5 ways to present like a pro

From the pages of In Business magazine.

One of my favorite things to do is watch people give presentations. I generally prefer business topics, but I am open to anything new, interesting, or informative. Not only do I like to listen to the content of the presentations, I like to carefully watch the speakers themselves.

What are their mannerisms? What kind of technology, if any, do they use in their presentations? How do they interact with their audience? Having seen hundreds, maybe even thousands, of presentations, I have noticed several things that work and a lot that don’t, and I’ve been able to identify a few characteristics that make a speaker great. Speaking can be an excellent way to build your personal brand and grow your business. However, if you present poorly, the negative impact can be just as great. If you want to give a stellar presentation, remember to keep these five traits of great speakers in mind:

  1. They are personable and relatable. No matter how important you are, people won’t listen to you unless they can relate to you. You aren’t a robot, so don’t speak like one. Let your personality shine through, and feel free to mix in some personal details about yourself. Ditch the stock photos and add in pictures that are truly relevant to the stories you tell and the examples you give. The more connections you make with the audience, the more likely they are to be interested in what you have to say.
  2. They make complex topics interesting and easy to understand. Last month, CONNECT Madison had the opportunity to tour the Carbone Cancer Center and hear presentations from two physicians about their research. The topics they covered were extremely detailed and complex. However, both presenters did an excellent job of explaining their findings in layman’s terms and helping us understand why their work was important and valuable. If they can make “regulatory molecular pathways that are used or dysregulated in different types of human malignancies” comprehensible to a group of 20-somethings, you can simplify your message, too.
  3. They have good visuals. I don’t know about you, but I have had a couple of near-death (by PowerPoint) experiences. Being trapped in a presentation where there are way too many slides or the presenter has used size-10 font to squeeze 10 paragraphs onto one visual is not helpful for anyone. Use pictures to emphasize your point. The audience’s attention should be on you and your message, not on a slide that has more text than a novel or a graph that is much too complex to read from a projector. Check out the free service Prezi (prezi.com) to find out how to make your presentations more visually appealing.
  4. They are great storytellers. Don’t script your presentation. Write out bullet points with key takeaways and examples you want to give for each point. Talk to the audience like you are speaking to one specific person instead of a large group. Everyone loves a good story, so create examples that draw in the audience and emphasize key ideas you are trying to convey. People are much more likely to remember an interesting story than a specific fact or talking point.
  5. They inspire people to take action. What is the point of your presentation? Is it to educate people on their finances? Teach them how to grow their business? Convince them to give to a charity or cause? You are talking to people about something they should take action on, so make sure that point is clear. Be specific about what steps people should take once they leave the room. If you make it easy for people to get involved and take action, they will.



Your Fast Track Action Items:

■ Check out TED.com and watch some of the most-viewed talks. Not only are the topics compelling and sometimes controversial, the presenters know how to capture the attention of the audience.
■ Arrange to have your next presentation videotaped. Watching yourself in action is an excellent way to see what you did well and where you can improve.
■ Start to look at situations in your daily life differently. How can something that happened to you be turned into a story to help teach a lesson or convey a point you are trying to make? Write down some ideas for your next presentation.

Email me at jennaatkinson1@gmail.com to let me know what your best speaking tip is and how I can help you hit your next presentation out of the park!

Jenna Atkinson is the president of CONNECT Madison, a young professionals group offering development, community engagement, and relationship-building
opportunities to local business leaders.

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