Have you ever expressed your apprehension about speaking in front of an audience only to be given the advice of picturing everyone in their underwear?
Don’t do this. It’ll put you off what you’re trying to say and may lead to a fit of the giggles.
Both responses will make you look unprofessional or a little unhinged.
Instead of picturing half-naked audience members, try these three tips the next time you need present to a group:
Know your audience
It may seem obvious, but I’m amazed at the number of times I’ve sat through presentations that have totally missed the mark because they weren’t tailored to the audience.
Before you start preparing your presentation ask the following questions – who are my audience, what do they want to know and what do I want them to take away from this presentation?
So, what do I mean when I say know your audience? I don’t mean you need to know everyone’s name and what they had for breakfast, but you do need to think about the group and their needs.
For example, if you are presenting a case study at an industry conference then the audience will be members of that industry. Therefore, if your case study addresses an issue that they are likely to face and you provide advice on how you solved that issue, then you are providing information that suits their needs.
Likewise, if you are making a presentation to prospective clients they will want you to demonstrate why you are better than your competitors. It’s not enough to say that you make really great widgets, because all their other suppliers will say the same.
You need to give them information to help them make a decision, ie. to give their business to you. What is your point of difference? What do other clients say about you? What have you done for other clients?
Knowing your audience also will help you to get the tone right. If you’re a senior leader trying to engage your employees, an approachable and friendly tone is much more effective than a long, boring monologue of facts and figures.
Show don’t tell
How do you impart important facts and figures without it being a long, boring monologue?
Bring a bit of colour to your presentation by showing not telling. By the way, when I talk about colour to your presentation I mean the topic of discussion not your PowerPoint slides. Too much colour and visual clutter on a PowerPoint can make your presentation look like it was created by a primary schooler. But that’s a discussion for another day.
There are many ways to make facts and figures more interesting. Storytelling is very powerful. For example, if you are trying to impress a prospective client don’t just reel off a list of your clients. Give them an example of how you worked with a client to improve their business. You can still provide a list of clients, but it shouldn’t be the focus.
Unless you’re presenting to a group of statisticians, most people will mentally nod off when a bombarded with a series of numbers.
Instead of simply stating that your organisation made 1,690,000 widgets in the past financial year, explain that those 1,690,000 widgets if stacked end to end would fill 20 football fields.
A transport company whose drivers travelled more than two million kilometres could talk about how they have travelled the equivalent of the moon and back almost three times.
Create a bit of interest and context with facts and figures to make them much more memorable.
Stick to three to five key messages
I may need to break this to you gently but people will not remember every word you said. You may have laboured over your presentation for hours but the reality is that it is difficult to sit and listen to someone for any length of time.
As a listener, our thoughts often wander. We think about what we’re going to have for dinner tonight, whether to go to the next presentation or not, where will we go on our next holiday.
Then we realise our mind is wandering and bring ourselves back to what is being said.
One way to ensure your message is being heard is to identify your key messages and stick to them. Depending on the length of your presentation a good number to aim for is 3-5 key messages.
Identify the top things you would like the audience to go away knowing. It comes back to knowing your audience – what do they want or need to know?
For example, the three key messages you may want to deliver during your client presentation are that your company employees industry-leading practitioners, most of your existing clients have worked with you for years and your organisation is a leader in the field.
You then reinforce those three messages. I don’t mean that you spend 20 minutes repeating the same three things over and over, rephrasing the wording slightly. Remember tip 2 – show don’t tell. Bring the messaging to life with stories, interesting facts and figures, testimonials, etc.
An effective way to reinforce your key messages are to use them when wrapping up your presentation.
So, if I was presenting on this topic my wrap-up would be:
“The three key things I’d like you to remember when presenting to groups is to know your audience, show don’t tell and stick to your key messages.”
Now go out there and wow your audience.