One of the questions we most frequently receive from managers and supervisors is, “Can you offer any suggestions to help me better prepare for a group presentation?”
While group presentations are something for which most people have had to prepare, few do it routinely and many struggle with it. The anxiety or stress associated with being in front of people is greatly compounded when one questions the quality or perceived value of the content being shared. While we can’t alleviate the unnerving feelings some may have while speaking in front of a group, we can help with the preparation leading to that point. Here are some suggestions.
1. Know Your Audience
Know and understand your audience. Sometimes that’s common knowledge, other times it may not be.
- What’s their experience level?
- Do they have the technical knowledge and skills needed to understand fundamental concepts, or will you need to break your subject matter down into lay terms?
- What sort of expectations will they have of you?
- What do they need and what will they be looking for?
It’s also important to understand the authority level of those to whom you will be communicating. The content needs to align with the authority of the audience. If you’re looking for a decision or subsequent action, your audience needs to be made up of decision makers or those with the authority to act on any recommendations you may have.
2. Understand Your Topic
While you don’t necessarily have to be a subject matter expert on your topic of discussion, you need to be able to defend any statements and support any claims made in your presentation with facts from a reliable source. Do your homework. Look for connections between your topic and other areas of possible interest to your audience. Also, make certain your topic connects with the expectations of your audience. Insights or perspectives that may not be commonly known are nuggets of value, so don’t be afraid to mine for them in your research. A trick of the trade for many professional speakers is to connect the topic of discussion to a commonly held belief or value held by those to whom you’re presenting. As an example, how a parent and student view snow days may not be the same.
3. Understand Your Purpose
From the onset, it’s very important to frame your discussion and any supporting content around its intended purpose. Is your presentation intended to inform? Are you looking for audience members to make a decision as a result of your discussion? Are you delivering a sales pitch? Whatever you intend to get out of the meeting must be a factor of consideration when designing it.
4. Define Points to be Made
We’ve all experienced pointless meetings. Please don’t put together another one. Before you craft any slides or start outlining discussion topics, give your presentation meaning. What’s the specific point of your presentation? If the purpose is to inform, the point is to what you are informing the audience about. A real measure of how well you achieve this is to ask the audience afterwards if they are clear on the points being made. Don’t be afraid to state your points or objectives at the onset of your presentation and as a statement of summary. Any takeaways or calls-to-action need to be clear. As a matter of courtesy, you should always make sure your points match the authority and expectations of those in the audience.
5. Understand Limitations
There are few things more frustrating than putting forth the time and effort required to develop a first-class presentation only to find out you’re not able to deliver it. Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons, that’s happened to me more times than I care to remember. Take the time on the front-end to know and understand limitations you may face on the back-end. I once showed up for a presentation to a contractor in southeast Texas only to find out the projector ran exclusively from a wireless connection, requiring software I didn’t have and wasn’t able to download. Fortunately, I understood the topic and was able to speak to it without needing a slide deck to do so.
Other limitations you should consider include: time constraints, availability of projector, screen, speakers, internet access, and advancement of slides. Also, try to get a first-hand view of the facility where you’ll be speaking. Are there any obvious distractions? Will the layout of the room work? Will you need any communication components, such as a microphone?
Keys to a Successful Presentation
If you can address the items mentioned above, congratulations! You’re halfway to conducting a meaningful presentation. The other half is engaging your audience. The following items will help you hold their attention from beginning to end.
- Work backwards when building a slide deck. Start with the end/summary and build the storyline that leads to it.
- Less is more. Make no more than three to five points with your presentation. Anything more can confuse and overwhelm your audience.
- Use images, stories, and quotes. While statistics make you think, emotions make you act.
- Eye charts are for the doctor’s office, not your presentation. Limit the number of words and lines per slide – PLEASE. Your audience will thank you for this alone!
- Talk to slides, not from them. This is one of the most important things you can do to engage with your audience and to build your credibility as a speaker. Know your content and be able to make the connections needed throughout your storyline without the aid of the words on the screen.
There are plenty of resources available to help you better prepare for presentations. The recommendations offered in this blog were developed over a course of years and through a process of trial and error. It’s our sincere hope that you find them useful at some point and can pass them along to others that may be able to benefit from them.