Present and correct
In recent blog posts, I have looked at the things that typically go wrong in two classic business situations: projects and meetings. Today, I would like to turn my attention to another business minefield: presentations.
Presentations come in all shapes and sizes, from big set-piece events at conferences to the low-key presentation of information to colleagues in the same department or company.
My experience is that while both types of presentations can go spectacularly wrong, it is the latter type that needs most attention. The reason is simple: the "event" is not treated as seriously as an external presentation.
So, here are 13 simple rules to follow if you want to improve your internal presentations. Once again, I'm not claiming originality. And different individuals and cultures will have different attitudes to some of these points.
- Invite the right people. Too often, people waste time in presentations that are not really relevant to them, or where it would be enough for them to receive a summary or a PDF of the slides.
- Start and finish on time. There is absolutely no excuse for overruning the allotted time. At an external conference, you wouldn't be able to. Don't do so internally.
- Explain the context. Too many presenters simply start talking without giving any background.
- Be clear about questions. Are you happy to take questions during the presentation or would you prefer to have them at the end? Make this clear at the start.
- Make clear where you're going. A clear structure helps most people. Do you have one? Work on your "signposting".
- Don't overload the information. It's unbelievable that people still feel the need to fill their slides with text. Don't! Detailed information can be circulated separately.
- Make it legible. If I had one euro for every time I have heard a presenter say, "I know you can't read this, but...", I'd be very rich. If people can't read it, don't show it.
- Don't read out loud. There is normally no need to read what is on your slides, as your audience can read faster than you can speak. Exceptions are if you have a particularly interesting quote that has to be heard, or if you have someone in the audience who is blind or partially sighted.
- Face your audience. Obvious, right? But so many people don't look at the participants but talk to the screen or their laptop instead.
- Avoid jargon. Don't use abbreviations, acronyms or specialist terms without explaining them. This includes anglicisms if you are presenting in German. (I'm not against their use; just make sure everyone understands them.)
- Vary your voice. If you want your audience to sleep, speak with a monotone voice. If you want them to listen to you, work on your intonation.
- Summarize clearly. At the end of your presentation, summarize briefly, emphasizing the main points, the next steps and any action points.
- Surprise your audience. Attention naturally wanes during a presentation. If you build in a surprise element — for example, a joke, a story, a surprise visitor, a magic trick, a task, an unusual statistic or whatever — this will encourage your audience to stay alert.
I'm sure you can think of other suggestions, and I'd love to hear them. But why not implement at least three of my suggestions in your next presentation?