I don’t know how many presentations I’ve sat through over the last 20 years but there have been a lot and very few of them memorable. And the worse thing is when a presenter starts off by telling you that they have 30 plus slides to go through in the next 30 minutes. My heart sinks. No time for interaction, no time for questions just a barrage of slides with poorly chosen images and a useless overabundance of words.

I want to help all those presenters out there to kick some ass when they are in front of an audience. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and present to a group of people. You don’t know how they are going to react to what you say. It can seriously dent your confidence if you have a bad experience. Below are 10 steps to help you put your best foot forward.

  1. Plan out your script in the way you would write a story. If you have not written a story since your school days think about a book you’ve recently read. Thrillers are brilliant as they keep you turning the page and wanting to know more. Like all good thrillers your presentation needs a beginning, middle and end. You need to draw your audience in and take them on a journey.
  2. The best presentations are short, which is why TED talks are only 18 minutes long. If you can’t get your point across in 20 minutes then there is something wrong with your presentation. It could be you are not simplifying your message or trusting that your audience will get it and therefore being too detailed in the process. If in doubt, get someone with good presentation experience to review it.
  3. Have a hook. One of the best hooks I heard was from a senior actuary, in 2008,  presenting on the subject of  Solvency II (an EU legislative programme which introduces a new, harmonised EU-wide insurance regulatory regime) which was due to come into force in 2012. The presenter likened the readiness of insurance companies for Solvency II to the way that the world’s best athletes prepare for their big moment at an upcoming Olympic Games.  You could hear the sharp intake of breath as everyone realised they were not ready.
  4. When presenting make sure you focus on one point at a time. If you show a slide full of text the audience will start reading the slide but if you just show one bullet point at a time you will keep the audience with you.
  5. Audience participation is a great way to keep the listeners engaged – ask questions in your presentation and get a ‘show of hands’ or get them to vote on electronic voting panels and instantly relay their responses.
  6. Work with a designer to get the right layout, font, sizing and colours for your slides.  It is well worth the investment and often just a slight change to font and sizing makes all the difference.
  7. Images are a great way to add visual interest but an overuse of them can become a distraction so you need to find the right balance. In the early stages the rule of thumb a lot of people apply is one slide image, one slide text, one slide image, one slide text and so on.
  8. Practice, practice, practice. TED speaker Becky Blanton suggests the following for getting your talk right:
    1. Memorise your talk where possible and refer back to notes or prompters
    2. Get 8-hours sleep after practicing. This helps your brain commit, process, and store the speech, allowing you to remember what you’ve crammed for
    3. Give the speech to a small audience the day before
    4. Give the speech to yourself an hour before your actual speech
    5. Practice in the venue where you’ll be talking – get on the stage if possible beforehand
  9. Don’t worry if you make a mistake – most people do – they forget something or fluff their lines. The most important thing is that you are authentic, your audience will know when you are being yourself – it’s ok to admit that you got something wrong, it’s ok to admit that you are still working on something and don’t fully know what the answer might be – people warm to vulnerability and they will hear the honesty in your voice.
  10. Relax and have fun – move around the stage and get comfortable – if you want to become an expert presenter you are going to have to get used to being centre stage.

You may not be presenting quite like a TED speaker yet but if you put the above into practice you will be on the right path to inspiring and informing your audience.

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