I am amazed that with all of the education, training and development available to marketers, we aren’t a better group of presenters. Of course, not everyone can be charismatic, dynamic and mesmerizing as a presenter. Conversely, there’s no presenter who follows certain fundamental rules of effective presentations who can’t make a successful presentation. No excuses. Here are seven golden rules for effective presentations—my golden rules, at least:
1. Be prepared. Fear of public speaking is a myth. I firmly believe that what people really fear is the idea of being unable to deliver a presentation because they are unwilling to invest the time it takes to be prepared. Nerves come from lack of preparation or not knowing what you’re doing. Know your material cold. Rehearse it in the shower, on the way to work, in the mirror, or with a friend or family member. I have never seen a nervous presenter who had a complete mastery of their subject matter and who has invested the time to rehearse it. Rehearsing includes anticipating objections or questions and preparing responses to have at your fingertips.
2. Prep your PowerPoint. Use no more than 20 slides in a 30-minute meeting, or 40 slides in an hour-long meeting. Divide every slide into one-third visuals/graphics, one-third text and one-third white space. Guy Kawasaki, chief evangelist at online design platform Canva, exhorts that PowerPoint backgrounds should be black, so whether it is white space or black space, let your ideas breathe and make your slides easy on the eye. Be essential: What does the audience absolutely need to see? Mercifully spare them from the rest. Blessed is the man, having nothing to add, spares us wordy evidence of the fact.
3. Say hello. On presentation day, make sure you greet every member of the audience. If you are speaking to hundreds or thousands of people, at least greet the people in the front row. If I have time, I try to go out into the audience and greet a few people in the four quadrants of the room so that I can imagine I’m speaking to those faces, by quadrant, when I’m on stage. It will do wonders for your comfort level and connection to the audience.
4. Unite yourself with your visuals. Stand up at the screen and use your hands and/or a pointer to allow the audience to see and hear what you are saying in one experience—like a weatherperson on TV—so they aren’t trying to decide whether to look at you or your slides. Be one with your slides. In a big room, be sure to have a laser pointer so you can stay connected to your material even from afar. Never pass out copies of your deck beforehand, but promise you will share copies at the conclusion of your presentation. The fastest way to lose control of a meeting is to pass out a deck. Moreover, there’s nothing wrong with leading a meeting, which is entirely different from attempting to control a meeting. People hate being controlled, but they are starving to be led.
5. Understand the importance of eye contact. Try to share one concept with one person in the room at a time. Don’t glance at one person and then glance at another while still on the same point. Think of each point, when you can, as a gift to each audience member. If your ideas were metaphorical baseballs and I asked you to hit one person at a time with each baseball, you have a chance of being successful. If I asked you to hit two or three people with one baseball, you’d have no chance of hitting anyone. Why would you then think you can deliver your material, one thought at a time, with your head on a swivel just scanning the room? The audience will feel much more engaged when you complete a whole thought while sticking with one person, or one quadrant of the room, before moving on. A person or quadrant need only be given a few satisfying thoughts from your presentation to remain attentive while you distribute your ideas to the rest of the audience.
5. Discourage negativity. If you have a critic who is dominating the meeting with continual interruptions and seemingly disruptive questions, take a few steps toward them and stay there when answering them. This will shift the focus from you onto them. Most meeting bullies will tone down when the presenter forces the room’s full attention onto them. Stay there until they relent. Don’t get into their faces—just three or four paces from them is sufficiently uncomfortable for most people.
6. Be honest. If you get a question that totally stumps you, restate the question to the individual and ask if you are accurately reciting their question. This can give you precious seconds to improvise an answer. Remember, “I don’t know the answer to that but I will be sure to find out” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Sometimes owning it will make a better impression: “I should know that answer and I’m sorry I don’t, but I assure you I’ll get the answer to you as soon as possible.”
7. Cover the basics. Don’t forget to breathe and smile. If you’re prepared, rehearsed and breathing, the smiles will come easy.
Russ Klein, CEO