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Presentation do's and don'ts

Tribune Content Agency logoTribune Content Agency 6/2/2019 By Kathleen Furore, Tribune Content Agency
a man standing in front of a door: Many people stress out about public speaking. © Dreamstime Many people stress out about public speaking.

DEAR READERS: Making a presentation in front of a large group of people can be an anxiety-inducing assignment for many. If someone has been tasked with making a presentation, what are some do's and don'ts to help them make the presentation successfully and without too much angst?

Trish McDermott, co-founder of Panic Media Training, says she coaches and media trains people "to give them the confidence they need to be successful in any outward communications scenario." Public speaking is a topic she and her team often tackle.

"When we are training a group, we often ask them to raise their hand if they feel some anxiety about public speaking. Just about everyone raises a hand," McDermott reports. "Almost everyone feels some anxiety about public speaking. You're normal. It's what you do with that nervousness that makes the difference."

According to Christopher K. Lee, founder of and career consultant at PurposedRedeemed, there are generally three things people stress out about when they have to make a presentation: their slide deck, their content and their appearance.

Slide deck

Building a PowerPoint is typically the first step novice presenters take. But Lee says that's a mistake. "The PowerPoint should not be the center of attention," he says. "Top-notched speakers tell a coherent story, while the visuals reinforce his or her points in the background; they add music to the words. Amateur speakers use the slide deck as a crux, a placeholder, a script."

To prevent this problem, he suggests writing your talk "in analog...Make sure it works mostly without visuals, other than charts or images, then build your slide deck."

Content

The goal is to tell a clear and engaging story; that, says Lee, means focusing on essentials and eliminating minor details. "This is a common struggle for researchers and technical professionals who may feel that every detail is important," he says. "They tend to get too into-the-weeds and lose the audience. Remember that your listeners, unless they work with you day in and day out, are unlikely to share your depth of expertise in those particular areas."

McDermott concurs. "Don't overly rely on facts and data, because it's stressful to have to remember a lot of information. You'll likely have slides for that," she says. "If your entire presentation is data, don't forget to edit it down to key findings to make it easier for both you and your audience."

And remember to read your crowd. "If you are drilling on data and notice your audience begin to text or leave, it's a sign to get back to the bigger picture and move on," she says.

Appearance

This doesn't mean to focus on how your hair looks or what you're wearing; it means honing how you look while presenting your research. It all comes down to what Lee and McDermott both advise: "Practice, practice, practice."

Rehearse in front of a mirror. Do it many times. Get feedback from friends and co-workers. Refine your talk. Then practice, practice, practice it again.

"Clarify any ambiguity and emphasize what resonated with your audience. Like many things, presenting is a muscle to be exercised. When you have a firm grasp of your content and your delivery, you will feel and appear more confidence as well," Lee says.

And always, says McDermott, be your authentic self.

"You may have seen someone knock a presentation out of the ballpark, but copying her style, body language and energy, at the cost of losing who you are, won't give you the same outcome," she stresses. "Great presentations come from the heart -- or the brain -- of the presenter. Own and tell your story. It's a good one!"

Also remember nothing is forever -- even memories of a not-so-perfect presentation.

"Remember that while in your head this is the presentation your audience will remember forever, share in all of their social channels, write press stories about and more, in reality you are one of many pieces of competing information they will encounter today," McDermott concludes.

"Their mother will text, they will sit through two other presentations, their boss will forward a business article for them to read, their romantic partner will have a long phone conversation with them, etc. Even if you deliver the worst presentation known to the history of public speaking, chances are your audience will move right past it -- and so should you!"

(Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has covered personal finance and other business-related topics for a variety of trade and consumer publications. You can email her your career questions at kfurore@yahoo.com.)

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