On Developing Presentations

Ben Groulx
Feb 15, 2013
On Developing Presentations

This morning, Roy and I had the opportunity to present in front of Small Business BC for their Successful You "Best Online Marketer" award. We were both very honoured to have been given the opportunity to be there, and the chance to flex our presentation muscles.

I have been in the audience of a poor presentation. It's painful. I've been on the giving-end of the poor presentation. I've gotten better. And I can say the only real way to give better presentations is through repetition, in getting more comfortable with it, and in working on your speaking skills. There are, however a few things you can implement right away that will help.

Be Prepared

You would think this could go without saying, but it needs to be included. Many people (including myself, once upon a time), thought winging it could just work. It might sometimes. A successful pitch needs to have a certain rhythm to it, one that can only be developed through planning and iteration. You need to sit down, come up with a concept, put down all your points, and develop a story. Being prepared will allow you to have a better grasp and feel more comfortable with your materials as well.

Tell a Story

Humans are natural story tellers. It survived as our primary method of communication before literacy, and still to this day is key to the developing and sharing of information. It's what we do as designers; we are visual story tellers. When presenting, remember that you are the story teller, and you must invite your audience. There's nothing worse than having to stay awake during an uneventful pitch. Return to elementary storytelling principles, the ones you learned in grade 9 English classes. Develop a tale that has a beginning, rising action, and a finale.

Go for Clarity

Being in the audience during a presentation is not like being at a show, or watching a movie. We can let films gloss over us, and generally be a bit distracted -- unless you're watching Memento, I think that show broke my brain. During a presentation, however, the audience is at full attention. They want to listen, they want to understand. And they'll do their best, as long as you help them a bit. Speak in clear and concise detail, and explain all acronyms and jargon. Get everyone on the same page before moving on.

Know your Audience

It's important to tailor your presentation to your audience. Consider their backgrounds and their points of view. Try to imagine your presentation from their seats. Are you using language that is suitable for them? Are your references and materials appropriate? How is your cadence, tone of voice, and word selection? By knowing who exactly you are addressing, you can connect with them and form a compelling relationship through your pitch.

Practice Your Materials

Practice makes perfect. We've been told this over and over and over and over. And over. Because it's true. If there is a skill you want to learn or improve on, get in the habit of repeating it (successfully) until it becomes natural. Until there is no second guessing yourself. If you know your presentation, it will feel natural. There's no need to memorize every sentence (you'll come off as a robot if you do). There is no shame in having cue cards or notes with you to help you with the specifics, but having a clear understanding of your presentation structure will allow for a more relaxed pitch.

Learn from Others

Watch what the great public speakers do. See how they behave, how they act, how they speak. One great resource is this video of Nancy Duarte's TEDx East talk,"The secret structure of great talks," where she offers some interesting points and exposes common elements between all great presentations.

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