Tips on Preparing a Successful Presentation

I still remember the first time I was asked to prepare a commercial presentation for a potential client. On the one hand I was grateful for this amazing opportunity, on the other… I was terrified! That time I had no idea where to start from, how should I prepare myself and the presentation in order to make a great impression and consequently win the contract for the company. Hundreds of successful presentations later I believe that the greatest advice on how to prepare a powerful presentation I got from Abraham Lincoln, who said “If you had eight hours to chop down a tree, spend six hours sharpening your ax”!

A successful presentation is not a coincidence. It is an art, a performance created for a unique audience. The key to success is the careful mix of your personality and the workshop tools available: words, gestures, and interpersonal skills. The presenter has to adopt the clients’ perspective and be attentive to their needs, while simultaneously striving to achieve his or her own objectives.

Start from asking yourself four basics questions that will help you to set the objectives for your presentation:

1. Who am I as a presenter?
The primary challenge for the presenter is… self-awareness. Awareness of your own strengths and abilities, as well as the shortcomings. This will allow you to adopt the method of delivery to your own, unique style. You need to feel relaxed in order to create a personal connection with your audience. Unnatural behavior greatly reduces the credibility of the message and thus, has a negative impact on the perception of the presenter and the effectiveness of the presentation.

2. Who is my audience and what arguments should I use?
Another milestone on the road to create a powerful presentation is profound knowledge of your audience. Initially, acting solely as listeners, by the final scene it’s them who take over the initiative and make the ultimate decisions. Hence it is vital to know and understand the strategic needs and expectations of your clients, to be able to address them adequately.

3. What is my goal?
For you it may be obvious, but definitely not for many of the presenters I had the pleasure to shadow during their performance! So let me just emphasize it one more time- make it very clear to yourself and to your audience what the key point and objectives of the presentation are. You don’t want to leave the meeting with a bitter feeling of unfulfilled expectations.

4. How should I build my presentation?
Simplicity and consistency of the message is always appreciated. A small number of slides, intriguing and evocative words, surprising and applicable metaphors, many examples and creative and aesthetic visuals – this is the recipe for an interesting and engaging presentation which will remain in memory of even the most demanding audience.

Presenting, although described as an art, is NOT a so-called ” art for art’s sake “. It has an explicit purpose and an individualized audience, and therefore cannot be prepared in advance and used for any occasion. Every presentation should be created as a unique masterpiece of the presenter which triggers and inspires the public!

Public Speaking – Take the 6-Second Presentation Challenge

During election season in the U.S., one of my clients, the CEO of a nonprofit organization, was invited to film an endorsement for a candidate’s television commercial. Her role was to introduce herself and her organization and explain why she supports the candidate. She was happy to participate because she is a big supporter. However, the challenge was that she only had 6 SECONDS to communicate her message!

I’ve written and spoken frequently about the importance of communicating your message within the time limit. And as means of practicing that skill, I’ve shared the improv game of Half-Life, where 2 people act out a scene in 64 seconds and then they repeat the scene in half the time – 32 seconds – and then again in 16 seconds and finally down to 8 seconds. The 8-second scene is usually hysterical and demonstrates that you can communicate a lot in a limited amount of time if you cut out the extra material and focus on the essentials.

On the other hand, communicating a complete message – especially a coherent and persuasive endorsement message – in 6 seconds is very difficult!

My client was able to do it (and in very few takes) because she prepared and practiced. Her endorsement was combined with other 6-second endorsements into a powerful short commercial.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll ever have only 6 seconds to give your entire presentation, taking the 6-Second Presentation Challenge can help you become a more effective presenter. The next time you have to give a presentation, challenge yourself to state your message in 6 seconds.

And “your message” is defined as the one sentence that summarizes the point of your presentation, the one thing that you want your audience to remember. Yes, all the supporting details and data help, but there should only be one core message. You can also think of it as a newspaper headline or a billboard.

Why is this helpful? Well, if you can say your message to yourself in 6 seconds, then you really understand it and will be able to organize your material around it. And that means that your audience will find it easier to understand your point because they won’t be distracted by unrelated information, extraneous material or confusing organization.

While you may take a little bit longer than 6 seconds when actually saying the message to the audience during your presentation, it shouldn’t take much longer.

The 6-Second Presentation Challenge can also be applied in a networking situation. For example, what do you say at a networking event when someone asks, “what do you do?” Rather than rambling on, can you prepare and practice a 6-second statement to introduce yourself clearly, concisely and confidently?

Take the 6-Second Presentation Challenge and let me know what you come up with and how it helps you become a more effective presenter.

(To read more about Half-Life, check out my blog post – http://gildabonanno.blogspot.com/2010/01/using-improv-comedys-half-life.html )

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