Preparation Tips: fix your logic
Everybody is anxious to give a presentation, even the most seasoned professionals experience some form of anxiety before stepping on stage. So why do they shine? Because they come -prepared-. Please find below a few tips to help you become prepared. Don't expect to master all this in one go. But giving them conscious thought will ensure that you can go and give your presentation with confidence.
It may be obvious, but if your presentation has no story, no focus, no end-goal, it’s doomed to fail. So, start with the end in mind. Before you even open up PowerPoint, sit down and think about the purpose of your talk. Why were you asked to speak? What does your audience expect? What is it, that you want them to take on board from you? What are the most important points you want them to take away? Remember, even if asked to merely share information, rarely is just the transfer of that information satisfactory from the audience’s point of view. After all, they might just as well have read your book or article or hand-out in stead. So, establish your aim, carefully. And, take your time doing so!
Know your audience well
Before you begin laying out your presentation, you need to ask yourself many basic questions. One of these is about your audience. Who are they? What are their backgrounds? What do they already know about your topic? What is the purpose of the event? Why where –you- asked to hold this presentation? What’s in it for them? What are their expectations? Where is the location? When is it? Etcetera. All of this matters greatly in your preparation.
Content, content, content
No matter how great your skills in delivering a presentation may be, no matter how beautiful your slides, if it lacks substance, you will not succeed. Content alone will not see you through, that’s for sure. But lack it, and your audience will know and dismiss you instantly. Content is a necessary condition, but not sufficient in itself. But only content will suffice in building a successful storyline with which to persuade your audience.
Simplicity means the minimum amount of information you need to convey in order to make your point. Never underestimate your audience, they’re every bit as smart as you. Simplifying things is hard on you, for it takes real effort from your part to get down to the essence of what you want to bring across. But simplicity will be greatly appreciated by your audience, as it will help them to come to terms with your message quickly, and leave room for their own thinking. Don’t distract your audience with information overload. Just trim it down to the essence.
Structure, structure, structure
No great presentation was ever made by opening PowerPoint right away. PowerPoint (or Keynote) is just a tool, a tool you use at the end of your preparation when all your thinking is complete. So, shut down that computer and start with a pen and a stack of blank sheets of paper. Think analog, not digital. Those 15” in your monitor limit your thinking, and you cannot toss ideas around easily. All great presentations have one thing in common: they have an iron-clad structure. Structure is paramount, and this cannot be emphasised enough! Without structure, you are sure to fail. If you took the time to establish your aim you’re now ready to outline the logic of your arguments. People think in structures, so help them by delivering your message in the same way. Write down the main message of your presentation on an empty sheet of paper. Then, write down why this is the case. A fail-safe method of developing your structure (or, in effect, the logic of your arguments!) is to answer these questions next: 1) what is the situation, 2) what is the complication and 3) what is the solution. The situation is the context, the background. The complication should tell why this context represents a certain problem. And finally, the solution states what can be done to solve that problem. Voila, there you have the next level in the logic of your argumentation. Then, per section, drill down until you get to the individual points you need to make. If you do this thoroughly, you should be able to pin all those sheets of paper to a wall in the form of a pyramid, with your main argument at the top. Now, take a step back, literally. Read. Does it make sense? Does the logic of your argumentation become apparent? Is not, go back and shift things around, trim, redo or add, until it does. This, by the way, is the McKinsey way of doing thins. There is a reason why they have been and remain so successful. It is their ability to bring a logical structure to arguments.
It may sound simple, but this question should be asked very often when regarding your content. If you cannot answer the question ‘so what’ when looking at a particular point in your argumentation, then there is no need for that point to remain! And be sure that your audience will be asking themselves this question too. If you cannot answer this question conclusively, don’t expect them to be able to do so.
The elevator test
Imagine having prepared to give a presentation, when 5 minutes before the start, the main person in your audience (remember, it’s him or her you want to persuade!) tells you he’s sorry but cannot attend the presentation. He ask you to ride down the elevator with him so you can give him the pitch there. Can you? Can you bring across the main argument of your presentation in 10 floors? Just four sentences should be enough: the main argument (always start with the conclusion!), the situation, the complication and the solution… And even if it’s not the elevator, more often than not you will be asked to shorten your presentation due to other time constrains. Make sure you can.
The art of storytelling
People don’t remember data. They remember the story in which this data plays a role. Great presentations are also great stories. If you want your audience to remember you, and moreover, the point you’re trying to make, then you should find a way to make it relevant and memorable to them. Thing about your presentation as a 30-minute opportunity to tell a story. Good stories have great openings, engaging middles and a clear conclusion. Remember, it is not information transfer that is the bulk of what goes on between an audience and a speaker: it is emotional transfer.