10 Ways to Rock Your Next Presentation

by Paul Michael on 7 December 2010 (1 comment)

This Small Business Series is brought to you by Veer.com.

I have been an advertising copywriter for over 15 years now, and part of my job (a big part) is selling the ideas that I create. Someone once told me that it’s no good having amazing ideas if no one ever sees them, and I never forgot that.

So, to make sure those ideas see the light of day, I have to convince a room full of busy executives that the ideas I am presenting are worth backing. Sometimes they cost thousands of dollars. Sometimes it’s millions. And selling those ideas takes a certain set of skills. But these aren’t secret skills, and they aren’t skills that people are born with.

Trust me when I say that most people don’t enjoy standing up in front of a cold room to pitch something. But if you want to succeed in most careers, it’s something you’ll have to do, and do well. Here are ten tips that will help you make a killer presentation.

1.    Preparation is half the battle

Many people fear presentations because they aren’t well prepared, but that’s one of the easiest things to get right. In most situations, you’ll have plenty of time to create your presentation. Use it wisely. Don’t spend days putting together the material and then ignore the rehearsal. You need to practice this material. Put an audience together, even if it’s family or friends. Run through the presentation, ask for feedback, see where you can improve things or cut words. Then, do it again. When you have it all polished, the sense of confidence and relief you will feel as you start to give the real presentation is priceless.

2.    Know your subject, inside and out

There’s an old saying – “fake it till you make it.” It may work in some aspects of life, but not when you’re giving a presentation. If you don’t know your subject inside out and back to front, people will know. They can smell insecurity and inexperience, and they’ll jump on it. The best presentations I have been to were given by people who had been in their respective industry for decades. They lived and breathed the subject matter, so it was easy to talk about it for an hour. After all, this was their passion. So, if you’re going to talk about something you have to research, do your research well. Very well.

3.    If you can, get to know the room you'll be presenting in

This tip is one aimed at helping allay your fears about presenting, if you have any. Most of the time the reason we get nervous is because we fear the unknown. “What will the room be like, will it be a big conference table, will it be filled with mean executives, will I forget what to say” and so on. Seeing the actual room really does help to ease some of those fears, because you are walking into familiar territory and already know where you will set up, where you’ll stand, and have a rough idea of how many people will be there. If it’s not possible to go there physically, maybe you can have someone send shots of the room, or a floor plan. Anything to help you picture the room is going to help.

4.    Be genuinely enthusiastic

Something that smells worse than inexperience is insincerity. You know it all too well because you’ve been on the receiving end of it, probably more times in your life than you realize. That telemarketer who recites a script in a dull, monotone way, or the customer service representative that gives standard answers and wants to be out of the door at 5.01pm, they stand out because they obviously don’t care. Don’t make that mistake. You ARE the presentation. Your personality is going to make or break this, so make sure it shines through. This is your time to shine, so let people know how much you really care. You should. This is your deal. 

5.    Be concise

Don’t use hundreds of words when a few will do. Learn to cut, cut, cut and cut again. You may love hearing the sound of your own voice, but most people just want to get the information and ask questions. And as you can see, I should have cut this section by 75%.

6.    Get the room nodding

This is an old trick that door-to-door salesmen and street vendors use. The idea is to get the crowd nodding with answers that they should obviously say yes to. For instance “you like to save money, right?” and “so wouldn’t you like to look younger and have more energy?” After a few minutes of nodding and agreeing, you’re in a pattern. And as we are creatures of habit, we generally like to keep going in that direction. So, make a few statements early on that people naturally nod “YES” to. After a while, it will be easier for them to say yes to something not quite as easy (like giving you a million dollars to make a television commercial).

7.    Use colorful graphics, photos and visual aids to make your points

There are several very important reasons for using visual aids in presentations. First, they help you remember what you’re talking about. Second, they take the attention away from you for a while, and that can be a nice breather. Third, people absorb visual information much more quickly and easily than verbal (it’s easy to read simple instruction with clear diagrams than it is to listen to someone explaining it with no visual cues). And finally, people like eye candy. They like to see the things you’re talking about. So, any good presentation will have visual aids. Just remember to keep them simple and direct. No one wants to listen to you reciting word-for-word the text you’ve thrown into a PowerPoint slide. They know how to read. The visuals need to support and enhance your presentation, not spell it out verbatim.

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8.    Anticipate any questions you may be asked

I’ve been tripped up by questions out of left field in the past. I’ve seen many people fall victim to them actually. The problem is one that requires you to think quickly on your feet and respond with confidence. And that’s a lot easier to do if you’ve planned ahead and have answers prepared for questions that may come up. Ask yourself “what’s the toughest question someone could ask me about this?” and then explore good responses. This is why practicing with friends, co-workers and even family is also important, because they can pitch questions at you that you may never have thought of. Those questions may never come up, but if they do, you can respond quickly and with authority.

9.    Don't be afraid to give your real opinion

If you’re asked what you think about something, be genuine. This doesn’t mean be rude, but be honest whenever you can. I’ve given “party line” responses in the past, only to have someone else say what I was really thinking and get rewarded for their candidness. Plus, giving a fake answer can often come back to bite you. So, tell it like it is. They are asking you for your opinion, they need to hear it.

10. Remember, the audience is rooting for you

They really are. Our paranoia often sits on our shoulder and tells us that everyone in the room is looking at us, and wants us to fail. Not true. It’s just as uncomfortable to watch someone mess up as it is to be the one messing up. And people like good presentations, too. It’s their time you’re taking up; they want it to be filled with something good, not boring or disastrous. So never forget that people are rooting for you. They want you to do well and finish on a high.

Armed with these ten tips, you should find that your next presentation goes smoothly and is a success. If you have any other tips that our readers would enjoy, please leave them in the comments.

To see more great images related to this post, check out our Album on Veer.com. (They're giving away 10 free stock photo credits for all new registrants!) 

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Paul, very helpful. Thank you!