In our multipart series on preparing for presentations, we have discussed defining a purpose and the effective use of visuals. Too often we don’t think of meetings within our own organizations as presentations, but they are! We lament “another meeting.” We rush to the restroom, grab some water if we are being healthy, caffeine if we are not, and dash off, mumbling under our breaths.
When we hear the word “presentation,” we often think of an assigned topic, an assigned time, and an audience outside our organization. Perhaps a potential customer, an educational tour, or a pitch to donors. While those are all important presentations, just as important to your career are the informal presentations you have with your leadership, your peers, and your subordinates. These colleagues are the people who will help define you, and your projects’ success.
Everyone who has a job is a presenter. If you are a speech writer, you present your ideas. If you are a tree planter, you present your concerns about the soil. If you are a preschool teacher, you present your suggestions to colleagues and your thoughts about each child to their parents. If you are a doctor, you share your recommendations for better health to your patients.
Everyone is a presenter. Begin thinking of yourself as a presenter and your effectiveness will soar.
What informal presentations do you have within your organization?
Concordia Consulting’s monthly series on presentations skills continues this week. Last month, I shared information on preparing for a board meeting. The principles of preparation are the same whether you and your group are preparing for a board meeting, a sales meeting, or a staff meeting. Step one defined a clearly-stated purpose. Today we will consider the role of visuals in a presentation.
Too often when I work with a team on preparing a presentation, the first thing they do is head over to PowerPoint and start making slides. While visuals are critical, and can be helpful for both the presenter as well as the audience by adding structure to the presentation, the presentation must have structure first and visuals second.
So, step one is to formalize the purpose and put it in a prominent place the entire time you are writing and thinking about the presentation. Remember: a clear purpose for every meeting you hold is imperative for success. For example, “Lead fundraising efforts for new facility by finding donors and soliciting funds.”
Do your visuals:
- Use pictures and graphics?
- Keep words to a minimum*?
- Contribute to the point you are making, especially if you are using animation?
- Help to keep the audience’s attention?
*If anyone can read your PowerPoint and know your presentation, you’ve gone too far. Your visuals should enhance YOU and the presentation, they should not be the presentation. If there is a lot of text (perhaps financials or contraindications of a drug), provide supplementary text in a board book or handout.
For visuals to enhance, make sure each one:
- Helps to support the purpose of the presentation
- Is crisp and clear
- Shows a graphic or picture that will help focus your audience (and you!)
If you aren’t great at creating visuals yourself, software programs can help. In addition to PowerPoint, Prezi creates engaging graphics for presentations.
Visuals help you stay focused, so I hope you will use them.
How do you like to use visuals?
Below is a link to a funny Twitter thread started by Paul Coxon, a physicist in materials science at the University of Cambridge, who in front of colleagues referred to a photon as a “shiny crumb.”
Since I barely passed high school physics with the help of a very encouraging teacher and five incredibly devoted classmates, I am impressed with Paul. I mean, being educated as a physicist in materials science from the University of Cambridge is a big deal.
Also, I can relate to Paul. Is it okay if I call him Paul? I can understand calling a photon a shiny crumb. That makes sense to me and seems like an apt description.
Interestingly, when I coach professionals on public speaking they share three universal concerns. And sometimes they aren’t just worried, they are in full blown panic.
What if I forget a word?
What if I forget what I am supposed to say?
What if someone asks a question and I don’t know the answer?
My answer to you, and to Paul is, “What if you do?”
When you forget a word, often your audience will help you by sharing the word you are seeking. This fumble demonstrates your humanness and makes you a less robotic presenter, and therefore a more approachable presenter. It makes you “one” with the audience as you are no longer the incredible expert with all the answers, speaking to lesser people. Instead you and your audience are together on a learning journey.
When you forget what you are supposed to say next, that’s why slides and note cards were invented. Take a glance, a pause, have a sip of water and look at what you had planned. If you have practiced, taking the time to transition will help you and your audience prepare for the next topic and content. It’s all good!
And when someone asks a question and you don’t know the answer? First of all, plan for the question and answer time, period (even if there isn’t a planned question and answer period) as painstakingly as you planned everything else. If you stop and think about it, you can anticipate almost every question. If you seek out your most curious colleagues and ask them to hammer you with questions during your practice, you will have heard some variation of every relevant question.
Second, consider the question. If it’s truly a relevant question and you feel you should know the answer, say, “I don’t know but I will find out and get back to you.” Then be sure to do just that. But, if it’s just an audience member trying to gain attention and show off their brilliance with a technical question, it warrants a different answer. Don’t say, “Well, you loser, I am not going to answer that because you are just showing off,” but do feel free to say, “I’m not sure. Could you research that and let us all know?” If the show-off is genuinely curious, they will research it and will let you know and you will have found a lifelong professional colleague who is as interested in your topic as you are. If they don’t research it, no problem, your speech continues and you look like the shining star that you are.
And remember, if Paul Coxon refers to a photon as a shiny crumb, you get some leeway as well.
What have you experienced while speaking?