One big secret to better presentations - 17th February 2017

Most presentations I see get 4 or 5 out of 10. This is crazy. At business presentations, I usually sit there thinking, “What a waste of the opportunity to address this audience?” (before thinking about how to leave the room in a way that looks like necessity not rudeness).

The great secret to presentations is not about body language or tone of voice or even interaction with the audience (though I highly recommend it). It’s all about where you start your preparation.

Most people start with a piece of software, an earlier PowerPoint presentation for example. If you want to present something passably coherent and don’t want to spend any time preparing, this might just about be okay. However, if you want to move an audience to action, this is the wrong place to start. And, if you don’t want to move an audience to action, then why are you even bothering to do the presentation?

There are many reasons why an old presentation is the wrong place to start but the biggest problem is that it immediately tunes your mind into creating a presentation based around the slides (and your ability to create them). The format dictates the presentation when it should be facilitating it. This creates far more problems that it ever solves and will almost always result in a dull, formulaic, information-based presentation (honestly, it will) and most of your audience will be thoroughly bored no matter what nice things they say to you afterwards.

The secret to great presentations is to change where you start your preparation.

Here is your starting point: How do I want the audience to feel at the end of my presentation? That’s a very different place from “Where’s that Powerpoint I did last time?”

Good speakers change what people know or what people think. Great speakers change how people feel. Poor or ordinary speakers change nothing other than people’s resolve not to attend another presentation.

Do you think that Barack Obama’s speeches during the Presidential campaigns (first one particularly) started with a slide deck? No they did not! The speeches he gave during his first presidential campaign were a masterclass in public speaking. I suspect that the content he shared, the information contained was remembered by few, if any, of his audience. But I bet everyone remembered how they felt at the end of each one. Even political opponents could not fail to be impressed by the inspirational nature of his oratory.

Once you know how you want the audience to feel at the end, then you base the content, the tone, the length and the visual aids around that aim. It’s not about speaking for 20 minutes or 30 minutes (sorry conference organisers!), it’s about delivering a message that changes how people feel. It’s emotion that moves people to action and that’s what you want to achieve when presenting.