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Five Rules for Successful Presentations
There – I said it.
I’m THAT guy.
I’m here to undo the damage done by presenters using PowerPoint as a word processor in the shape of a sledgehammer. Don’t blame the program, blame the lack of imagination.
“But Dave”, I hear you say, “I thought death by PowerPoint was the only way it could be?”
HA HA! Follow me, my misguided friends, as we explore the 5 sacred rules to use PowerPoint without boring your audience into a presentation induced coma.
1. Get to know your Audience
Before you start getting a presentation organised the first thing you need do is think about who you’ll be presenting to. Kids or adults? Amateurs or professionals?
How many people should you expect? Is it a stadium or an intimate conference room at the back of the local RSL?
Do they have some prior knowledge that relates to the topic of your presentation?
Is their attendance mandatory or are they here by choice? Are they here to learn or simply to be entertained?
These factors will influence the language, length and style of your presentation. Most importantly, they will determine your ability to get the message across.
2. Be Clever with Content and Mindful of the Time you have
So you have a topic that spans 60 years of history and progress and you’ve got 3 minutes to present it. Alternatively, you may have 55 minutes to talk about why the blue M&Ms taste better than the red ones. This is where you need to start using your imagination.
The confines of the presentation (time vs information) will require you to plan out your presentation very carefully. If time is short you’ll need to work out the top few things that you need to get across. If you find yourself with a lot of time to fill and not enough information you may need to expand the scope of your topic. You can also include the audience in discussions, activities and questions.
3. Put Yourself in the Audience's Shoes when Designing the Presentation
Boring slides with too much text come a close second in the race for the worst slide design EVER! (Only beaten by red comic sans on a busy background.)
You might have a style guide that you need to stick to. That’s OK. Work with what you’ve got. Generally, less is more. Less text per slide. List only the main points.
Avoid reading the content of the slide word-for-word. This comes across as disorganised and careless. If you’re there reading out the same text that everyone can read for themselves then you’re not really contributing anything…
If you’re subject allows for it, use graphics, charts and diagrams to back up what you say. A picture is worth a thousand words. An image helps to gets your point across and gives the audience something interesting to look at. Please don’t break copyright though!
I like to have something that looks nice but doesn’t get in the way of getting the message across. I like to keep the presentation simple, clean and with as few slides as possible.
4. Get Feedback from Someone who's not Afraid to Hurt your Feelings
Always give your presentation to somebody to check and proofread. It can be easy to miss your own mistakes. A fresh set of eyes might pick up on something that you completely missed.
But it’s not just about spelling mistakes. Get feedback on the quality of information, the readability of slides and remove anything that gets in the way of your message.
As a general rule, I like to get my presentations checked by one person with knowledge of the subject and a second person without. They tend to look for different things.
If you plan on using handouts get those checked as well.
5. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. PRACTICE.
Run through your presentation a few times. Get to know it well. Run it past a colleague to see which parts make them want to ask you a question. You might need a little more focus on that area. It is also good practice to get derailed and have to steer the presentation back on course.
Practising the presentation will also help you to slow down when you talk. Give your audience a moment for the information to sink in. If they get lost somewhere in the delivery they might switch off. You want a room full of invested, engaged participants, not one full of vacant expressions.
Your Presentation is Prepared. Now What?
The first hurdle done; you know your stuff. But then comes the part where you actually have to get up in front of people (real people!) and speak to them…
Did you know that public speaking is a lot like regular speaking? You think about what you want to say, and then you say it. The only difference is that, generally, nobody will talk over you and that can be quite a nice change.
Some people get worried about saying the wrong thing. Your audience doesn’t know what you were going to say, so if you muck it up they won’t know the difference anyway. If you get stuck stop and take a breath. Take your time. Your audience will understand; most of them wouldn’t trade places with you for all the fiddles in Belfast.
Make no mistake, at some point you WILL stumble. You will miss something obvious. You will say the wrong thing. But, if you present like you know what you are talking about people will listen, and you’ll get better at it over time. One thing we humans love to do is watch other humans who are really, really good at something.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Cunning is the General Manager of The Learning Resources Group. He has been in the VET sector for 12 years and has spent the best part of the last decade managing the creation of training and assessment resources for over 300 units of competency. He was the driving force behind the LLN Robot System of assessing and supporting vocational education students across the country.
Dave has invested himself in understanding the industry by attaining his Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and also a Diploma of Vocational Education and Training and a Diploma in Training Design and Development.
Prior to working in the VET sector, Dave was a psychology graduate and a graphic artist who ran his own independent publishing house.
Outside of TLRG office, Dave was voted the world's greatest dad by a 2/3 majority of his 3 sons. He is an amateur e-sports participator, avid motorcycle accumulator and aspires to be the single largest consumer of 2-minute noodles in the southern hemisphere.