You’ve been asked to give a talk, a lecture, a presentation. You promise yourself: it’s going to be different this time! But it’s not: you procrastinate, you throw together slides at the last minute, and then there you are, standing in front of a crowd of politely-nodding attendees, doomed to forget whatever they came to learn from you. After a half-hearted Q&A, your host thanks you for your time and you head home, with a sneaking suspicion that you wasted everyone’s afternoon.
There is another way.
When you set out to prepare a talk, start with these questions:
1) Does it have to be a lecture?
Just because you were invited to give a talk doesn’t mean you have to show up in front of the room and drone. Can you distribute some information beforehand and then facilitate a discussion? Can the material be conveyed through a game? Are there people in the room who you could invite to share their experiences? Even if you can’t replace all of your content with this sort of engagement, start your planning by considering how some of it might be moved out of a lecture format. More detail on these sorts of engagements in a future blog post!
So, some of it HAS to be a “straight” talk, does it? That’s ok!
2) Determine the core purpose of your presentation.
If your audience leaves with three new thoughts, what do you want those thoughts to be? Should they have acquired a new skill? A new model for thinking about the world? A story about the way events happened, or are going to happen? Make sure the scale of your goals are proportionate to the time you have, and know that the fewer goals you have, the more focused and useful your talk is going to be.
2.5) Re-consider your scope.
If, in setting goals, you realize that you have WAY too many, strongly consider revising your scope. Sure, you may have been asked to explain the history of telecom since 1830 and how that relates to the current market environment for Skype sales, but cut yourself some slack: Consider what you can actually do in your allotted time, how you can best address the topic in ways that are helpful to your audience, and don’t be afraid to scale back your objectives. Sending your audience home with one great idea is much more useful than sending them home with a forgettable, unfocused overview.
3) Evaluate how each piece of information serves your goals.
The most common problem with talks & lectures of all sorts is content overload. You will avoid this trap by considering how EACH point you make, and EACH image you project, serves the goals you set up in step 2. Don’t get caught in the trap of including lots of extraneous material for “context” unless “establishing context” is one of your stated goals.
4) Mix up your media.
How can photographs, illustrations, and video support your goals? Which of your points are going to be more memorable if presented visually? Choose striking graphics, visual metaphors, and short, punchy videos– never more than 2 minutes.
5) Put fewer words on your slides.
If there is a lot of text that you need your audience to remember, put it on a piece of paper and give it to them. You may want to put your points on your slides to make them memorable, but know that lots of words on your slides distracts from the words you are saying by inviting the audience to read rather than listen. How many words on a slide? 10 is ok. 5 is good. 3 or fewer is ideal.
6) Remember to engage.
This comes back to point 1: What can you do other than lecture? Giving your audience the opportunity to talk, move, experiment, and dynamically engage with your content isn’t just a matter of “maintaining interest.” It is a crucial aspect of learning and retention.
7) Get excited!
You know what you have to say, and WHY you want to say it. The last crucial piece is a GREAT delivery. Use dynamic body language and varied vocal tone to show them that what you have to say is fascinating– and they’ll gladly come along for the ride.
At Inqune, we LOVE coaching our clients into giving better presentations to train, engage, educate, and improve performance among sales and services teams. Learn more at our services page, or contact us!