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Five steps to better presentations.

Five steps to better presentations

Think back on all the technical presentations you've attended at trade shows, conferences, and seminars over the years. How many of them stand out in your mind as stimulating, thought-provoking, or even interesting?

I'd guess the percentage is pretty small. Maybe the presenters thought they were too busy to spend enough time preparing. Maybe they thought it wasn't important. Or maybe they, like most of us, were just plain terrified at the thought of speaking in public.

Whatever the reasons, the result is the same. Presentations that could be invaluable tools for marketing a company and its products are poorly prepared, confusing, or just plain boring.

It doesn't have to be that way. You can make your presentations more effective--and less painful--by following five simple steps.

Step 1 - Define your audience

Before you start writing, ask yourself some important questions. First, who's the audience? A presentation to middle managers needs to be quite different from a presentation to manufacturing engineers.

Then ask yourself, "What's in it for them?" These people are going out of their way to attend your presentation. Why? What do they want to learn? How will they want to apply what they hear?

For answers, turn to the program manager (the person in charge of the conference or seminar or the person who invited you). If there's anyone who is more nervous about your presentation than you are, it's him. After all, he's counting on you to make him look good.

Ask to see copies of recent presentations he thought were well-received. If possible, meet with him in person to go over them. Find out what made them successful. This step gives you valuable insights into the audience.

You can turn to colleagues for help. If your audience will be made up of purchasing agents, talk to your company's purchasing manager. Ask what topics are important to a person in that position.

Step 2 - Get organized

Remember when you took English Composition in high school? Remember how your teacher always made you write an outline? You thought it was a waste of time, right?

Wrong! An outline is the best way to organize your material. It will force you to think linearly, so that your presentation flows in a logical pattern that's easy to follow.

At the top of your outline jot down a title that sums up the key point or message that you want to convey. The best presentations have a strong, memorable theme. Don't be afraid to take a stand, even on a technical subject. Think your product beats all competitors hands down? Say so! But be sure your data back up your claims. Your outline will tell you if you have the facts to support your arguments.

Step 3 - Keep it simple

When you begin to write your presentation, use short, simple words. That's a good idea in any communication, but it's especially important in a verbal presentation, when the listener only has one chance to understand what you're trying to say.

Avoid using sound-alike words in the same sentence. Don't say "the product is most effective in wear applications where conventional alloys fail." In fact, if there's any word that could possibly confuse a listener, replace it. Speechwriters call this "writing for the ear."

Make the presentation come alive for your audience. Ask them questions that will help them relate to the topic (such as "How many of you are concerned with metallurgical damage?"). Use the intelligence you've gathered in Step 1 to build a bridge between their problems and your solutions.

Step 4 - Know your material

You'll find that you benefit from using simple language as much as your audience does. Remember, you have to read this thing out loud.

Review your presentation several times. The first time, check for content--make sure you're saying everything you want to say. Next, review it for clarity (if possible, read it to a colleague). Finally, review it for length, to make sure you don't go over your allotted time. The more familiar you are with your material, the better you'll sound.

When the big day arrives, get to the presentation site early. Get a "feel" for the room you'll be speaking in. Stand at the podium, then walk up and down the aisles until you feel comfortable. When you're at ease with the setting, your poise and confidence will come through in your delivery.

If you're going to use slides, overhead transparencies, or a videotape, take this time to become familiar with the audio-visual equipment. Nothing kills a presentation like putting the slides in the carriage upside down. If you're using a video cassette player, call ahead to make sure it matches the format of your tape. And cue the tape to start at the proper spot.

When it's your turn to speak, step up to your mark and relax. Take a deep breath. Make sure you have everyone's attention. Remember, they made an effort to be there. They want to hear what you have to say. And they want you to succeed.

Step 5 - Get feedback

Your evaluation of the presentation begins while you're still speaking. Because you're so familiar with your material, you can make eye contact and really connect with members of the audience. Do they seem interested? Are they asking questions? If so, then you're already receiving positive feedback. If not, you need to work a little harder at getting their attention.

After the presentation, seek as much feedback as you can from the audience. If you have the chance, go out into the audience and introduce yourself. Don't be afraid to ask people what they thought. If it seems appropriate, you can even ask them to fill out a written evaluation form.

When you get back to your office, file away the notes you took on this feedback. It's the first thing you'll want to look at when it's time to prepare your next presentation.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cardone, Steve
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Aug 1, 1990
Words:991
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