All professionals are required to make presentations, and presentation skills are becoming as important as good writing. The key to a good presentation is thorough preparation. The following points come from a variety of sources, including our own experiences - good and bad.
Never try to "wing it." Even experienced presenters are often nervous, so do not be concerned about pre-presentation jitters. Thorough preparation helps keep nerves under control.
- Know your topic.
- Know your audience, including who else ispresenting.
- Establish presentation length.
- Prepare to finish a few minutes early, but take full time if you need it.
- Rehearse presentation and time it.
- Rehearse again, if necessary.
Check out the room on the presentation day
Making sure you understand your presentation environment accomplishes three objectives. First, it keeps you from being surprised. Second, it allows you to make contingency plans. Third, it helps you remain calm. This is particularly true when you are presenting at a conference or some other venue outside your agency. Hotel conference facilities vary considerably in their layout.
- Is the equipment you need in place?
- Flip charts
- Black/white boards
- Laser pointer
Modern presentation equipment is both complex and failure-prone. Be sure you know how it works and have backup plans. If time permits, we always conduct a trial run with the equipment in the room. And during this trial run, we have found it useful to sit in different parts of the room and view the most complex slides. Even if you cannot make adjustments, you can forewarn your audience later. (For example, "Those of you on the left might want to move to the center as there are some graphics that are hard to see from the left-most seats.")
- Locate the projector in the best position for the audience and yourself.
- Make sure it does not block the view of the screen.
- If necessary, get help with presenting slides.
- Make sure slides can be read from the back of the room.
- Draw curtains or blinds if necessary.
- Never assume things will work as planned!
Though knowing your material is critical, you need to have a style the audience appreciates. At minimum, make sure your audience does not have to work to overcome your style to understand your presentation. Treating your audience with respect is absolutely critical.
- Do not read your paper even if you have supplied a written version.
- Speak from notes (using cards prevents you from losing your place).
- Begin politely (thank chair, introduce yourself, greet audience, etc.)
- If possible, stand up and speak (this helps keep control of the audience).
- For lengthy presentations, you can vary where you stand (but don't walk about restlessly)
- Do not block the audience's view of the slide images.
- Make sure you can be heard.
- Don't speak too fast (about 120 words per minute is good).
- Maintain eye contact with the audience (but not just one person!).
- Make sure your audience knows when it is appropriate to ask questions - during the presentation or after.
- Repeat questions so others can hear, answer concisely, and ask the questioner whether you have addressed their question.
- Make sure handouts are clear (and that you have enough).
- End on time.
- Try to enjoy yourself!
PowerPoint and other similar presentation software allow the audience to receive the information simultaneously in two modes: visually and aurally. They are therefore more likely to understand and remember key points. There are four dangers from electronic presentations. First, they can result in standardized presentations that quickly become boring for more sophisticated audiences. Second, they can become so complex that the audience pays more attention to the media than the message. Three, breakdowns become more common with greater complexity. Four, they can stifle questions from the audience. Watching you fix a multimedia extravaganza bores your audience and wastes there time. Remember the KIS principle: Keep It Simple.
- Don't read your slides - your talk should not just be a repetition of the slides.
- Look at the audience - not at your slides!
- Begin with the title of the presentation, your name and affiliation (but not your qualifications).
- Use only one form of slide transition throughout, and only use a simple transition that does not distract the audience from your main points.
Individual PowerPoint Slides
Keep each slide simple, too. Lots of text on a slide is hard to read. Your objective is to make each slide telegraphic. Each slide should focus attention on a critical point and avoid distractions from that point. So make them easy to read and understand.
- Make only one point.
- Present just enough detail to address the point andno more.
- Avoid distracting sound effects, animation, type fonts, and transitions.
- Use dark background (e.g., deep blue) and light colors for text (e.g., yellow).
- Use large fonts and contrasting colors (not clashing,e.g., blue and deep orange is clashing, but blue and yellow is contrasting).
- Avoid thin lines and letters that cannot be easilydistinguished from the background. This can be a particular problem with line charts and maps.
- Avoid too much red - you should use red selectively to emphasize important points.
- Use visual graphics rather than words when possible.
- Use clear and simple pictures, maps, figures,and tables.
- Use short bulleted phrases, not narratives, on word charts.
- Ensure that each bullet is related to the main point of the slide.
Finally, be safe
Assume things will go wrong! If the projector fails, be ready with overhead projection slides and a projector. If that fails too, use your handouts as a substitute. If you are prepared for a breakdown, you will be less nervous and your audience will be sympathetic.
- Avoid technologies that break down frequently or ones that you are not familiar with.
- Have a backup plan for equipment and software failures.
- Provide handouts of slides as supplements.
- Ratcliffe, Jerry H, (2004) "Jerry's Top Ten PowerPoint Tips." http://www.jratcliffe.net/papers/Jerry%27s%20top%20ten %20powerpoint%20tips.pdf
- Ratcliffe, Jerry H, (2004) "Jerry's Top Ten Presentation Tips." http://www.jratcliffe.net/papers/Jerry%27s%20top%20ten%20presentation%20tips.pdf