, or missed opportunities to connect that only other ears and eyes will be able to identify and communicate to you.
So, ask for feedback from appropriate listeners, and then revise your material to address the issues they bring to your attention.
7. Keep to the time allocated
Last but definitely not least… make sure you know how much time you have been allocated by your listeners for your presentation and make sure you stick to it.
This is where it’s important being just under-rehearsed enough to remain authentic with your listeners, but not so under-prepared where you struggle to remember the sequence of your main points and take too long to deliver them.
Or you fail to have enough material to successfully fill the time allocated, and you end up looking like you’ve under-prepared, or that there simply isn’t enough substance to what you are presenting.
So, get the duration of your presentation right and stay within the time window you have been allocated – finishing neither too early nor too late.
To work with me one-on-one to take your professional and personal performance to new levels, please check out the LIMITLESS track of services at my website, www.leonidasalexandrou.com