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Studies suggest that managers spend over half their time in meetings, often listening to presentations, and most of it is miserable. Why is that? The short answer is that too many people do not know how to give good presentations. The prospects can be greatly improved by some advance preparation, and a few simple rules. Here is some common wisdom we have gathered from good and bad presentations:

1. Know your audience. Ask yourself, "How can this presentation benefit this particular audience?"

2. Let the audience know you. Tell them a bit about yourself if you're an unknown.

3. Be clear about the presentation objectives. Is this talk to teach or inform? Is it a status update? Are you selling? Are you delivering bad news? What decision must be made?

4. State the objectives of the presentation up front.

5. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Plan on multiple dry runs of the presentation. If possible, do the dry runs in the same location as the presentation. This will help you associate the performance with the setting.

6. Verify that all equipment works and your stuff works with theirs. Make sure the room is setup in advance and all equipment tested on site. Just in case, bring back-ups, like extra bulbs, hard copies, transparencies, etc.

7. Avoid slide clutter. More clean, clear slides are better. Aim for no more than 30 words per slide. Graphs are much better than spreadsheets of numbers. Bullets are better than paragraphs. Color, pictures, and illustrations help. Remember that peoples' attention spans are about 30 seconds a slide.

8. Plan on 3 minutes per slide. That means no more than 20 slides per hour.

9. Begin the presentation with an ice breaker.. For example use a joke or a cartoon, if appropriate. If the audience is small enough, ask some questions of them. Of course, if the presentation is about bad news, avoid the joke.

10. Keep in mind that 60% of a presentation is delivery and 40% is content. Make it entertaining!

11. If the presentation is longer than 2 hours, work in a break. People's ability to pay attention declines rapidly over time. Remember college?

12. Stay focused on the agenda. If the presentation includes feedback, use an issues flip chart to track comments and tangents better deferred to a later time. People will see that their ideas are recorded.

13. A time honored outline for a presentation is: tell them what you'll tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.

14. Vary the delivery. Weave in questions to the audience, demonstrations, handouts, etc.

15. Vary the slide contents. Weave in cartoons, pictures, quotes, testimonials, surveys, etc.

16. Start and end the presentation on time. Honor the clock! Adjust your slides to the time, not the time to your slides.

17. Don't just read the slides. Say it in different words, draw conclusions, state an opinion. Make your presence value-added.

18. Use stories, anecdotes and analogies. Most people will remember the stories rather than the bullets and facts.

19. Hold handouts of your slides until the end of the presentation. You want attention focused on you. The exception is a key document or diagram that requires review.

20. If you use transparencies, use the cardboard slide borders; it makes it easier to handle the slides. Also, you can write your comments on the slide borders. If you are using a laptop and projection screen, use software that allows your notes to be shown on the laptop but not the screen.

21. Avoid numbering your slides. This allows you to rearrange or cut out slides at the last minute, or if time and audience response suggests shortening things. Without page numbers, no one will notice the change. Also remember you don't need to show every slide if the audience has already signed on!

22. Get excited, be enthusiastic, become animated. After all, this is your show! Excitement is catching. If you're excited about the topic, your audience will get excited.

23. Decide in advance what your success criteria will be. Ask yourself what would need to happen for you to feel the presentation was a major success. Then ask, what is the minimum outcome you would consider a success. Gear up for the higher target.

24. When the presentation is over, ask for and be clear about next steps. Follow it up with a memo restating the action items to which you all agreed.

25. Survey your audience (or selected colleagues) for comments about what went well and what could improve for the next time. Presentations, like any other product, are subject to continuous improvement.

© Copyright 1996, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.
© Copyright 1996, 2024, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.