by Andrea Wiley
I recently attended an 8th-grade graduation ceremony and was impressed by the speaking ability demonstrated by the 14-year-old girls who delivered the valedictorian and salutatorian address to their fellow classmates, family members, friends, and teachers. They were poised, rehearsed, and confident and were able to clearly communicate their message to the audience. It occurred to me that those girls were well on their way to mastering a skill that many professionals lack.
The reality is that there are several elements that contribute to a solid presentation and it does not end at the caliber of one’s public speaking ability. That is just the beginning. Though so often, that is where all the emphasis is placed when planning and preparing a presentation.
We live in a world where we think we are too busy to slow down and take the time necessary to thoughtfully prepare for a presentation, even though, growing up we were taught, “Practice makes perfect.” While perfection may not be a realistic expectation, we should still “practice, practice, practice,” in an effort to do our best. The more practice you put in ahead of time, the more comfortable you will be presenting, and the more you present, the more confident you will be in your ability to do so.
Putting our best foot forward and grabbing the audience’s attention early should be the intent, but not in a negative way. How many presentations have you experienced that began with technical difficulty? It almost seems like this has become the norm and is widely accepted under the mindset that “it happens to everybody.” But what if a large number of these mishaps could be prevented?
If you want your client or customer to feel as though your presentation was a good use of their valuable time, then respect them enough to do everything you can to insure it will run smoothly from start to finish. If you are going outside of your office to another location, take the time to find out what presentation capabilities exist.
Is there a screen with Internet access that connects to your laptop or a projector that needs a specific adaptor? Would it be best to bring the PowerPoint file on a jump drive for an IT professional to set up prior to the meeting? If the presentation contains videos, are there speakers to properly play the sound?
If the locale of your meeting isn’t set up the way you need it to be so that you can give your best presentation, then determine what you need to do to make it work, well in advance, not 15 minutes before your meeting. You may even consider having someone onsite to troubleshoot anything that may go wrong. Show up early (like a day or two) and do a run through. Do not wing it. Do not figure it out when you get there.
When creating PowerPoint or Keynote slides, less is more. The bullet points, images, info graphics, and videos need to be carefully selected, so that all elements are relevant to your target audience. And all of that content should work together to accomplish your overall goal, whether it is to sell a product or an idea, or to recap the results of a previous initiative.
Avoid reading each slide to your audience as if it is your script. Instead, include the most important text visually on your slides, and elaborate with further detail in what you actually say verbally. Memorization may seem like a good approach, but could make you more nervous about getting every word exactly right. Know the content backwards and forwards, so you can flexibly go off script to react to your audience with ease, and come back to make the points that matter most.
However, making things look “easy” isn’t actually easy. It takes a lot of practice and hard work on the front end, but it always pays off. Whether it is in the form of a closed deal, a satisfied customer, or an impressive 8th-grade commencement speech, a solid presentation isn’t just a reflection of your brand, it is a demonstration of your character.
Andrea Wiley is director of account management at DCA Creative Communications Consulting. She is an adjunct professor teaching advertising at the University of Memphis and was the 2015-2016 president of the American Advertising Federation, Memphis Chapter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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