Nervous about a presentation? Remember this

Author: Alison Crowe, Global Online & Marketing Product Director, Hays

Preparing for an important presentation, for example to the board of your organisation or to a large group of industry colleagues or clients, can be seen as quite daunting, but it shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. It’s an important meeting, but really the preparation that is required shouldn’t differ drastically from any preparation you would normally do for a presentation. You simply need to remember these points:

Create your slides with the audience in mind

In all likelihood this isn’t your first presentation; you’ve presented to people countless times before, and you know how to put some good quality slides together. But in the past have you really thought about how to make sure your audience is engaged?

Furthermore, if this is your first time presenting to a senior team or a significantly larger group of people than you have in the past then follow the below steps to help you get your presentation in shape.

  • Plan your narrative: Before you do anything else, think about the overriding narrative that you want to tell. What do you want people to take away from this presentation? From here, plot out the structure of your narrative, ensuring that each slide chronologically forms a part of it. Approaching your presentation as a structured narrative, will not only deter you from going off topic, but will also improve the flow of your presentation, creating a more engaging experience for your audience.
  • Make sure there is something for everyone: If you know who your audience is going to be and what their priorities are, this will help you tailor the content to the group or each individual. If possible, include relevant information, examples and measurable outcomes which relate to each attendee’s area of interest.
  • Avoid using too much jargon: This is a general rule for all presentations. You will often be presenting to a variety of people with different areas of expertise. Therefore, be mindful of the language used throughout the presentation, and avoid using too much department-specific jargon or acronyms, (unless of course the entire purpose of the presentation is around a topic full of jargon and acronyms that everyone present understands).
  • Lastly, write a clear introduction: It may sound odd to include this point last, but I find that putting together your introductory slide after you have created the rest of your slides is much easier. You will have a better idea of the structure and content of this presentation, allowing you to correctly outline the key points covered in this presentation, and what you want the audience to take away from these points.

In preparing a concise and understandable set of slides, you will keep your audience engaged with what you have to say from beginning to end.

Know your topic inside out

As important as your presentation slides are, it goes without saying that you should not just read from them. Rather, you need to demonstrate your knowledge on the subject by talking around each slide, referring back to it when needed. Therefore make sure you know your topic inside out. Regardless of the audience, they will expect you to deliver the bulk of the information unaided, and with conviction. Whilst you can practise communicating with confidence, you can’t fake knowledge, so make sure you know exactly what you are talking about.

It could also be useful to ask somebody in your organisation to check that your slides work both as a standalone document, and with you talking through them. Ask them to look out for areas where you may have under or over explained anything, used too much jargon, or failed to include any facts or stats to back up your points. Above all, get them to check that your presentation has a good narrative and that your overriding message is clear.

Practising the presentation, e.g. having a dress rehearsal, in front of somebody credible with similar if not more expertise than you, could give you an added confidence boost. They can check you have the facts right, and bridge any knowledge gaps. If this person has presented to the same group in the past then they will also be able to advise whether there is anything you should definitely include or exclude.

Anticipate questions

Another benefit of practising this presentation in front of somebody credible and knowledgeable within the business, is that they can interject at points where people may ask questions.

Of course, you can’t prepare for every eventuality, and you may get thrown off on the day by a question you don’t know the answer to. Rather than getting flustered or trying to answer, keep your composure and state that you don’t know the answer to this question, or that you want to be sure that your response is correct, so you will find a definitive answer for them after this meeting (and make sure you do!)

Embrace questions, and accept the fact that a lot of people will ask them during the presentation rather than wait until the end to ask them. Questions are good; they indicate that your audience is engaged. Just make sure you are equipped as you can be to answer as best you can.

Don’t forget the practicalities

Lastly, onto the more practical elements of preparing for an important presentation which may trip you up and undermine the quality of your presentation if forgotten about.

  • Run timed rehearsals: As you time yourself, account for questions and work on the premise that there will be plenty of these. Get to know the main points of each slide, and be able to give a brief overview if time is running short.
  • Practice in the meeting room beforehand: Obviously this may not be feasible but if it is, then try to find time to do it. This will allow you to familiarise yourself with the environment. It may sound trivial, but this can actually made a big difference to confidence levels on the day of the presentation. Doing this will also give you a chance to test the AV equipment and that the slides work on whatever device you are using. I also would advise asking someone to watch you present from the seat furthest away, to double check they can hear you, and read your slides from a distance.

Don’t let a good presentation go to waste because you didn’t account for the smaller practicalities, the ones which, if overlooked, can throw you off.

Important presentations can be daunting, particularly if it has been a while since you last did one, but getting it right simply hinges upon preparation; from perfecting your presentation content, to anticipating the questions you may get asked. If you give yourself enough time to adopt the above preparation techniques, you will definitely give yourself every chance of delivering a strong presentation which delivers the outcomes you were hoping for.

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