The Ten Commandments of a Great Presentation
1. Have It, Don’t Show It
The moment you feel a need to “show” how much you know or how entertaining you can be, or in some cases just how much you are energized about your message, curb your enthusiasm. The stronger and more effective presenter does not over-deliver, over-enunciate, over-gesture, or over-play. Instead, have it…the composure, the knowledge of your material, the confident but relaxed voice, and the grace of movement
2. Focus on Your Best Friend in the Back Row
If you’re on the stage in front of a large audience, you may see the faces in front of you as a “sea of expressions” with no one person to serve as ballast. When that happens, whether you’re aware or not, you lose the ability to engage the people in the audience. What’s the trick? If you pretend your friend is sitting in the back row, your delivery will be warmer, your connection greater, and you won’t need to shout. By connecting to your best friend, you will connect to the entire audience.
3. Project Your Power but Maintain Your Intimacy
When you present to an audience, your team, the Board, or even a group of friends, your power, and your “believability” come from a sense of intimacy you create with the audience. The intimacy comes from your ability to focus on them as well as on the core of your message. So many presenters believe that power equals “big-ness” in front of the listener. It doesn’t! Power comes from control, and the control creates the intimacy that your audience is seeking. Find what an athlete might call “spotting points” so your eyes have distinct places to focus. Wandering eyes do not create intimacy.
4. Lead With Your Eyes, Not With Your Chin
We have all done it. We want to make a point, either on the stage, on camera, or in an interview, so we unconsciously push our chin (and mouth) forward as we deliver our message. We think it gives us a better sense of control. The truth is, it diminishes our impact and weakens our delivery. What we really should be doing is leading with our eyes. When you let your eyes lead, you appear more in control, you command attention, and you grab your listener.
5. Take the Temperature of Your Audience
Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that an audience isn’t talking to you just because you’re the one on the stage. The sooner you “hear” them, or take the temperature of the audience, the more effective you can be in responding and maintaining your strong presence. What can you look or listen for? The answer is leg-crossing, seat shifting, and coughing. One cough, for example, is not significant. If, however, you hear two or three in cluster, your radar should tell you that you’re not effectively delivering your message. Maybe your voice is too low; maybe your words are garbled; maybe you’re rambling. People shifting in their seats, or crossing their legs deliver the same clues. Don’t ignore them.
6. Don’t Bury the Lead
Sometimes people who are well-prepared to deliver a speech or presentation forget to make clear their central message. Stories and anecdotes pepper a speech and may warm the crowd, but if you don’t get your main thought center stage, you have done what journalists warn against. You have buried the lead. Outline your points before you present publicly, and test your message in front of a “sample private audience.” Ask them to feed back the main point of your talk and see if it in fact is what you intended.
7. Don’t Swallow Your Punch Line
A good presentation can end up with an arrow in the heart if the punch line, or key concluding message, is lost. It happens too often. After addressing an audience, presenters can lose their energy when they know they are near the end of the speech. It’s akin to an amateur runner who slows down just when the finish line is in sight. Do not lose your last word. It can often be the most important message that will remain with your audience. Make sure you can be heard.
8. Resist Your Use of Semaphore
Unless you’re sending ship-to-shore messages with your arms or with flags, please limit your use of hand and arm gestures to get your point across. When in doubt, don’t! Exaggerated arm and hand movements are just that – exaggerated. The more effective presenter does not signal the audience from the beach or traffic ships into the harbor. Practice more natural movement for your arms, hands, legs and head. The more comfortable and natural you are, the more so your audience.
9. Follow the “18 Minute Rule”
What is the 18-minute rule? It’s pretty direct and easy to remember. After 18 minutes, you will lose the attention of 18% of your audience! What that means for you as a presenter is that you have 17 minutes – maximum – to get your initial message across. After that, you might pick up coughing and seat shifting. What are your choices at the 18-minute mark? There are many depending on your delivery style, but here are just a few: Hand out a quiz, bring a display onto the stage, hand out cookies. This is your chance to be creative!
10. Be Your Audience’s Tour Guide
Don’t force your audience to connect the dots. They want your message to be very clear. It sounds so easy, but most presenters confuse their audiences by never providing a sequence of ideas that the audience can follow. Your information may be stellar, new and exciting, but if the audience can’t follow your train of thought, you are letting them down. What’s worse, they won’t tell you. Commit to be your audience’s tour guide. Make sure they can follow you. Even though you’re not standing outside the Lincoln Memorial with a whistle and Tour Guide sign, you are solely responsible for leading your audience where they should go.