5 steps to an engaging presentation

Young man presenting a research project.

Image  by Westminster College, Fulton MO.  CC BY-SA

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Does the idea of speaking in front of a group of people scare you? You are not alone. Many people actually rank fear of public speaking higher than the fear of death!

In Canada, it is expected that you will be asked to give a presentation at one point in your academic or professional life. Professional speaker Dr. Lionel Laroche said that presentation skills are so essential in Canadian workplaces that they are taught at a very early age (you can watch his presentation here).

Whether you are preparing to present at a public event or to a small group of co-workers, you can learn a few basic principles to help you tame those butterflies and get your message across. Follow these tips to make a great presentation:

  1. Focus on the essentials and prepare

    Many of us worry that we will look too nervous, forget what we need to say, or bore people to death. Stop. Focus first on what you need to accomplish. Is it to inform? Present an idea? Persuade? Your content should be your priority. It’s wonderful if you can make your presentation entertaining, but this should be a bonus, not the aim.

    Before you create your presentation, these must be clear to you:

    • The topic or theme – what you need to talk about
    • Goal of the presentation – what your presentation needs to accomplish
    • The time allotted for you– it will be safe to make your presentation a little bit shorter than the allotted time. This will help you deliver a more relaxed presentation.It will also give you time to answer questions your audience might have.
    • Your audience – designing your presentation to fit your audience’s preferences not only ensures that you will capture their attention, it will also help you trim your content to include only what is essential.
    • The format – will they expect a demonstration? A Powerpoint presentation? Or something interactive?

    Gather your materials. Depending on how much time you have, conduct research if need be. Know as much as you can about your topic. Ensure that the information you have is relevant and contributes to reaching your goal.

  2. Make an outline

    According to Chris Anderson of TED Talks, the biggest problem he sees in first draft presentations is that they cover too much ground. He urges presentors to “limit the scope of their talk to that which can be explained, and brought to life with examples, in the available time”.

    Even if it is just an office presentation, outlining will help you focus your content and plan your delivery. Make sure to estimate how much time each item in your outline will take. Also, allot time for transitions (going from one subject to the next) to give your audience time to process information and to shift to the next point.

  3. Create and edit (and edit some more)

    • Keep it simple. If you want to use graphics, video or audio clips, music or props, make sure that they amplify your message, not take away from it.
    • 10-20-30 rule. Don’t write the complete text of your presentation on your slides. Your Powerpoint presentation is there to augment or emphasize your message, not repeat what you are saying. Guy Kawasaki of Apple popularized the 10-20-30 rule for slideshows. It means that ideally, your presentation should be no more than 20 slides; last for no more than 20 minutes; and use the font size of no less than 30 points.
    • The Rule of Three. Following Aristotle’s “Rule of Three”, summarize your presentation by making three memorable key messages. Deliver them at the end for your audience to remember.
    • Edit again. Lastly, read through your presentation and edit again. Check for details that you can do without, and delete any spelling or grammatical errors. If you are tempted to add more information, consider creating a handout instead.
  4. Practice and time yourself

    • Some memorize their presentations while others read off of notes. It depends on your presentation style, the length of your presentation, and the time you have to prepare. Just don’t sound mechanical. This usually happens when you read your presentation word for word.
    • If you know your material, you may be better off making a bulleted list on an index card as a guide. Or, if you have time, memorize but practice to sound extemporaneous. Remember to speak clearly using the proper pace.
    • Practice in front of a mirror to check your body language. If there is time, ask a few colleagues to watch you practice. Make eye contact (especially with people in the front rows) and smile.
  5. Last minute tips

    • Before your presentation, check your computer, projector or sound system to make sure that they are working properly.
    • Dress professionally. It is always safer to dress conservatively and let your message be the star.
    • Copy your Powerpoint file in a flash drive or email it to yourself to have a backup copy.
    • If you have handouts, have enough copies ready for your audience.

Still nervous? That’s normal. Remember to take deep breaths before you speak and enjoy the experience. Good luck!

Sources: How to give a killer presentation by Chris Anderson, Harvard Business Review; Top tips for effective presentations, Skills you Need.

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Community Resources

Tired of Powerpoint? Have you tried online presentation tools like Prezi, Haiku Deck or Google Slides?

Watch the presentation pros do it. Watch the latest TED Talks and get some pointers.

Check schedules for English Online’s Multi week sessions on Workplace Communications.

Go to Manitoba Start for available trainings and other career supports.

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