Presentations: Be Prepared!

Reprinted from November/December 2002 Surety Bond Networker Vol. 8, No. 6

You’re standing in front of a crowded room. After a brief introduction, all attention focuses on you. The murmur and chatter of the audience is replaced with the lone hum of the LCD projector’s fan. You take your place behind the lectern.

Sound intimidating? Well, if you’re prepared, giving a presentation doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience. Although public speaking is a common phobia, being prepared diffuses this fear.

Doing your homework for a presentation is a step that cannot be overlooked. Answer the following questions, and you will be on your way to an effective and audience-pleasing presentation.

Who is your audience?

Identifying your audience may be the most important step in the pre-planning process. Knowing to whom you will be speaking affects the structure, content, and tone of the message.

Size/Type of Audience – A presentation to a college class varies greatly from one at a convention of investment bankers. Adjust your tone and style to fit the group’s size and makeup.

Familiarity with Subject Matter – What level of understanding does your audience possess? Remember, novices may be left clueless if your presentation is filled with acronyms and jargon. Although it is important to speak to people’s level of understanding, be careful not to “talk down” to your audience. 

Combative vs. Friendly – Speaking to a group of likeminded individuals is a much less daunting task than trying to convince a hostile audience. If your audience has a negative perception of the industry, allow more time to address their issues.

What needs to be said?

Determining what your presentation is about may be an obvious first step, but laying it out provides a focus throughout development.

Thesis – Can you summarize your presentation in a few sentences? If not, don’t expect your audience to walk away with a clear understanding of the key message. Develop a thesis to keep your presentation on track and accessible.

Genre – A keynote speech, sales pitch, lecture, or plea for a policy change call for very different presentations. It’s important to maintain a focus. A meandering, multi-genre speech can lose credibility and audience attention.

Just the Facts – Do you have data to support your claims? Doing your research early on shapes your presentation and helps avoid unsubstantiated claims. 

Where are you speaking?

Knowing as much as possible about the setting helps you prepare your speaking style and choice of visual aids. 

Resources – Are electrical outlets readily accessible? Will audio/visual tools be provided? Will the audience be able to view a screen from all points? Answers to questions like these help prevent last-minute panic. 

The Space – Rehearsing for a speech in a boardroom is quite different than delivering a presentation in an auditorium. Review room size, audience seating, noise, and staging arrangements. If at all possible, visit the location beforehand to familiarize yourself with the setting.

When are you scheduled to speak?

Find out when your presentation will take place so you can prepare.

Time of Day – If you have any say in the matter, give a presentation at your peak-performance time of day. Avoid time-slots right before or after lunch, dinner, or other long breaks. If you get one of these timeslots, keep your message as brief and simple as possible.

The Date – Include seasonal and topical items to keep content fresh and timely. Also, consider if you will actually have enough time to prepare a well-developed presentation by the due date.

Why are you speaking?

Knowing the purpose of your presentation also may seem obvious, but is sometimes overlooked. Ask yourself why you are giving the presentation, why the audience is listening to the presentation, and what you hope to accomplish. 

Structure 
– The purpose of a presentation affects its structure. While any speech needs to cover the basics (an introduction, a body made up of supporting points, and a conclusion), being cognizant of your ultimate goal when structuring your presentation helps ensure its effectiveness.

Purpose of Gathering – Will your presentation be given at an annual meeting or a golfing retreat? Be sure to ask about the expectations (presentation length, style, etc.) of the organizer ahead of time. Showing up with a serious-minded, two-hour talk when an informal Q&A session is desired leaves both you and the audience frustrated.

How do you deliver your speech?

Physical presence and style of delivery has as much of an impact on an audience as the message content. Note the following:

Eye Contact – As you speak, scan the room and make eye contact with audience members. This engages the audience on an individual level. Also, make every effort not to read your speech. If you use note cards or an outline, do not allow your eyes to linger on the text.

Voice – Practice your presentation by speaking aloud in a similar-sized room. Be familiar with what it takes to fill a room with your voice. In the case of speaking to a large group, consider the use of a microphone and decide whether a stationary or portable lavaliere microphone is most appropriate.

Knowing the audience, your reason for speaking, and details about the setting provides you with the essential information needed to craft a powerful presentation. By answering these questions you will be able to develop content, find a purpose, create the appropriate structure, and address the audience appropriately. So, next time you find yourself about to make a presentation, make a deep breath and relax knowing that all the preparation is about to pay off.