Part of presenting is delivering your talk; this is called speaking. Many presenters write great content, design excellent slides, but don’t speak well. As a result, they don’t get the results they want. They don’t sell their product or service or they don’t get approval for their project. Moreover, they are seen as ineffective.
On the other hand, I’ve seen presenters with good content and delivery, but awful slides, do quite well. Good speaking skills can overcome poor slides. (But good, visual slides can help a lot!)
Symptoms of not speaking well
- Reading the slides. This is a top annoyance for the audience and your slides shouldn’t have much text on them anyway. People HATE it when you read the slides! Here’s a typical comment:
“The presenter read, word for excruciating word, each and every slide. We were disengaged by the second slide.”
- No interaction with the audience. The audience is the reason for the presentation, so they want to feel as if you’re talking to them. If you pay no attention to them, not even meeting their gaze and not asking and answering questions, they feel ignored. What a turn off! Here’s a comment from one audience member:
“I would guess that 95% of the presentations I’ve witnessed over the last 5 years feature a speaker with his back to the audience over most of the presentation period. Go ahead and point your laser at the screen to make a point to the audience if necessary, but speak to the audience, and make some eye contact with them once in a while as well.”
- Poor speaking skills. By this I mean too many “uhs” and “ums” (a few are okay), poor grammar, rambling, interrupting a question from the audience, and more. As a presenter, you give an unprofessional impression if you don’t have a certain amount of polish. As one person noted:
“Too much talking, reading from slides, and ‘ya knows.’ Plus there were 2 presenters who were talking over one another. Barbarism.”
- Lack of practice. When you obviously don’t know how to use the projector or PowerPoint, when you stumble because you don’t know which slide will come next, when your talk obviously could never fit within the time frame you are allotted, audience members know that you didn’t practice. They interpret this to mean that you don’t care much about them. Here’s one experience:
“Slides had timing built into them and presenter became disoriented when the slides changed by themselves because of the timing.”
Become a good speaker
The steps to becoming a good speaker are not hard although they require some time and attention. The rewards are great:
- You’ll feel much less nervous. When you’re well-prepared and have learned these steps, you’ll feel more comfortable. Although some nervousness is normal, much of it comes from simply being unprepared.
- You’ll get better results. Your audience will respond more positively to you when you speak well. They’re more likely to buy from you or approve your proposal. They’ll certainly have a higher opinion of your accomplishments.
- You’ll enjoy yourself more. When you’re comfortable with your presentation and with the audience, you can finally start to enjoy the process of speaking. It can be a real “up” experience!
Here are the steps you need to follow:
Know your material very well. You should be able to skip slides if you’re running late. If you have a printed list of slides, you can just type the number of a slide and press Enter to skip to it. If you know that number of your last slide, you can even jump to that slide if you need to end quickly On the other hand, it’s embarrassing when you don’t have enough material, so prepare supplemental content (in another presentation file or a “custom show”) and hyperlink to it if you have extra time or if a question addresses that content. This advance preparation can save your presentation and will wow the audience!
Interact with the audience. As people come in, chat with them to make a connection. Early in the presentation, perhaps at the very beginning, ask the audience a question to get them involved. Leave time for questions and answer them patiently and thoroughly.
Practice, practice, practice. Before you even open PowerPoint, write out what you’re planning to say and speak it out loud while timing it. If you don’t do this, you’ll have no idea how long your talk will go; that’s a recipe for disaster. When your slides are done, go through your talk again with the slides and time it again. Then stand up and practice giving the talk at least two more time. Videotape yourself and watch the video. This will help you improve. You don’t need an expensive camcorder. Most digital cameras take video. You can use a webcam, too.
Know the technology. Practice with a projector to make sure you don’t have connection problems. Have a copy of your slides on a USB drive in case your laptop goes south. Have a handout in case nothing works! Make sure you know how to navigate in PowerPoint. For example, you can use the PageDown or left arrow key to go back a slide (or animation step).
Work on your speaking skills. Practicing out loud will go a long way to eliminating those “ums” and “uhs.” Put up some toy animals and practice in front of them, looking directly into their eyes for a sentence or two. Watching a videotape of yourself will also help. Don’t speak too quickly and pause occasionally for effect. If you need more help, join your local Toastmaster club.
You can give great presentations!
With a little time and practice, you can be successful when you present. Check out my training for more information.