How to Give the Best Presentation of Your Life

How to Give the Best Presentation of Your Life

Believe it or not, some people are jazzed about giving presentations. They love the experience, jump in with two feet, and many become accomplished public speakers who, in some cases, make a profession out of it.

On the other end of the public-speaking spectrum are those who have a debilitating fear of it. For them, the experience comes with a racing heart, sense of dread, or worse. Some get physically ill, regardless the amount of practice and preparation.

Then, there is the huge group in the middle, where you probably live: They neither love public speaking nor get sick from it. It’s uncomfortable, but they can do it, despite a shaky voice sometimes, going over or under time, having slides with 12-point font text, or losing the audience about half-way through.

If you’re in this last group, you’re not alone: Most of the population has some level of discomfort (or plain inexperience) with public speaking. The good news is that there are basic and simple ways to improve your public speaking and help you do far better than mediocre. Here are just a few.

Don’t start by creating the slides

When bosses, clients, or teachers ask for a presentation, it’s common to begin by opening up a slideshow deck. You might start shuffling around slides from previous presentation or begin creating a new slideshow presentation from scratch, but you shouldn’t do either. It’s ultimately wasting a ton of time. Instead, plan the presentation first. Invest half an hour and sketch out your key points. It’ll make building the presentation much easier and faster after you have a plan to follow.

Focus on what your audience needs, not on how much you know

Many presenters attempt to get their audience to the same level of understanding they have. This is almost always misguided. Your audience doesn’t need as much information as you have; instead, they need you to translate what’s in your head into something useful for them. Boil it down and make it concise.

Often, it’s helpful to just ask yourself, “What are the top three things my audience needs to know about this topic?” or “What are the three most important things people need to remember after the presentation?” This centres your attention on your audience (and away from yourself). Once you know those three things, your presentation will be easier to build.

Keep your visuals and presentation structure simple

To avoid overthinking your presentation structure, think in terms of an introduction, 2-3 main points, and a conclusion. Make sure those points are the most important for what you want to your audience to know.

If your visuals have text on them, avoid long sentences — and absolutely no paragraphs. Your audience can’t read and listen to you at the same time. The slides should be understandable at a glance, and a picture or graphic is ideal. If there is text, make sure the font is at least 18-20 point, and strive for no more than five bullet points on any single slide.

As you plan to deliver the presentation, think in similar, simple terms. Use this age-old public speaking model:

  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them. (This is your introduction.)
  • Tell them. (These are your 2-3 main points.)
  • Tell them what you told them. (This is your conclusion that drives home exactly what you want your audience to remember.)

You’ll remember what to say, the audience will be able to follow along, and the simple structure will result in a more memorable and engaging presentation.

Practice in front of someone and time it

The worst thing you can do is rehearse the presentation in your head while sitting alone at your desk. You have to speak publicly (out loud and in front of others), so it’s a waste of time to rehearse by thinking and being alone.

Once you know what to say, practice saying it in front of one or more friends or colleagues. Have your practice audience time your delivery to help with your time management. Speaking in public is like any skill: the more you do it, the easier it gets.

If there’s time planned for a Q&A after your presentation, rehearse fielding questions as well — including the likely scenario that you’ll be asked something you don’t know the answer to. Have an answer practiced and at the ready, like, “I don’t know, but I’d be happy to find out and get back to you.”

Remind yourself of what really matters

Despite all the preparation, nerves will still take hold. One way to remain calm is to find a picture, token, or mantra that reminds you that this presentation is a mere moment in time. There are likely aspects of your life of greater importance than the presentation, and something that reminds you of what really matters (like pictures of family, a small token from a meaningful trip, or listening to the right song) can help neutralise the nerves enough to deliver your message successfully.

Giving a presentation can be an uncomfortable experience, but putting in the time to prepare and practice will make it so much easier. Then, staying focused on the bigger picture of what’s meaningful in your life can be just what you need to reduce the stress even more.


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