Tag Archives: presentation skills

How to improve your presentations – a simple lesson

Presentation advice

A friend recently challenged me to provide him with my number one tip for improving his presentations. He was looking for that famous ‘low-hanging fruit’ that wouldn’t require too much effort and energy. I didn’t have to think long and hard about that question. In my past job role, I attended many conferences and sat through hundreds of presentations. Unfortunately, a majority of the presentations did not reach their full potential. It wasn’t the content. The speakers were ok in many cases. It was the slides that lowered the impact of those speeches.

Death to Bullets

Around 75% of all the slides you and I get to absorb everyday contain tons of text. Take a look at the example below. And trust me, this is a gentle case.

 

Ugly Powerpoint

The classic Powerpoint slide. Lot’s of bullets and lot’s of reading material

There is a huge problem with this type of slide design: The minute you bring it up on the screen, people will start reading. You immediately loose the attention of your audience. The more words on the screen, the longer the attention gap. It’s a natural human reaction to be drawn to the text. There is nothing you can do. I have seen really good and charismatic speakers struggle to hold the attention of their audience with these type of Powerpoints. And it get’s worse. Once you have read the text, you tend to drift off. Hey….you know the content anyway. Let’s face it – listening is for longer periods of time is hard. Your brain is constantly searching for an easy escape. Don’t believe me? Observe yourself next time you attend a presentation.

The alternative

There is the famous saying: A picture says more than a thousand words. It’s true. Instead of sticking lot’s of text on your slides, try to simplify. Reduce the text. You can try something really simple like this:

Better Powerpoint

It takes less than a minute to create a slide like this.

Or even better – use a simple picture. I am talking about tasteful photographs or graphics. But stay away from cheap cliparts.

eBook Reader

Granted this is nothing fancy. But this slide allows you to grab and hold people’s attention.

Why is this a better approach? There are several reasons why you should consider this:

  • People tend to remember pictures much better than words. You can do a test….see if you can remember the last slide.
  • Your audience doesn’t loose focus. You are the star. They need to listen to you to understand what the presentation is all about.
  • If you use beautiful and meaningful slides, people often look forward to the next set of slides. It literally keeps them engage.
  • You cannot read your slides. Reading a slide is the best way to loose the attention of your audience. Simple Powerpoints on the other hand force you to have a conversation with your audience. You sound natural and you can easily inject stories.

Easier said than done? You can purchase awesome looking stockphotos for less than a dollar today. Services like iStockphoto or Fotolia have amazing collections and their prices are very decent. Even better: Few people know that Microsoft actually offers a huge collection of awesome pictures on their Powerpoint website – for free. Check it out.

Drop those bullets

Want to improve your presentations? Drop your bullets then and develop simple slides. It’s not that difficult.

If you want some advice about how build beautiful slides that have an impact, I highly recommend the following two books:

slide:ology by Nancy Duarte – This book is probably the best one about presentation design. It’s gorgeous and there are lot’s of amazing ideas for designing awesome presentations. This is not necessarily a book that you read from the first page to the last. It’s rather an amazing compendium. I use it when I’m stuck and I need some creative ideas.

Presentation Zen Design by Garr Reynolds – Excellent advice about designing slides. This book is concise and provides the basics for proper and elegant presentation design.

 

Related Posts:

Memorize a presentation? Forget about it!

Memorize a presentation?

Presenting is a highly rewarding exercise. Yet many people struggle with it. Nervousness and also the required preparation induce uncomfortable feelings in many people. The first one is a necessary evil and it can be dealt with. But how about the second one? People often ask me how I manage to memorize a presentation. Well, here is the secret: I do not memorize anything. And now hold your breath: I never practice either.

Natural conversations

The way we present has fundamentally changed. Ten years ago, many of us would have probably endured a boring and scripted presentation. Today, we expect presentations to be conversational. In his excellent book The Naked Presenter, presentation guru Garr Reynolds says:

”Most communication experts today agree that a good talk or a good presentation should feel more like a conversation.”

Memorizing a speech or a presentation goes against that objective, from my point of view. Such presentations can only sound stiff unless we are trained actors. The same is true for spending too much time practicing. Think about it: how often do you memorize a conversation before you have it?

An alternative approach

What would you rather do in front of an audience (customers, friends, colleagues)?:

  1. Memorize a long poem and recite it
  2. Read a 50 page story and then tell that story

Chances are you would prefer option 2. I certainly do. And that’s why I have developed a process that feels like preparing to tell a story. It really works for me. Give it a try.

The steps

Step 1: Create your content. I don’t want to go into any details here. Much has been written about how to develop a great presentation. So, let’s just assume we already have a somewhat solid slide deck in front of us.

Step 2: 30,000 ft view. Take your presentation and review it in the slide sorter view. Do a high-level walk-through. Check your general structure and story. A presentation needs to have a logical flow. Look for inconsistencies and harsh transitions. Rearrange slides where you see the need. This step usually takes a few minutes (assuming you already have a somewhat decent story….).

Slide Sorter View

Step 3: Build a map. Now it’s time to drill down further. Stay in the slide sorter view and zoom out so that you can see all slides on one screen. Take a screenshot and paste it into a new slide. Now, think about the logical sections of your presentation. I put a bar over slides that belong together (think chapters or sections). Once I have done that, I then write a short “mission statement” into that bar. If you struggle with your mission statement, you might want to revisit the entire section or maybe delete it after all. Less is more when it comes to presenting.

Presentation Map

Step 4: Review the map. This map is incredibly powerful as it helps you refine and visualize your presentation structure. Use the map to review your content and structure again. Look at each slide and check whether it supports the mission statement of the section. It is often helpful to show this structure to another person.

At this point, you should know your presentation quite well. All that without memorizing anything. Also, you have the ability to really refine and further develop your content. In the example above, I can clearly see that slide 5 is useless and that section 3 is weak and incomplete.

So far so good. Let’s work on the details. You can now switch back to the slide view. It might also help to print out your map. The following steps should be repeated for all the slides. Walk through them sequentially.

Step 5: Purpose: Write down the purpose of the slide. This should be a simple sentence. This is the key message you want to bring across with this particular slide. This message needs to be crystal clear. And it needs to support the mission statement of section that it belongs to. This step not only helps you “memorize” the presentation but it will also help you get rid of useless materials. Once again, less is more.

Step 6: Messages and stories. Now that you know the purpose, start thinking about how to best bring the purpose and message for the slide across to your audience. This could be a story. Or this could be data points. Stories usually work best. People love them. Also, it is easy to remember them. They sound conversational. If you present numbers, think about an interesting way to do that. Try not to limit yourself. I often end up with 2-3 different ways to talk about a slide. That gives you a lot of options when you actually present.

Presentation notes

Congrats. You have made it that far. You should know your presentation pretty well by now. And your content should be really clean and well structured by now. But what about memorizing a presentation?

The last but important step

The final step is quite simple but it is the most important one. It comes closest to memorizing the presentation. I usually repeat this step a few times.

Step 7: Walk-through. In the days/ hours leading up to a presentation, I typically take a piece of paper and mentally walk through the presentation slide by slide. Depending on how comfortable I am, I write down the key message of each slide. In most cases, I won’t have the presentation open for that. That helps me focus on the general story and the messages. Also, I usually print the map and review it. However, I do not stand up and practice the whole thing in real time. You might want to do that if it makes you comfortable. It does not work for me.

An effective process

This process might look quite complicated. But it’s not. It accomplishes three things:

– It cleans up your presentation flow
– Helps you memorize your flow and talking points
– Gives you confidence

Is this time-consuming? Not really. It’s a whole lot faster than writing a script and memorizing it. Scripting pulls you too far down and you run the risk of loosing the bird eye’s view. You get stuck in details.

Knowing your stories and messages for each slide will then allow you to deliver your presentation in a conversational style. Why is that? You know your content inside and out and that is a real confidence booster. Running through a memorized script on the other hand has the potential to make you nervous.

That’s it for today. I will walk you through an example sometime later this year. Make sure to check back.

Related Posts:

8 reasons why you should love presenting

Do YOU love presenting?

Too many people hate presenting. A few weeks ago, I wrote about some strategies to combat nervousness when presenting to a larger group of people. This post turned out to be extremely popular. However, I just realized that I had omitted an important point: Why would I want to present in the first place? Dealing with nervousness is a nerve-racking business after all. It would be easy to just avoid this all together. In my current role I have had the unique opportunity to present over 100 times per year and have learned that we should jump on the opportunity to present to smaller or larger groups. I honestly have to say that I love presenting. And I think you should love it, too. Here is why.

8 reasons YOU should present

  • Ability to share your ideas: Think about it – it is damn hard to get people’s attention these days. There is too much information floating around and there is also a lot of distraction. If you have a great idea, you really need to fight to the attention of the right people. Presenting, however, allows you to get the undivided attention of a lot of people at the same time. I consider this to be a serious luxury. It is a rare opportunity.
  • Ability to stand-out:It is quite difficult to stand-out these days. Presenting more than anything else provides you with the opportunity to show your capabilities and to toot your own horn.  An engaging and insightful presentation is the ideal platform to shine and to create a lasting impact. Don’t waste it. It’s no surprise that many experts consider presentation skills a key career skill.
  • Ability to influence: It’s not only about standing out but also about influencing lives and decisions. Delivering a great presentation allows you to influence more than just one person. Once again – you should consider this as a luxury.
presenting

Undivided attention is a luxury. Don’t waste it! Shine, instead.

  • Opportunity to learn: One of the best ways to learn is to teach. Creating a great presentation requires you to know your materials insight out. You will have to prepare carefully. And that is an excellent opportunity to acquire new knowledge. I have had a lot of situations where a speaking engagement turned out to be a tremendous learning experience.
  • Ability to test: It’s great to have ideas. But do they actually work? Presenting is an amazing platform to test your ideas and to see if your positioning works. Why is that? Your audience will provide you with immediate and honest feedback. Just look at their faces. Are they engaged or bored? If they are bored, you need to work on your pitch and your idea.
  • Improved networking: Whenever I present at conferences and meetings, I tend to meet a bunch of great new people. As the presenter you enjoy more exposure as I mentioned earlier. If people like your content they will connect with you. And the great thing is that you don’t have to do the work. People come to you.
  • Intellectual challenge: Listen up – presenting is an awesome intellectual challenge. To deliver a great speech you need to be 100% focused. Staying focused for more than 30 minutes is not easy. After delivering a 60 minute presentation, I am often drained. But that’s a great feeling!
  • Fun: Last but not least, presenting can be extremely rewarding and fun. A great job done presenting will give you many reasons to celebrate and smile.

8 reasons to love presenting

Those are my 8 reasons why you should love presenting. Of course, non of this is easy and it requires preparation and practice. That’s the way life is. What do you like about presenting?

“Presenting is an every day activity for everyone. Those that do it well are likely to get to the top of their chosen profession.”, Graham Davies, The Presentation Coach: Bare Knuckle Brilliance For Every Presenter

“The potential of your speech or presentation to change things – maybe even change the world – goes far beyond just the words spoken.”, Garr Reynold, The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides (Voices That Matter)

Related Posts:

6 tips for combating public speaking nervousness

A case of public speaking nervousness

It was a regular workday for Tom. Things were going well for him and his career. Shortly after 5pm his boss called to ask him for a simple favor: to deliver one of their standard corporate presentations in front of 30 sales and marketing people from a different business unit the next day at 1pm. Most people dread presenting and so did Tom. He cancelled his get-together for the evening and didn’t go to bed until after midnight. He tossed and turned in anticipation of the next day. At 4am he finally gave up, showered and continued with his preparation. His public speaking nervousness continued to rise throughout the morning. His girl-friend tried to re-assure him. He knew the subject extremely well, after all. Shortly after 1pm, disaster struck. He had just started the presentation when he had a complete black-out. 29 people stared at him with anticipation. He couldn’t find his words, the world started spinning around him and he passed out.

Public Speaking Nervousness

This view is supposedly scarier for many people than looking into the face of a snake.

The stage fright phenomenon

What happened to Tom isn’t unusual. It happens all the time. Most people hate presenting in front of a group of any size. But it doesn’t have to end in disaster. And it shouldn’t! Presentation skills are extremely important today. We are required to present more often that we think: team meetings, town halls, conferences… There are a lot of opportunities to shine but also to mess things up.

It is a well-known secret that even famous actors, performers and singers deal with the phenomenon of stage fright. There is no way around it. But it doesn’t have to be a horror experience. Instead, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences professional live offers.

“The fact is, people do judge by appearances. If you have great ideas but present them poorly, many people will fail to see their worth. You’ll be beaten by somebody whose ideas are less worthy than yours, but who presented them superlatively.”, Simon Reynolds.

Advice for public speaking nervousness

For the past four years, I have frequently presented to larger audiences of up to a few thousand people. Those occasions have taught me a lot. But let me tell you: regardless of how often I do this – I am usually nervous. Here are a few things that have helped me stay calm and relaxed. Many websites and books will tell you about breathing techniques and such. That sort of stuff puts a band-aid on a deep cut. I doesn’t help you heal.

  1. Nervousness = Ability to perform: Being nervous helps us perform extremely well. The reason is that our brains release adrenaline which in turn allows us to focus and to perform.  Just think back to a time when you achieved something amazing (maybe a test, race, tournament). Chances are you were super nervous but suddenly your adrenaline kicked in. So the first thing to do is to just accept the fact that you will feel those butterflies in your stomach. Knowing that this is part of deal and that this helps me has made a world of difference.
  2. Prepare: Preparation is key. For one thing, you should know your content well. If you do not know what you are talking about, you have every right to be nervous and maybe you shouldn’t even present to begin with. But preparation also requires you to have the equipment ready and primed. I always make sure to charge my laptop and iPad before any presentation. Also, I try to show up at a location early enough to test everything. It sounds so simple, but I have seen many people who get frazzled by beeping laptops, connectivity issues and such. So, do yourself a favor and prepare well.
  3. Content: Invest time in developing your content. Simply downloading any cool presentation from the corporate knowledge center will not help. Every audience is different. If you invest time in understanding their needs and tailoring the content will help you tremendously. I have had several occasions where I developed presentations that I was really excited to deliver. The content was that cool. If you are happy and familiar with the content, you will be in a much better place.
  4. Mingle: We are usually most comfortable with friends and family. Crowds of people that we do not know are scary on the other hand. I therefore try to mingle with people before a presentation. It allows me to get to know them, learn about their expectations and to also get some distraction.
  5. Humor: Humor is the best medicine. I personally love to joke around before speaking engagements. It helps me clear my mind and it helps with getting into a positive attitude. And that attitude is extremely important.
  6. Hidden agenda: Part of the reason we experience public speaking nervousness is the fear of making mistakes. But guess what – as the presenter, we have a serious competitive advantage: Nobody besides you knows what is supposed to happen. Let’s assume that you were planning on saying X before saying Y, but you end up starting with Y and then finishing with X. The audience won’t notice and they won’t care. You are the only one who knows! And even if you make a mistake, so what? Stuff happens and nobody expects you to be perfect. So, use that knowledge to your advantage: Only you know what is supposed to happen. That insight alone can really calm you down.

Public speaking nervousness

Next time you have to present and you experience public speaking nervousness, try one of these tips. But keep in mind – everybody is different. What works for me doesn’t necessarily have to work for you. You will have to try different things and see what works. The biggest difference for me was to find out about tips #1 and 5.
What are your experiences?

Related Posts:

Mark Jeffries: “Have you invested in yourself?”

GUESTPOST BY MARK JEFFRIES

In the IT business – we have a big advantage. Very cool solutions that truly help businesses solve problems. Nice!

However, that is not our challenge. The IT challenge is actually whether your target – be it client, colleague or boss – actually wants to buy YOU!  The unspoken questions become – ‘what value do you bring’, why should I trust you? What will YOU do for me?

Businesses understand that with an economy in a fragile recovery, it is impossible to ruthlessly raise prices and to aggressively grab market share. Instead, it would appear that the game is to add value, offer the customer more and constantly justify their  existence.

From an individual perspective, we need to take note. Taking a leaf out of the book of ‘big business’, for our own use as individuals, is worth a go.

WHAT ARE YOU WORTH??

Never forget that people buy people – and every time that you explain the benefit of your offering, the value of your products or the brilliance of your service –  people are really choosing whether they buy YOU or not. Here are some ideas on how you can increase your own buyability.

Continue reading

Related Posts:

8 ideas for delivering a better demo

Demos are a critical part of every business analytics implementation. There are frequent occasions during any project where we have to show present tools & processes: At the beginning, we might show the new software to our users to educate them. Later on we might want to review a prototype and we need to solicit productive feedback based on the demo. Training sessions require us to teach the new process and tool while also obtaining buy-in from the business. Overall, I would argue that being able to deliver a great demo is a critical skill for every business analytics professional.

Continue reading

Related Posts: