The Art of Effective Presentations

‘Would I like to make a presentation? No thanks. I’d rather drink cyanide.’

by Calvin Sun | February 2008

If you react that way to the thought of giving a presentation,
you’re far from alone. Although speaking in public frightens many
people, the ability to give presentations can boost your career
immeasurably. It helps you gain visibility and exposure, and increases
your chances of getting that new job or promotion.

Here are some pointers to help you give effective presentations.

Know Your Material

you really know and care about your material, your audience will sense
it. Remember, you’re not merely presenting material – you’re persuading
as well. 

Make sure you’re truly adding value or insight
to the audience, rather than repeating or conveying information people
can find for themselves. If you’re talking about project management,
for example, have you actually got experience with it? And be sure your
presentation is useful: You want people to leave feeling glad they
heard you, and that you’ve given them information that can help them do
their work.

If you’re using PowerPoint or handouts, be
merciful. Don’t read slides word for word, or your audience will start
wanting a tax audit. Use slides only as a jumping-off point, and add to
and embellish them with your presentation. On the other hand, don’t
memorize your presentation. If you’re reciting more than presenting,
your audience will know it. 

Control Nervousness

okay to be nervous, as long as you channel it to positive use. For
example, try telling yourself your anxious because you want to share
your information with the audience. It may sound odd, but it can work
for some people.

Humor can dispel nervousness, particularly
at the start. When I precede a more famous speaker, I ask the audience
whether they’re eager to hear from the marquee name. Of course,
everyone says yes. I continue: "In other words, you’re eager for me to

Eliminate Distractions

rid of those things that can distract the audience, such as keys or
loose change.  Otherwise, you may jingle them while you talk. Do you
have a nametag around your neck? If so, and you’re using a lapel
microphone, take off the nametag and lanyard so it won’t brush the mike
and send the sound through the speaker system. And be sure to know
whether your mike’s on or off.

Connect with the Audience

with your audience increases the chances people will remember and be
persuaded by your presentation. Try to look at individuals when you
speak – I recommend looking at the bridges of their noses.  When you
do, it appears you’re looking them in the eye, but you have less chance
of being distracted.

Before the presentation even begins,
introduce yourself to a few members of the audience.  If you have an
interesting conversation with them, consider mentioning it in your talk
and recognizing that audience member. (Be sure to get their permission
first, to avoid embarrassment all the way around.)

mention specific places the audience will recognize. If you’re in
Washington, D.C., don’t just say you had a delay "at the airport." 
Mention Dulles or Reagan. Don’t say you were walking "down the street,"
say "along Pennsylvania Avenue."

Keep Slides Simple

the saying goes: Pictures are worth a thousand words. For that reason,
look at your PowerPoint slides and think of ways and places you can
substitute images for text.  For example, in my talk on "Communications
Lessons from Titanic," I replaced text that said "the Titanic missed an
iceberg warning" with images of icebergs surrounding the ship.

Calvin Sun helps organizations and individuals improve their communications skills.