5 Tips for Giving a Polished Presentation
You can learn a lot about how to be a polished presenter from the mistakes other presenters make.
For example, take Jeremy, a presenter at a software conference. Jeremy read his presentation word for word. Now, some people can read a prepared text and still sound spontaneous—but not Jeremy. His monotonous reading detracted from his valuable advice. To make matters worse—much worse—before beginning his talk, he distributed a complete transcript of it. Want to know what he’ll say next? Just turn the page.
Poor Jeremy! By the time he finished, half the audience had walked out. With several minutes remaining in his time slot, he opened the session for questions. I assumed no one would ask any; why make a bad situation worse? But someone raised a question, and suddenly Jeremy came alive. He was enthusiastic and articulate. He had some provocative opinions, and he didn’t hesitate to voice them. He responded to every question with eagerness. Clearly, he knew his stuff. Why he read his presentation is a mystery.
If you'll be speaking at a conference or meeting, here are five tips to keep in mind.
- Use notes if they'll help you remember your key points, but don't read your presentation unless legal or other circumstances require you to do so. A conversational style of presenting is almost always preferable to the formal delivery of a prepared text.
- Start strong. Take some deep breaths, look to the people the farthest from you, and project your voice to them. You will sound confident, and that will help you feel confident. Your insides may feel like a kid on a trampoline, but your audience will never know.
- As you speak, monitor your pace. There's a big difference between speaking at an energetic pace and speaking so fast your audience has to race to keep up. A moderate pace with occasional pauses enables listeners to absorb what they've heard.
- Make eye contact periodically with people in different parts of the audience. Don't be like the presenter I once saw who gazed at the floor as he spoke, as if he believed that if he couldn’t see us, we couldn't see him.
- Practice out loud. By practicing, you’ll discover bumps that need smoothing, ideas that sound clumsy, and words that get garbled, and you’ll have a chance to make adjustments— before facing your audience.
Most software audiences appreciate solid content over performance pizzazz. Just don't distribute your complete text in advance, and don’t read directly from it! The reputation you save will be your own.