Impactful presentations are not rocket science: 6 tips for leaders

If you’re a professional who’s been around for even a little while, you’ve probably sat through your fair share of boring and unremarkable presentations. You may have contributed to this form of corporate torture yourself.

Presentations don’t have to be boring. They should inspire engagement, curiosity, discussion and the generation of new ideas and solutions.

Here are six easy tips to make your presentations better:

  1. Plan and prepare for your presentation
  2. Grab their attention from the start
  3. Tell them what you’re going to talk about
  4. Keep it simple: less is more
  5. Practice makes perfect
  6. Finish strong

1. Plan and prepare for your presentation

Know your audience

What are their interests/pain points/level of concern or familiarity with your topic?

What would they find more important/interesting?

Time allocation

This may be one of the most overlooked aspects of preparing for a presentation.

Adapt your content to the time you have to present.

Do NOT bring a PowerPoint with 50 slides in a 10 minute presentation.

My simple rule of thumb is 10-12 slides per hour presentation.

Identify the key messages

You live in the details of your work and analysis, but your audience does not.

Before you share your insights, figure out what the most important data points to share are. These are the things you absolutely need your audience to take away from your presentation.

The rest is optional and can go into the app.

What action do you want them to take at the end?

The answer to this should guide the entire structure and story you will tell.

  • Agree with your proposal-> state the pros and cons.
  • Decide to invest – > present the expected return, the risks, how much money do you need and for what?
  • Buy a product or service -> explain the features, benefits to customers and who else liked it, etc.

2. Grab their attention from the start

Humans have limited attention spans, a phenomenon that worsens with infinity distractions we are subject to from our digital devices.

Therefore, engaging your audience from the beginning is crucial.

There are many ways to do it. For example, tell a story they can relate to, share a surprising statistic (like: did you know that 80% of business professionals shifted their focus away from the speaker in a recent presentation they watched?), or present a compelling visual.

Once you hook them up, you need to tell them why they should listen to you.

Give them context: What is the relevance of your presentation? What problem are you trying to solve? What does this offer them? Why should they care?

Note: part of the context you need to provide is an introduction to yourself and why you can credibly speak on the topic (unless they already know you well).

3. Tell them what you’re going to talk about

One of the easiest ways to help your audience stay on top of your presentation is to explain its structure in advance.

An easy way to do this is through an agenda item slide.

It’s also helpful to remind your audience what you expect from this presentation and, if relevant, what you want them to be able to do by the end of the session (eg: learn something new, give feedback, agree on a course of action, solve problem etc.).

4. Keep it simple: Less is more

An easy way to bore your audience to death is to use your slide as a script (ie fill it with text and graphics and read from it). It’s also a strong signal to your audience that you’ve come unprepared.

Once you show that busy slide, you’re losing your audience. They read the content and try to understand it. They stop listening to you.

Instead, use short and to-the-point points, no more than a few words in each sentence. Use images instead of words whenever possible. Animate dots if you have more than three to display. Spread your message across multiple slides.

In the event that you absolutely must use a script (for example, because you need to be extremely precise or have a language barrier as a non-native), you should still keep your slides clean and simple, but you can carry paper with your speech dots along.

5. Practice makes perfect

Watching a famous speaker do his thing (like these speeches by Michelle Obama and Simon Sinek), you might think you don’t stand a chance; you weren’t born with that kind of talent.

WRONG.

You should know that these people have often practiced for days and given the same presentation (or versions of it) many times before you get to see it. They are also most likely to have used media training coaches.

The polished version is something that has been refined to look “natural”.

Don’t be discouraged.

Excellent presentation skills are not innate. They are the result of a lot of practice and accumulated experience.

The best way to become great at presenting is to present regularly. So look for opportunities to expose yourself and change your strategies based on your audience’s reactions.

A pro tip: rehearse important presentations with a trusted audience (whether it’s a colleague, friend or your significant other) and get their feedback. Articulating your ideas and seeing how they arrive, testing the time it takes to deliver your content and going through the flow of the presentation will make a big difference in fine-tuning your delivery for final preparation.

6. Finish strong

People will remember the first and last things you say in your presentation (due to primacy and recency effects).

Inexperienced speakers often remember to have strong introductions, but their presentations fizzle out by the time they get to the end (especially if they have too much content and have to rush through it to finish on time).

Don’t make the same mistake. Make sure your presentation ends on a strong note.

Engage your audience once again: call them to action (eg: next steps!), remind them of your key messages with a simple summary and/or inspire them to think further.

What about you? What are some of the presentation strategies you’ve picked up along the way?

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