Business Bytes: 6 presentation tips from an expert

Like them or not, for most of us presentations are a fact of business life. Whether it’s in front of five people or 500, there are key things that can make your presentation a success.

Founder of Crystal Business Coaching, Jacqui Harper – who has 20 years’ experience training executives in the art of communication – has shared her top tips on how to effectively deliver powerful, memorable presentations.

1. Be clear about your emotional objective

“Most people would start by doing the information objective or try to communicate the strategies, I want to encourage people to think about what you want the audience to feel.”

Whether you want them to be excited or reassured, by primarily focusing on the emotional objective the whole presentation is shaped by and for the audience. Be clear about the exact response you want from your audience and find ways of evoking these emotions.

It may be beneficial to map the emotional response you desire for each part of the presentation. Perhaps for the beginning you may want to evoke excitement, in the middle, comfort in your ideas and by the end, impressed with your presentation.

“It shapes how you show up, shapes the language that you use and really puts connecting with your audience at the heart of your communication.”

2. Content

“Look at the material itself, starting with a powerful beginning to really get the whole thing rolling, and to connect with your audience and get a sense of excitement and attention. A powerful beginning is absolutely essential.”

According to Jacqui, there are two elements to holding the audience’s attention – the first is launching into the conversation with a powerful beginning and the second is to preview what you’re going to say.

In terms of creating a powerful starting point she said: “You’re the best tool I think – the speaker is the best tool, so your energy, the way you look the way you speak, your sense of anticipation – you’re the best tool to start it powerfully.”

She suggests starting with a powerful story that illustrates the direction of the presentation, a strong graphic or beginning with a startling statistic to make the audience stop and pay attention.

The presentation preview should not just be a list of bullet points, it should give insight into the main argument and help the audience understand your agenda.

3. Reinforcing information

“There’s one thing I don’t get enough of when I’m teaching people and that’s reinforcing information.

“People think ‘I’ve said it once so that’s it they’ve heard it, I’ve done it’ but unfortunately human beings don’t really work like that, to get anyone to remember anything you say is actually quite challenging.”

There are a few ways to do it for example, including some of the key messages on PowerPoint slides can help to reinforce information. Storytelling, data, statistics and just generally restating the information in a different way will help to imprint the core messages on the audience’s memory as well.

“It’s really important and really underused from the people I’ve worked with and conferences I’ve been to – and I’ve been to many, many conferences and presentations.”

4. Clear structure

“The structure is really important, and linking from one idea to another, it’s like a bracelet you know, the bracelets only as strong as the links between the chain. And presentations, I feel, are very much like that.”

To ensure your presentation is structured and fluent, make sure the key points flow in some way, whether it’s by number or the topic of your argument. Always have a reason to go from one point to another so it’s easy for the audience to stay with you.

5. Connecting with the audience

“Involving your audience is really, really important, and I can’t stress that enough. There’s a million ways to do it but it’s important because a presentation is basically a bigger conversation.

“You might be standing up in front of a group of 20 or 200, but it’s a conversation and you need to feel like you’re connecting with the people in your audience.”

Body language, gestures, energy levels are all important to engaging your audience, but the most crucial part of connecting with the audience is the eye contact.

It can be difficult to look at people when you’re nervous, but Jacqui urges everyone preparing for a presentation to engage in eye contact as much as possible.

A lot of people choose to glance around the room to in an attempt to connect, but it’s better to maintain eye contact with individual people within the audience.

Humour can also be a powerful tool to involve the audience, however only if it comes naturally. If it doesn’t don’t force it as this could have a negative impact on the presentation.

“I say to people it’s not about being funny, it’s about light touches – you’ve got to be careful that the humour works.”

6. Creativity

“The other big tip is about being creative and being a bit bold. I think you can afford to put some creativity to connect with your audience.”

Things like quotes or a reference to the current news can help to keep the presentation topical and fresh. Video clips, audio clips, powerful pictures and music are also great ways to creatively engage the audience.

Jacqui recalls one memorable presentation where the speaker ripped up a ten pound note to introduce a talk about wasted money within an organisation.

“Using props can get attention and be creative providing its appropriate, and is in the context of what you’re saying.”