Sanity Check

Better Presentations- Maximize your listener’s value

Let’s face it.  When we’re invited to speak at a conference or training our first instinct is to ask ourselves what do we want to say.  But shouldn’t we really be asking “what does the audience want to learn?”  Simply put too often speakers waste the listener’s time by telling them things they already know or have no use for.   Your listener has taken time away from their schedule and invested in you, in your presentation.  Now multiply that by the number of people in the room and you’ll easily see why it’s critical for you to maximize the value you provide them.  Here’s our tips for making the best use of your audience’s time.

Here are our tips for making the best use of your audience’s time.


Tip 1. Know your audience. How many times have you sat through a talk aimed at beginner when the audience was at the expert level? As a speaker it’s your responsibility to know your listeners’ expertise with the subject and adjust the complexity of your talk to that level. Before your presentation, ask yourself, “Why will the audience be here? What do they want to learn?” If you don’t know the answer to those questions, then find out.

Tip 2. Do you want to be there or were you told to be there? If you don’t want to present, then don’t—find someone else. If you don’t want to be there, it will show in your lack of enthusiasm.

Tip 3. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse. Know your subject. If you need to have notes in front of you, then you either don’t know your subject well enough or you haven’t rehearsed. Practice your talk, out loud, at least twice. Three or four times is better. Yes, we’ve all had a memory lapse or forgotten where we are in the presentation, but remember that if you’re using visual aids, such as PowerPoint, then the bullets on the slide are your memory cues.

Tip 4. Update those slides. “Last year (2004) more than 20% of our employees will live in the TriState area….” Don’t disrespect your audience by not updating your slides. You’ll immediately send them a message that they weren’t important enough for you to invest the time to get them current information.

Tip 5. Chose what you want them to remember. No one’s a big fan of PowerPoint, but it does help people remember. People learn by hearing, seeing, writing, saying, and teaching, usually in that order. The more we can get them to practice the activities on that list the more they’ll remember what we say; that is, learn.

So “seeing’s” important. But let’s not overdo it by cramming 50 words on each slide. The slides are cues for learning, not a textbook. People will usually remember no more than three things about your entire presentation and no more than one thing about each slide. It’s up to you to decide what you want them to remember.

Tip 6. Tell them something they don’t know. Are you telling the audience something new? Make every speaking opportunity an opportunity to teach and learn.

Tip 7. Can you R-E-A-D; don’t. “As you see on Slide 37, we have the detailed technical definition of…” Yes, it’s easier to read the slide, but don’t. Never. Really. Instead summarize the slide and make the point that you want them to remember.

Tip 8. Know the room. You’re thinking, “What’s to know?” I recently did a presentation where the client let me use their equipment only: a 100-inch rear projection display unit with a touch-sensitive screen. The remote didn’t work, so I needed to touch an icon on the screen to advance a slide. Only problem was that the screen resolution would degrade whenever I approached the screen. The combination of the blurry screen and my farsightedness had me poking at the screen blindly to advance each slide. You’re laughing, right? They weren’t. Know your room and the equipment.

Tip 9. Is PowerPoint your only option? We’ve all heard the jokes about “death by PowerPoint,” but most would agree that it’s an easy to use tool. For that reason, members of your audience will be so familiar with it that it can bore them. Try adding video clips or using storyboards. Perhaps a live demonstration with props. Web browser presentation tools, such as HTML Slidy, allow you to expand or collapse bullet points to respond to the audience’s needs. Some brainstorming software, such as Mindjet, can be useful as a presentation tool if you’re trying to demonstrate the logic of a decision or paths to solve a problem.

Next month:  Curtain up!  It's time to present.

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