Corporate Presentations: Getting it Right – The secrets of presentation success

How many times have you sat through business presentation and thought “let me out of here”?

It’s not so much that the message is bad; it’s the messenger that needs shooting, and the technology used is inappropriate.

There are, thankfully, many proficient speakers who comprehend the basics of successful presentation, and know just how to apply suitable technology. There is also plenty of expert advice and material available to help people improve their skills.

One of the better guides on presentation skills that I’ve seen came from Britain’s Staffordshire University. It is based around Planning Cycle, which begins with the parameters and works through aims and objectives, presentation content, method of delivery, and finally, evaluation.

First, know your audience (eg, what do they already know about the topic and what do they need to know?). Then know your venue, including the presentation equipment, and know yourself – your abilities and limitations.

Ask yourself what is the point of the presentation? What do you want to achieve? Make your objectives SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bounded.

When it comes to content, consider the main points you want to convey, and apply the KISS principle (Keep It Short and Simple). Break information down into manageable chunks; there should be no more than five key messages in presentation, and only three in 15 to 20 minute talk. Be brutally frugal with the amount of material you include.

Get back to the basics when structuring your presentation – work on beginning, middle, and the end. The old cliche applies: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them.”

When deciding on the best way to deliver content, remember that we recall only 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we hear and see, and 70 percent of what we do. So presenters must do more than just talk. You need visual aids, such as whiteboards and data/video projectors, and if possible, interact with the audience.

Post-presentation evaluation is important – think back to what happened, without being too critical. Consider what worked, and what didn’t? Get some feedback by handing out evaluation forms immediately after your presentation or, better still, get audience members to fill in form few days later, to avoid the skew of the ‘feel good’ factor.

Lacking confidence?
Of course, all the best intentions in the world go down the gurgler if you haven’t come to grips with the fear factor. In her book Speak Easy – The Essential Guide to Speaking in Public, due for release in early April, Maggie Eyre offers the following tips for improving your confidence in public speaking.

* Believe in yourself. The audience will believe you if you show them you are confident and comfortable in front of them. Be positive.
* Share true stories that will change other people’s lives. Empower your audience, stimulate change in the mind of your listener – tell your own personal and professional story.
* Plan and prepare well in advance. Leaving preparation to the last minute will make you stressed, and the speech won’t be as good as it could be. Serious speakers need to set aside at least 45 to 60 minutes of preparation time per minute of speaking time.
* Know what your key messages are. Weave these messages into your storytelling. Keep things simple and concise.
* Rehearse in front of colleague or friend you respect. This is vital for your self-confidence.
* Seek out and accept training opportunities. Don’t wait for really important speech to practise your public speaking.
* Be well informed about world events and read the newspaper daily. By referring to current issues, your audience will see you are educated and well informed.
* Find mentor. Remember, everyone needs someone to believe in their talent.
* Fake it till you make it. Project confidence even if you don’t feel it inside. You’ll soon start to feel as though you are the confident person you’re pretending to be.
• Watch star speakers. People such as Anita Roddick, Nelson Mandela, Glenda Jackson, and Bill Clinton are great examples to follow.

Presentation technology: apply with care
The secret to integrating technology with presentation is to know the right amount, and to understand that technology is there merely to reinforce the message, and not distract the audience from it.

Julian Lefebvre, professional visual display specialist for Mitsubishi Electric distributor BDT, advises presenters to be well prepared and to know their stuff, “but use the technology as back-up, and use your communication skills to get the message across”. He recalls one particular presentation in which the presenter got it absolutely right: “He knew what he was talking about, he integrated interactive DVD and PowerPoint information to reinforce his message, which was brilliant, and he was obviously well prepared and so the whole performance was seamless.”

Maggie Eyre agrees that technology is simply an aid to the presenter. “Your ability to convey your message to the audience is all that matters.”

If you do decide to run with data or video or interactive technology perhaps, then make sure you’re proficient in using it. “Have backup plan in case it doesn’t work. Be prepared for disaster and arrive early enough to put your back-up plan into action if it’s needed,” says Eyre.

Andrew Perring, of Tech-Rentals, believes that presenters often overlook small details, which can make significant difference to presentation quality. Here’s his checklist:
• Ensure the screen type, size and placement allows the entire audience to view the presentation.
• Check stands/mounts for the screen – are the walls strong enough for equipment such as plasmas?
• Make sure screens are positioned so that reflection from artificial lights or sunlight is minimised.
• Brightness (lumens) of equipment should match the light level in the room during the presentation.
• Has the appropriate software/presentation been loaded onto the PC or laptop?
• Is the software resolution compatible with the projector or screen?
• Ensure the correct video cards are installed and there is enough memory for quality images and smooth running of software/video.
• Has the distance between projector and screen been considered in deciding projection strength?
• Equipment should fit the atmosphere of the presentation and desired level of intimacy – particularly the type, size and number of screens, and sound equipment.
• Does the sound equipment allow the entire audience to hear the presentation?
• Check that cables and electrical ports have been accounted for, and are not intrusive.
• Is technical support available at the time of the presentation?

Perring recommends that the venue be thoroughly checked out well in advance of the presentation date. Consider details such as power outlets and seating arrangements, in addition to over-all effect.

“Generally the larger the presentation, the more time should be allocated for preparation,” Perring says. “The same technology due to be used in the final presentation should be hired for at least one full rehearsal, preferably at the same time of day as the final presentation.”

The wow factor
Many corporate and individual presenters are willing to incorporate ‘upmarket’ state-of-the-art presentation technology to increase the impact of their presentations, and the results can be nothing short of spectacular. Tech-Rentals specialises in the hiring of such equipment, and has been kept busy recently with large-scale presentation projects, such as the size seen at the America’s Cup Village.

Tech-Rentals’ Perring recommends plasma-screen technology for its sheer size and clarity of performance. “And because it eliminates the light source at the front of the screen, there are no issues with presenters walking in front of the projected image, which o

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