Many of us develop great depth of knowledge and experience over our careers. But are we good at advertising this? Do all the right people know just how valuable our experience is? If not, one powerful way to raise your profile is to give fantastic presentations. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your hard-won experience.
Choose your topic and prepare
With a broad knowledge of your industry, it may be difficult to pick just one topic. Find something that will truly interest your target audience. In The 7 habits of highly effective people Dr Stephen Covey advises, “start with the end in mind”. What do you want your audience to know (or do) when you are finished?
For maximum appeal, identify a narrow slice of your area of expertise. By going deep you’ll be forced to be specific and showcase what you know and your audience doesn’t.
Identify three main points. Sketch these out on a piece of paper, creating a mind map. Now note down three or more interesting or important aspects of each of your three main points. Is there a story you can tell to illustrate your point (particularly if it involves figures or statistics)? Even business people value stories. They bring examples to life.
To give you the best chance of maintaining your audience’s attention for the duration of your presentation, be succinct. Don’t go into more detail than you need to make a point or illustrate an example. Your audience will thank you!
Make the structure clear
Write down your presentation based round the three main points you wish to make. Add a beginning, and a conclusion. It’s helpful to signal your closing. By saying, “And in conclusion. . .” you give your audience a clue that you are nearly finished, and they’ll reward you with renewed attention.
And if you really want to “wow” your audience, don’t use slides at all. By being the speaker who simply spoke to her audience, without any audio-visual backup, you may paradoxically make the biggest impression. Giving a product demonstration is another way to make a strong impression.
Practice your delivery
To really stand out, you’ll need more than just your great presentation: you’ll have to deliver it with energy and style. To be comfortable on stage requires you to be prepared so rehearsal is vital.
Start by simply saying it out loud. One of the most common mistakes nervous speakers make is to use overly long sentences. Did you know that speaking sentences that are too long can leave you breathless – literally? Shorten them and you’ll eliminate the risk of needless strain, and maintain your professional poise.
Aim for a style that is conversational. Imagine you are speaking to friends or colleagues. This will help you adopt an informal approach and keep your sentences reasonably short.
It’s a good idea to avoid jargon (unless everyone in the audience is an industry insider). Knowing your audience is helpful. It enables you to use language they will understand, and perhaps even make a joke or two.
I like to record important presentations and listen to it a number of times perhaps playing it back while I am driving, and speaking along to the recording. This helps me use more accurate inflection, and where to put the emphasis in each sentence.
On the day of your performance
Keep your purpose for presenting clear in your mind: this about establishing your authority, and enhancing your business by sharing your expertise. It’s good practice to record your presentation if this is possible for later review. After all you’ll want to keep improving and doing more presentations. Take every opportunity to showcase what you know!
Laura Bruce is from Toastmasters International a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 345,000 in more than 15,900 clubs in 142 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. To find your local club: www.toastmasters.org Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.
For Toastmasters in the UK: www.toastmasters.org.uk