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Presenting: How not to die while speaking in public

Presenting: How not to die while speaking in public

by Moyra Mackie on May 3, 2013

Despite the advances in technology and the changes in the way we can and do communicate, one thing has remained pretty much the same for centuries – our desire to see a real person stand up in front of us and talk in a way that informs or persuades or inspires.

And yet surveys all over the world reveal that giving presentations is right up there with death as the public’s number one fear.

Perhaps that is partly because presenting is seen as the more immediate danger?  But as both are unavoidable, let’s look at how you can present your message in a way that is easy to understand and hard to resist.

How can we define an effective presentation?

An effective presentation is one where those listening can leave the room and clearly repeat the key messages the speaker wanted to convey.

A great presentation is where those listening change their minds or behavior as a result of what they hear.

Presenting is the art of storytelling

Effective presenting is ultimately about control:

  • Controlling the quantity of what you put into the presentation – your message
  • Controlling the order and flow of information (and your nerves) as you speak – your delivery
  • Controlling your visual aids so they add to your message, not detract from you and what you have to say – your visuals

Great stories are structured in three acts

Storytellers from Shakespeare to Spielberg recognize the three part arc of narrative. So consider this Act I.

Your Message

Whilst it is your message, success lies in focusing on what the audience wants. Here are five tips to turn your presentation into a compelling story:

1. Understand that presentations are like icebergs – nine tenths lie beneath the water

In fact be generous.  However long you are planning to speak for, multiply that time by ten and use it to craft your message.  Everyone knows that “preparation is the key to success” – so prove it.

Making a presentation interesting and inspiring is not easy.  Those people who make it look easy will ALWAYS have worked hard at it.

2.  Step away from the PowerPoint

Your slides should be developed last.  Once you know exactly what you want to say, only then can you decide what to show the audience.

The preparation of your message can be scribbled on Post-it notes, written on a whiteboard or typed into a Word document.  Any medium that allows you to re-order and edit easily.

3.  Start at the end – your final message is the real beginning

If your audience can only repeat one (OK maybe three!) things, what do you want those things to be?  Write them down.  That is your start point.

Now consider ways of explaining to the audience why those three things are so important.

4.  Stop thinking like an expert

You know too much.  The challenge in crafting a presentation is what to leave out.  The audience will not remember everything.

The more you try to throw in, the less control you have over what will be remembered.  Success depends on your audience hearing, understanding and passing on the SAME key messages.

5.  Imagine you will be presenting to a nine year old and a ninety year old

Just as you know too much, you have also learnt to “speak funny” whilst working for your great institution.

A well-educated nine year old and his elderly grandmother should be able to understand what you are saying – so ditch the jargon and the long words.  Use simple, but evocative language that is clear and unambiguous.

Remember, no-one ever complained that a presentation was too easy to understand.

And so to the Interval

That’s it for Act I.  Time for you to stretch your legs and head to the bar.  Act II will cover the delivery of the presentation; how to be the presenter that people really listen to.

For now, it’s just worth repeating that the success of a presentation lies in this first act. If you have followed these tips you will stand up feeling more confident…but more about that in Act II.

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Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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