Making a presentation or speaking in public can be a daunting task if not impossible. Even professional public speakers talk about incertitude, nervousness and anxiety every time they have to address an audience. If people who have adopted presentations as their main occupation feel nervous before every presentation, then for the first timer getting the creeps should not be surprising. Most of the uncertainty emanates from what the reaction of the audience will be.
Find below my 5 Ws for making an effective presentation. Indeed there are different ways for calming oneself down before a presentation. This write up however, is not meant to teach you about handling your nerves before a presentation, this is meant to help prepare adequately for the presentation. The objective is to help boost your confidence and indirectly calm you down for a killer presentation.
The first question to ask every time you are asked to make a presentation is to ask why. Why am I making this presentation? You should take time to explore and to understand why you have been asked to speak. There are different reasons for making a presentation. So stop and ask yourself, why you? It may be because it forms part of your work- Job description or that you are an expert in a subject area and so you need to impart knowledge. Answering the why question provides you with a context to which you tailor your presentation. Do you need to inform? Do you need to persuade? Do you need to sell? Maybe you need to teach! Do you need to entertain? Etc. This question must be very clear in your mind. Once you tackle this question you should be able to structure your presentation to suit the request. This way you are very clear about the agenda and then you can adequately research to reflect the expectations in the request.
To most people, ‘the who’ part is the most important W among the lot and it is the one that bothers them. Indeed, ‘the who’ determines to a large extent how successful or otherwise a presentation is. One important question to ask when asked to make a presentation is to ask who your audience will be. Who am I speaking to? One can have the right words, the right atmosphere, even the right presentation equipments but the effectiveness of the presentation would only be measured by the reaction of the audience. Your presentation must be pitched at the right level for the right audience. The language must be well structured to the understanding of your audience. A typical example is where a University professor presents two different papers on the same subject to two different audiences. A presentation to his peers on the same subject will differ significantly from a presentation to his students. The who question also determines the approach and the tools used in the presentation. The underlying principle is that, a presentation is a two way affair, from the presenter to the audience and from the audience to the presenter. A well designed presentation, delivered with expertise and skill, crystal clear style, with wit and humour, with the most comprehensive visual aid delivered in the most serene atmosphere will be as dull as dishwater if presented to the wrong audience. Therefore to adequately prepare for a presentation you have to consider the recipient of the message. Ask yourself; who am I speaking to? Who will be in the audience? What do they know about the subject? How many are they? Then tailor your presentation to suit your audience. Research into their background and as much as possible speak to their understanding, not above their heads, neither should you talk down at them.
The what question addresses your objective. What do you want to achieve with the presentation. It allows you to customise your presentation to address your objectives and the end results. To give a good presentation you need to define what you want to achieve. You can only measure the success of your presentation when you have an objective to which you aim your presentation. It means, giving yourself a goal to measure yourself by. Your objective should be your central message to which other points go to buttress. Defining your objectives also guides the details of your presentation and you can personalise it to draw out the end results. Your objective in a presentation may be to provoke an emotion, to a sales team that has not met its sales target- you inspire, to appeal to your audience for them to release funds, to promote a discussion etc. Set out your objectives within the four pillars of communication; to inform, to request for an action, to persuade and to build a relationship. The what part provides the framework within which you set out your presentation and it gives you a yardstick for measuring its effectiveness. What do you want your audience to do when you finish your presentation. That is your end results. Your end results must be specific; it must be clear in your mind and must be set out right at the beginning when you prepare for the presentation.
The where part of the preparation is pretty self explanatory. It has to do with location; the arrangement and structure of the venue. You should have a clear picture of what the venue and the arrangement will be. Will you be expected to address the audience in a classroom format, is it arranged to encourage teamwork among the audience, is it arranged to encourage question and answer sections etc. You also have to research to be sure about the equipments at the venue. Would you have access to a public address system or not? What about a projector, a flip chart etc? The nature of the venue also affects your presentation style. You should therefore have prior knowledge of the arrangement before the actual date of the presentation. Make a checklist of your needs and make sure that the location can cater for those needs. Where they can’t, strategise effectively to address your needs. Surprises right before the presentation can unnerve you and make you disoriented.
The words part has two options. Firstly it has to do with the content of your presentation. You must make a conscious effort to structure your words effectively to reflect your research and to fit the requirements of the presentation. You have to research and come up with the best. Arrange your presentation in a structure that you can easily remember. Use words that are easy to understand and you can easily remember. Make sure that you are comfortable with your presentation and as much as possible limit yourself to what you know and can explain better.
The second part is more of an advice. That, words are not enough. Make use of visual aids. This also means that your speech must blend with whatever visual aids you have to provide a clearer understanding. Pictures they say paint a thousand words and using visual aids reduces the monotony of your voice. You can lecture but make room for visuals and take time to explain. You can also use sound or even video to add some variety or better still, to engage your audience.
In all of the above we realise that one theme shines through and that is preparation. You have to prepare adequately and make sure that all the bases are covered. You only get one shot, you can either dazzle your audience or put them to sleep. Perfect your act like the magician and revise your work until you are very satisfied. The last thing to do is to pray….