I’ve been doing presentations in one form or another for almost my whole working life. When I was a systems analyst, many of these presentations were technical. We would do a “turnover” meeting to literally turn a new application over to the technical support and operations staff so they would know how to run it, when to do backups, and so forth.
Today most the talks I do are not technical, thankfully. I’m either teaching a class at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, leading one of my own workshops, or speaking to a group of communicators or other business people.
Each time I present, I try to improve the way I prepare and deliver my material. Last weekend at Podcamp Toronto 2016, I spoke about the business of podcasting (the concept) and The Business of Podcasting (the book I co-authored with Steve Lubetkin). [Here is my report on that event.]
I chose to speak without audio-visual aids of any kind. I have to say it was liberating to just stand at the front of the room – and walk around, as is my style – without slides. All I brought with me (aside from copies of the book and some autographed cartoons by Rob Cottingham) was a sheet of paper with the main points I wanted to cover, to jog my memory if I got off track. For most of the hour, that sheet remained on the table at the front of the room. Feedback on the session was positive. Of course, no one has the nerve to come up to you at the end to say, “Hey, you did a lousy job.”
When I lead my own workshops, I ask participants to complete a feedback form. And when I speak at larger events, there’s usually a mechanism for attendees to share their opinions. When these are forwarded to me (and not every organizer actually sends this info to the speaker), I instantly zero in on the one person (and it’s usually one person) who was not satisfied. Then I think about what I could do better next time.
As a person who does a lot of presentations and who witnesses even more, I have a few tips to share. You knew this was coming, right?
Prepare well in advance
Sometimes speakers leave their preparation until the last minute. This usually doesn’t end well. We can see you fumbling through your presentation. The upshot? You look bad and the audience feels cheated. One of the worst talks I ever saw happened at a Toronto event when the speaker stood at the front of the room, turned his back to us, stared at the big screen and said: “I’ve never seen these slides before. My assistant did the PowerPoint.” Can you imagine the gall? Bad enough to be so unprepared, but then to tell us about it?
Deliver what you promised
Sometimes your speaking date is six months after you were invited. In that period, your recollection of the topic may get a little hazy. Find the contract or the email and review each point that was described, and be sure your presentation covers them all.
Don’t let technology get in the way
If you are using audio-visual supports, be sure to arrive early if there is not a technician on hand to take care of the projector, microphone and so on. (Ask about this in advance.) Recently I watched someone trying, without success, to straighten the image from his projector before his talk. He couldn’t do it, and the audience had to look at crooked slides for two hours.
Similarly, don’t rely on a robust Internet connection if you want to show online apps or videos. It’s safer to use screenshots and videos on your own hard drive if the WiFi connection lets you down.
Watch out for buzzwords
Don’t try to dazzle the audience with words you don’t understand. “Big data” has a specific meaning, as does “content marketing.” A “podcast” is not the same as a single audio file on a website. Learn the correct terminology or talk about something else. This sounds harsh, I know, but the speaker’s credibility goes out the window when he gets in over his head and borders on nonsensical statements.
Do not read your slides
Do not read your slides. Do not read your slides. Do not read your slides. Have I mentioned that you shouldn’t read your slides to us? Especially not with your back turned to us. If you have lots of data to convey, perhaps you should use handouts. Your visuals should support your talk, not overshadow you as the speaker.
Learning to be a better speaker and presenter is a continuous journey. There’s always a way to improve.
What have I missed? What would you add?