Do your presentations always keep people on the edge of their seats? Or do they tend to fall asleep before you have reached the crux of your presentation? There's little doubt that the ability to address people - whether in small groups or as part of a large audience - can take you a long way in business. As such, it's vital to hone your skills and develop strategies for performing at your best when under the spotlight.
There are various scenarios where you could be required to present. It might be an important sales pitch for new business, a project summary in the boardroom, a training session for junior employees, or even a salary negotiation with your manager over pay and benefits. Some job interviews may also comprise a presentation element, where you are required to prepare a short display to show a prospective employer what you can do.
Many professionals thrive in this scenario, always delivering entertaining performances when they take the stand. Others are less confident when put in front of a crowd and treat these sorts of tasks with a degree of trepidation. OK, not everyone can be a natural public speaker, but even so, this doesn't preclude you from delivering attention-grabbing presentations. With the right level of care and attention during the planning, design and delivery stages, there's should be no reason why your audience will fall asleep during your presentation. As you progress through your career, leadership skills like being able to deliver a successful presentation become more essential. These are the 4 tactics you can focus on to turn your performance from falling asleep to asking questions and chanting for an encore:
Planning before you present
Even if you've got gallons of confidence and enthusiasm, and are a natural performer, you're not going to get very far without putting in the necessary groundwork for your presentations. As the saying goes, 'by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail'. Natural speaking ability gives you an advantage over some professionals whether it is a job interview or a presentation, but if there's no substance and structure to your presentation, you might as well have remained seated.
Whatever type of presentation you are delivering, you need to be well-informed. This means being armed with facts and knowledge about your topic, whether these are included in your presentation or available to hand upon request – this is the same case for preparing for an interview. You should have done sufficient wider reading to establish how different elements interact and coincide - essentially gaining a wider understanding of the topic. If your strategy is to get up and 'wing it', this will be obvious to everyone after the first two minutes.
Whether your presentation lasts five minutes or an hour, you need to have solid material - so forget the vague waffle and stick to focused points. You may need to spend a number of hours researching the topic, and organising the facts and developing your narrative. Then you need to spend time practising your presentation - working through each stage.
Design an eye-catching presentation
The next thing to consider is how to bring your presentation to life. The very best public speakers may be able to grab listeners' attention, and hold it for long periods of time, using their voice alone. But this is a real talent - relatively few professionals can grip an audience and keep it 100 per cent engaged using just their voice.
Images, graphics and animations can add value, but they need to be relevant to the subject of your presentation – remember that less can sometimes be more. They also need to be high-quality visual representations, as opposed to something you've created yourself in two minutes flat. If you use cheap effects and low-quality graphics, this could end up being the main talking point among members of your audience, meaning the message gets lost.
Present the presentation
If you've done your research and planned effectively, and spent time creating visual aids, you should be well prepared by the time you get up to speak. The knowledge about your topic, and the high-quality resources used in your presentation, should help breed confidence. Similarly, if you've rehearsed your presentation - and are aware of where the potential 'pain points' lie - you should feel very much in control. Then it's just a case of taking a few deep breaths, taking presenting an attention-grabbing show.
The best presenters speak with passion, and always manage to address everyone in the room – find your passion about the topic. You need to think about ways of engaging directly with audience members, and making them feel involved with the presentation also. Always look to make eye contact with people and use appropriate body language, and don't be afraid to ask questions to encourage dialogue. This helps keep everyone on their toes, including the speaker.
Develop your business skills
Some professionals design and deliver business presentations on a regular basis, while others rarely find themselves in this scenario. But whether this is a normal, everyday task or a one-off event, it's important to know what you're doing. Even if you're unlikely to be addressing an audience anytime soon, it's important to develop your presentation skills. Without them, you may find it difficult to progress your career.
As you move up the jobs ladder, there will be times when you need to speak in front of people - potentially for managerial tasks or as part of leadership responsibilities. Senior professionals need to be comfortable addressing employees - this helps breed confidence among employees.
There's also a clear crossover between conducting presentations and being interviewed for new roles. The more comfortable you are as a speaker and the more you're used to the limelight; the less likely you'll be hit by nerves when you meet a prospective employer. You're looking to impress the interview panel, and speaking clearly, with conviction, is one of the ways to achieve this.
This post was adapted from “Ignite the light: 4 tactics to create an explosive presentation,” which originally appeared on Robert Half News and Insights blog.