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7 Steps to Punch up Presentations

Mar 29, 2011

Presenting in front of a group of people isn't exactly the easiest thing to do, but that's no excuse for giving a lousy presentation. Here are seven practical tips to make your next presentation a winner.

7_steps_to_improve_business_presentations.JPGMany business presentations are fraught with flaws: They are too long, boring or unclear. Most importantly, they often fail to accomplish the presenter's goal.

Here are seven practical ways to improve your next presentation.

1) Know Your Goal. The first step is to determine who your audience is and know what you want them to take away from the presentation. Why are you speaking? Is it to inform (peers), persuade (clients) or move to action (investors)? Why should the audience care? "Most speakers never ask this of themselves," Dan Pallotta, president of Springboard and author of Uncharitable, writes at Harvard Business Review (HBR).

2) Craft the Story. Rather than present a bunch of information without any context or meaning, your presentation should tell a story. "The story is about the audience...not about you," BNET's Geoffrey James writes in his Sales Machine commentary. "The story connects emotions to the audience's current situation so that that a decision becomes inevitable." In telling the story, keep out material that doesn't belong in the narrative; only include material that's relevant to the overall message.

3) Do a Dry Run. Even after you know the material and know the audience, never wing it. Rehearse the presentation at least a few times before the event itself. Practice alone, with a spouse or with a friend. This can help with your timing, your manner of presentation and even your confidence. Consider recording your practice presentation and editing your performance. Determine if you went on too long or where you got stuck.

4) Nail the Timing. Keep the length of your rehearsal to the limit you are given. "If the entire presentation is to last for 30 minutes, the practice should go no longer than 18-25 minutes, depending on the amount of interaction or questions you anticipate," Marjorie Brody, founder and CEO of BRODY Professional Development, writes at presentation skills blog Six Minutes. Don't rush through the presentation; pause to give people a chance to understand what you're saying. But don't go so slow that you run out of time later, either.

5) Check the Tech. Before the presentation, solve any issues involving technical equipment. You don't want to be in the middle of your presentation when something happens that screws up the sound or slideshow. Arrive early, if possible, walk around the presentation area and check (then double-check) any equipment or visual aids you may use (e.g., microphone, projector, etc.). The more familiar you are with these tools, the more comfortable you'll be when using them.

6) Avoid Death by PowerPoint. PowerPoint slides can be good for depicting an idea graphically but can be insufficient for detail and reading. "Use slides to reinforce your message rather than to outline your data points," BNET suggests. A PowerPoint presentation should be entertaining, thought provoking and not a replacement for your notes. It also shouldn't be a data dump. If you are using PowerPoint in your presentation, follow Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule: 10 slides lasting 20 minutes in a font no smaller than 30 points. Avoid redundant content, busy backgrounds, clip art and sound effects.

7) Be Yourself. "As important as the content you present is your authenticity in presenting it, so don't try to be someone you're not," U.S. News & World Report's Professors' Guide says. For example, if you're not a naturally funny person, don't try to infuse your presentation with humor. "Robert Kennedy never tried to copy Martin Luther King's rhetorical skills," Pallotta writes at HBR. "RFK was soft-spoken. He owned that. And as a result, was every bit as affecting as King."

For many people, performing in public doesn't feel natural. Yet as voice coach Janet Howd sees it, that's a good thing.

"It's an extraordinary thing for you or anyone to have to do," Howd, who works with corporate, academic and legal clients worldwide, writes at "So, the more extraordinarily different you feel as you start to get to grips with this physically demanding task and the more extraordinarily different the sounds you are prepared to make — the better!"


Avoid "Death by PowerPoint"

Beating Stage Fright at Work

5 Things to Know for Public Speaking

Tips for Public Speaking (without the Flop Sweat)

How to Pitch to Investors


Image: Š

Delivering the Speech of Your Life

by Dan Pallotta

Harvard Business Review, March 4, 2011

Create a Dynamic Presentation in 6 Easy Steps

by Geoffrey James

Sales Machine (BNET), April 19, 2010

8 Key Points for Perfect Presentation Practice

by Marjorie Brody

Six Minutes, May 5, 2010

Top 20 Reasons Presentations Suck and How To Fix Them

by Geoffrey James

BNET, Feb. 5, 2011

The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

by Guy Kawasaki

How to Change the World (Guy Kawasaki blog), Dec. 30, 2005

15 Strategies for Giving Oral Presentations

by Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman

Professors' Guide (U.S. News & World Report), Feb. 24, 2010

To Become a Natural Presenter, You Must Behave Unnaturally

by Janet Howd, May 25, 2010

3 Steps to a Perfect Presentation

Rich Gee Group, December 2010

3 Tips to Create the Perfect Presentation Atmosphere

by Jon Thomas

Presentation Advisors, May 28, 2009