Presentations: Captivate your audience

What are the dos and don'ts of presentation preparation and the secrets of good delivery? Adam Hill finds out

Q: How long should an ideal presentation be?

Most people find it very difficult to concentrate for longer than 20 to 30 minutes so be ruthless with your content and keep presentations as short as possible - but remember that the shorter it is the more preparation you need to get the key points across.

Always check how long the client or journalist has. Allow enough time for questions, as well as time to build rapport at the beginning.

Most journalists accept the value of the PRO's role in selling in a story - but if you commit the sin of wasting their time, your client's message will suffer. 'Put things as succinctly as possible and explain why it is I should be interested,' explains Financial Times personal finance editor Kevin Brown.

Q: What can I do to jazz up my delivery?

Stories to illustrate your points help personalise facts, build credibility and capture interest. Never read your notes on PowerPoint. Preparing cue cards and using props as reminders are all ways to avoid stilted, formal, monotonous presentations.

If, after trimming the content to the bare bones, it remains a little dull in places, make sure you change something - anything, just make a change. Move from slides to flip chart, change positions in the room, ask questions, introduce a new speaker, discuss hand-outs, switch off the projector and ask for questions.

Fujitsu Siemens Computers head of PR Dave Scott says: 'What works for me are short presentations with ideas that are well thought through. I'm not keen on text-heavy slide presentations of ill-thought-through concepts.'

Q: Does the choice of venue matter to an audience?

More than you think. People need to be in receptive mode. Does it have the appropriate feel? Is it too formal or not formal enough? Are the seats comfortable? Is the temperature right?

Don't focus all your attention on the staging and presentations - try being a guest. Walk through the arrival, refreshments and breaks. Sit in their seats, imagine being hot, cold, hungry or bored. Minimise distractions, otherwise key messages can be lost. If you have to meet in a public place, make sure that you agree on a venue that has a quiet area. For the press, the obvious point is to make sure the venue is easy to get to, as time is always at a premium.

Q: How should I structure a presentation?

First, brainstorm your ideas without evaluation or structure. Then select three key points, bearing in mind your objective and the needs and concerns of your audience. Grab attention at the beginning, promise great things to come, get them thinking.

Use the middle to develop the argument, present the evidence and demonstrate the results. Structure your ideas into a logical path so that they are easy for your audience to follow and for you to remember. Brief bullet points can provide a guide for you but avoid putting your entire presentation onto slides.

Don't waste the end: aim for a finish, not a stop. Reiterate the key messages and leave the audience in no doubt that you are right. When preparing a presentation for journalists, remember to ruthlessly apply the 'so what?' test.

Q: How can I illustrate my points using props?

Bringing materials relevant to the client's business or using pictures and even music will stimulate the imagination. The success of these props will depend on the links you make to your key points.

Don't use the props just for entertainment - they need to support your message. It is better to leave your audience with a lasting image towards the end of your presentation than to saturate the presentation with mixed messages. Keep it short and simple.

Q: Should I present differently over the phone?

More than half of personal impact in face-to-face communication is attributed to vision in terms of body language, dress and eye contact. When you lose that, you need to make voice and words work much harder.

Don't try to say too much too quickly; stand up to give your voice more energy, and smile as you talk. And don't forget to listen. Journalists will be taking notes, if they are not recording the conversation, so adjust the speed of what you say to allow them to capture the salient points.

Q: How can I deliver figures in an attention-grabbing manner?

Remember news values: the first, the biggest, the fastest and so on, and concentrate on delivering these in the presentation, giving the supporting facts and figures as handouts. Use images to humanise statistics, with easy-to-grasp similies and metaphors.

One staggering statistic is more memorable than dozens of routine ones.

Colourful graphics are far more useful than lists or tables of figures, but vary these so the audience doesn't come to expect yet another bar graph. Ask an engaging question, such as: 'What percentage of people do you think are likely to ...?' Encourage a debate with the answers - presentations do not always have to be one-way.

Q: Does the body language of the orator matter?

Absolutely. Audiences warm to a speaker who has passion for the topic, and enthusiasm is infectious. It's almost impossible to believe in someone who stands with their head and shoulders down, clinging on to cue cards for dear life and making no eye contact with the audience. At best the audience will just switch off; at worst they'll think the speaker is lying.

Stand tall with relaxed shoulders, arms and hands open with an easy, friendly smile and lots of eye contact. Look at one person for three seconds, or at least until he or she smiles back or nods, rather than scan the room like a laser beam. Pitch your presentation towards the back of the audience, especially in larger rooms.

Don't fiddle with your hair, glasses, notes or coins in your pocket since all these things are a distraction and betray nervousness.

Q: When should I use humour or colloquial language?

It's important to know your audience and to monitor its reactions closely.

If people respond to humour and informal language then you can match their style. However, overuse can undermine credibility. The most important thing is to be yourself. If you are not funny in real life then don't try it in a presentation - it's painfully embarrassing and it will turn an audience off in a major way.

Humour is a great way of building rapport with an audience and keeping a presentation lively, but it has to be handled perfectly.

Q: How do I portray confidence in what I am saying?

People who are not confident in what they are presenting tend to betray their insecurities immediately. Projecting confidence is crucial to any good presentation. In fact, ideas presented to clients should have the air of something to be signed off without delay.

Also remember that nobody likes to be talked at. Take your time, pause frequently, give your audience time to take in your words. Watch their response. Wait, smile and talk to them as you would to a friend. Think conversation, not monologue. M

PRWeek would like to thank Speak First director Jackie Smith and Big Fish Training trainer Lorraine Forrest-Turner for their assistance.

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