Originally created 03/19/01

Making a better presentation

At one time or another we've all been asked to make a presentation to some group, and often that request engages a part of our brain that says, "Who, you? You can't do that! You don't have the skills! You don't have the knowledge! Forget it! They'll laugh you out of the room!"

The problem with letting those thoughts rule you is they aren't true. You can do it. You do have the skills and knowledge. They won't laugh - they'll be too busy taking notes. What you don't have is an action plan that instill confidence, so let's develop one that will work for you every time.

- The first step: At times you've got to put down the pen and pick up the sword. You've got to stand up to the bully. You've got to say, "Yes! I can do it!" You've seen it work in the schoolyard when the bully receives his or her comeuppance, so you know it can happen. It will happen for you also. The first step is accepting the challenge, so let's take the steps that will make your presentation a winner and give you the confidence you need.

- Define the purpose: Set the goal for the presentation. Without it, all your fears could come true; with it, you will be a winner, a star. With an achievable goal in mind, with a definite purpose, and with your newly discovered knowledge, you cannot fail.

Start with a clean sheet of paper. Write questions like these, leaving room for answers: What is the purpose of this activity? Is it to sell a product, service, or idea or is it to inform, train, teach or entertain? What results would you (or your boss) like to have happen as a direct result of your presentation? What actions must occur to convince your audience of the value of the project?

Work on these questions (and those your first set of answers generate) until you have a complete understanding of why you are standing up there in the spotlight, and what everyone who listens to you should take away from your presentation. When you're finished, check with the person who asked you to make the presentation to be sure you have it right.

- Plan your talk: Start another list with the purpose of your talk at the top. This is your reason for presenting the activity, and everything you do in the presentation should be directed at having that result occur. Ask yourself: "What should I do or say to achieve my goal?"

List everything you could or should do to make that goal happen. Re-order your list several times. Describe the words or concrete actions that you and your audience can take to accomplish each goal. Consider using a video, handout, slide overhead or even a special guest to emphasize a point.

While making your list, keep in mind what your audience will have to know and understand in order for you to accomplish the purpose of the meeting. This is the heart of your presentation and is the easiest part. Once you know why you're up there, you can list a dozen things that you need to do to make everything happen. Boil these down to three topics, then work on each to make sure your cover everything completely. That's all there is to the talk!

- Evaluate your plan: Make up a test with one question for each of the three main points of your talk and one for each part of each main point. (You may wish to use this test with your audience, but that's not its main purpose.) Ask yourself, "Does the presentation answer each of these questions?" If not, revise or add to your talk until it does.

- Define your audience: Along the way, you need to have a feel for the audience. Will it be your peers, customers or someone else? What are their ages, experience, knowledge and skills? What will they bring to the function that will enable them to learn from listening to you? Your presentation will have to be made with these parameters in mind. You cannot talk computer programming to accountants unless you start with what accountants know and build from there.

- Visit the site: Try to visit the place where you are to make your presentation. Stand in the place you will be standing when you talk. Will you have enough room? Can the room be darkened for slides? Are there enough chairs? Do you need a microphone, an easel, a white board, a computer and a screen, something else?

Walk around pretending it's the day of your presentation. If you're there by yourself, say, "Hello" to people. Practice a rapid walk up to the podium. Stand there and say to yourself, "I know something you don't know!" Strut back and forth. Take charge, and make that place your place!

You're done. The results of this exercise will guarantee you the best meeting your audience has ever seen, and could lead you to a new career! Good luck.

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