Joel, Team AoT
You’ve probably heard that successful presenters spend an hour rehearsing for every minute spent on stage. No this isn’t hyperbole, it’s an unfortunately reality. But most of us cannot afford the luxury of spending three hours perfecting a dramatic reveal for your presentation on quarterly EBITDAR statistics or the importance of recycling. Rehearsing for hours also doesn’t guarantee a more impressive or engaging presentation overall. There are, however, several ways for you to improve your presentation preparation and this article will explore how you can use these to your advantage to fully maximise your precious preparation time.
Capturing the attention of your audience is critical. You will find that most of the time when you are speaking, your audience’s attention tends to falter. Their eyes will drift to the clock ticking away in the corner of the room. Somehow, the little strands on the end of their highlighter become incredibly interesting.
One technique to keep their attention and hammer your message home is keeping it focused. Try to limit the overall message to ten words or less, as if it were a newspaper headline. For example, if you had to present this quarter’s financial report, your overarching focus could be “upward profit trend, but challenging cashflow position”. As you went along with your presentation, you would use these same seven words over and over again as you explored different aspects of your financial report. A focused message, no matter how boring, is always far more impactful than one that isn’t.
Politicians often use this method to get their message across to the electorate clearly – think Bernie Sanders’ “income inequality/top 1%” message or Donald Trump’s “build a wall/make America great again”. Repetition and focus are very effective; so as you go about exploring different points, signpost and link the point to your “big headline”.
Plan and Structure
Just like any great building, your presentation has to first work on paper. People often start planning their presentations by staring at a blinking cursor on the title slide on PowerPoint. A more effective method would be to open a document and outline the points you want to explore that flow from your central headline. You should then decide the order of your points and how to effectively link them to one another.
When planning, also take note of how much you would like to focus on a point. Try to start with your biggest and most important point and then work your way down your list. This technique ensures that you cover the most important bits first before your time runs out. Sometimes, you may have to re-order your points if they don’t link well or if you want to place emphasis on certain points. Whichever you choose, remember to plan before you start on your presentation proper.
Aids to Aid
Visual aids are important and in most presentations they take the form of slides. Unfortunately, it is fairly common (and ironic) to see visual aids often serve to hinder and distract rather than actually aid. Many presenters tend to place all their content on their slide and read off them. If you plan to do this, you might as well print handouts for your audience and skip the presentation entirely! The large amount of text can be distracting and it becomes very clear when you deviate from your slides. Your slides should summarise and emphasise your point. Using diagrams like tables, charts and pictures are also good ways to capture attention and bring your point across more clearly.
Try also to avoid distractions in your slides. These include excessive colour, unnecessary animations and cluttered slides. Simple is good.
Unfortunately, there is no running away from actually rehearsing your presentation. Depending on the nature and length of the presentation, you should try to rehearse at least two to five times before the actual run.
While having a planned a script may be helpful for some, it can be stressful having to memorise pages of text and getting anxious when you get lost. It may be more effective to memorise key ideas at each juncture of your presentation. It helps to remember certain key words and associate these with each slide, linking them to your central “headline”. It’s fine if your presentation doesn’t emerge identical each time – it will probably come across as more natural. Do, however, watch your time closely. When you rehearse, remember to insert the necessary pauses and gestures for emphasis and practice where you intend to stand. Practice positive body language and try to move around.
Lastly, always remember a technical rehearsal, to check that your projector, microphone and clicker are all working fine. It would be extremely painful to have a technical glitch ruin your presentation!
Those who fail to plan, plan to fail
It is important to realise that with proper planning, much of the work is done. Remember to concentrate on keeping your audience’s attention by delivering a focused message. With this central “headline”, plan and structure your presentation around it with adequate signposting, repetition and links between your ideas. Use your visual aids to aid by removing clutter and keeping your slides clean and simple. Lastly, rehearse your presentation to avoid running over time. Hopefully this article will help you perfect your plan for your presentation to help minimise your precious preparation time. Happy presenting!