For many, making a presentation in public is a difficult and tense process. Advance preparation and a few tips from the pros can go a long way to ease the tension. These tips and ideas will help you prepare and present a smooth presentation.
Your audience wants you to show them what you are talking about-literally. Use color graphics, slides, and handouts to get your message across. Use effective visuals to communicate your main points. Research shows that your audience will remember more when you use visual aids to reinforce your words. Visuals are designed to provide your audience with visual reinforcements of your verbal points. They are not supposed to be a presentation crutch for you! Are they easy read? Simple to follow? Do they illustrate your point? A good rule of thumb is to use two colors in your graphics. More than three will make your visual too busy. Use bullet points only in overhead text presentations; sentences are too long and too busy for visual displays.
Get rid of the Podium
Don't get stuck using the podium as a security blanket. Get out in front of your audience and interact with them. You don't have to zoom around the room but make sure you occasionally move around, especially when the audience is large. If you use nametags or place cards or if you know the names of participants, occasionally incorporate their names when speaking to them. Between addressing them directly and making strong eye contact, you will keep them involved and interested in your presentation.
Analyze your Audience
In order to give an effective presentation, you need to know as much as possible about your audience. Find out key demographics of the audience and determine how familiar they are with the subject of your presentation. As you learn more about your audience and their expectations, it is important to do a self-evaluation as well. Are you comfortable speaking to this audience about this subject? Are you the right person for the presentation? How can you prepare to be the right person?
Always Use Eye Contact and Focus on Your Audience
You are the presenter and the attention is on you. Make sure you maintain eye contact with your audience. As a rule, you should make eye contact with an audience member for three to five seconds. In addition, you should make eye contact with all areas of the room including the back of the room. Scan the room regularly and do not focus on just one participant for too long.
Don't try to be something you are not. Audiences can sense a fake in a minute. Develop your own presentation style and use it! Use humor if you are comfortable with that style, and don’t forget to keep the audience interested in your topic. Ask the audience for participation, ask questions, promote interaction.
Remember, You are Presenting, Not Giving a Speech
The worst speakers are those who read straight off their notes. One of the easiest ways to put off an audience is by reading your entire presentation. Prepare your presentation well in advance if possible. Do a few trial runs before you step in front of your audience. Know your material. Remember, when you make eye contact with your audience, you force yourself to focus on them! In turn, you are less likely to read from a script.
Here are some sites that provide additional information on creating successful presentations:
Presentation Tips, compiled by the University of Wisconsin's media support group.
Allyn & Bacon's Public Speaking Website.