Practice Makes Perfect

PAN Communications

There’s an old joke, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall—Practice, Practice, Practice.”  The same is true for public speaking and presenting; it takes Practice Makes Perfectpractice.  No discussion of public speaking is complete without the acknowledgement that it is the number-one fear and while we do empathize, be forewarned:  If you choose not to conquer the fear and develop presentation skills, your career path will suffer.  According to a Prezi/Harris poll, 9 percent of respondents would pretend to be sick on the day of a presentation, 5 percent would take a shot of alcohol and 7 percent a tranquilizer. While these people may be taking somewhat drastic measures to alleviate the fear, the best solution is preparation because after all, public speaking is not inherently dangerous and can be conquered. In this blog post, we will take you through some tips for delivering successful presentations.

Step 1:  It’s the Audience

Your presentation is not about you or your company; it’s about your audience. The audience is on your side and wants you to succeed. However in return, you need to meet the audience’s need for the information and need for an enjoyable experience.  Even the most technical topics can be made enjoyable based on delivery, confidence and the ability to involve the audience in the presentation.  Use words, including industry jargon, that are on par with the audience’s level of knowledge.

Step 2: Prepare your presentation

As the saying goes, a successful presentation is designed around the premise of “Tell themwhat you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them.”  While the introduction, body and conclusion are important, it is crucial that you focus on the beginning.  You must make a positive impression right from the start or you will lose the audience rather than drawing them in. The body and conclusion should consist of a variety of ways to present the information. With attention spans decreasing, it is important to vary content. For example, use visual aids, case studies, graphs, videos, personal stories and audience participation to share your message.

Step 3: Show and Tell

Using visual aids keeps the audience’s attention and results in better retention of information.  When people experience information with multiple senses, the information is reinforced and better remembered. When using visual aids, they need to be large enough to be seen by everyone in the room. Passing items distracts the audience’s attention away from what the speaker is saying.  Slides and flipcharts need to have large fonts to be readable. Most importantly, visual aids must add to the understanding of the topic at hand, otherwise they are not worth using.

Step 4:  The Letter Carrier Always Delivers (Practice)

Once your talk is written, you must practice delivering it either in front of a mirror, in the room where the presentation will take place or in front of a trusted advisor. Prepare notes with bullets, not word for word and in a font you can easily read. If you have multiple pages or note cards, please number them so they can be easily sorted in case they become out of order.  Practice with your visual aids and with setting up the projector and advancing the PowerPoint, if used.  Always time your speech so that you will know if you are within limitations for the time allotted to you and cut or add content as needed. Keep in mind both that you will speak slower than in usual conversation, but that nerves may cause you to speak faster.

In sum, know your topic, know your audience and be flexible as last-minute crises arise—no microphone, your time was cut, etc.  Presentations can be nerve-wracking, but with proper planning and practice, they can be conquered and are a great way to share information and connect with your audience.  So, now, take a deep breath and know that everyone is rooting for you.

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