You’ve got 10 minutes.
That’s the span of time most people can stay mentally engaged with a presentation before they check out. So, unless you can create stimulating content and deliver it masterfully, you will find your audience scrolling through TikTok and checking their email. Studies have shown that 4 in 5 business professionals, regardless of age, shifted their focus away from the speaker in the most recent presentation they watched!
But keeping your audience engaged is no easy task – public speaking, both in person and via video, can easily get your heart racing and your palms sweating. If that happens to you, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that more than 80% of all people fear speaking in public.
This series will help allay those fears, offering tips from preparation through delivery, helping you give a presentation that is enjoyable, informative and, most importantly, memorable.
Let’s start with your preparation. Here are 8 important tips to prepare you for the big day:
1. Know who will be in the room. Knowing your audience is the single most important aspect of developing your presentation. Learning about their values, attitudes and beliefs will keep you from making mistakes …like saying the wrong thing or telling a joke that may be offensive. Things to consider include the geographical location of your presentation and the age, gender, ethnicity, religion, culture and education level of your audience.
2. Understand your purpose. It’s important to understand the goal of your presentation. Are you trying to educate the audience or entertain them? Are you hoping to achieve something actionable at the end? Before drafting your presentation, fill in this sentence: “My goal in this presentation is for the audience to know ____ and do _____.” This will help direct your content and inform your call to action at the end.
3. Less is more. As French philosopher Blaise Pascal famously said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” You’re giving this presentation because you are perceived as an expert on the topic. But you don’t want to cram ten pounds of information into a 5-pound bag. Stick to the salient points or else your listeners will be overwhelmed with information and won’t remember much of it.
4. Practice a confident intro. The most difficult part of public speaking is actually getting started. Your open should be an attention grabber—you can start with a shocking number (note my intro above!), a rhetorical question, a poll, a question or even a joke. This immediately gets the audience engaged. But whatever you do, make sure to practice it in front of a mirror enough times that you are familiar with it so you start off smoothly and confidently.
5. Land the plane. Create a powerful conclusion, which oftentimes is a call to action. In other words, after listening to you speak, what do you want your audience to do (this goes back to #2 above, understanding your purpose.) Did you teach them something they now should put into action? Do you want them to buy something or were you simply there to entertain?
Here are four effective strategies for a strong close:
– Set up a question during the introduction and finish your speech by answering it.
– Tell a story … or you could be finishing a story you started during your presentation. People are 22 times more likely to remember something if it’s wrapped in a story.
– Give your presentation a memorable title and then use the title to conclude the speech.
– Use a powerful quote, but make sure it’s not a cliché.
6. Make your slides easy on the eye. Think of your slides like a billboard – you should be able to digest the information in the amount of time it takes to drive by. Also, your slides should never have a font smaller than 30 point and should include one main topic and a few supporting bullets. And don’t overwhelm the audience with a ton of numbers (they will likely tune out). Using captivating images on a slide is a great way to keep the audience’s attention. Studies have shown that 3 days after a presentation, people who only heard a speaker remembered about 10% of the information, while people who also saw images remembered 65%.
7. Videos reign supreme. Audiences love to watch videos because they break up the monotony of hearing one voice speaking. But a clip needs to be short—no more than thirty seconds. And don’t use videos that sound self-promotional; that will compromise your credibility.
8. Give yourself props. Think about using props during your presentation to mix things up a bit. The prop might be an example of what you’re selling or something you’ve used that further supports your topic. But make sure that it’s big enough for the audience to see, and most importantly, practice when and how you will use it. If something goes awry mid-presentation, it can be very distracting.
90% of anxiety over public speaking comes from a lack of prep. When someone tells me they are “winging it”, I wince. Adequate preparation can make the difference between a “meh” performance and a memorable one.
Jane Hanson, Bentley Lewis Advisor
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