Speaking to large groups involves learned techniques and practice, practice, practice. If you haven't stepped to the podium, you can. If you have been a featured speaker, you can get better.
"A good presentation is about the topic--not you," says T. Stephen Eggleston, founder of The Eggleston Group in Alexandria, Va., and director of Internet Technology for Kobrand in New York. "Get rid of everything that doesn't contribute to the message."
Tuck away the stomach back-flips and get busy on your presentation. Here's how:
Begin with the obvious: Know your subject. Some speakers overlook this basic point and quickly come unglued during the question-and-answer period. The audience assumes you're an expert with knowledge to impart. As the featured speaker, you should assume that your audience is informed, curious and bursting with pointed questions.
If a small amount of research will help you, imagine what a moderate amount will do.
Know your audience. You wouldn't make the same presentation about a new software package to engineers, accountants and top managers. The engineers want to know about the tool's whizzes and whirrs--what it can do for them and why it beats competing products. The accountants want to know what it will cost and how it will save them money. Top management wants to know how it will boost productivity and give the company an edge over the competition. So adjust your pitch as needed.
Develop a theme for your presentation. The topic of discussion may be complex, and its ramifications may not be fully apparent, but you've got to sum it up in a few short sentences. At the beginning of your presentation, you must tell the audience: 1) "You need to know this because...," 2) "Knowing this will help you to..." and 3) "Here's what you need to know..."
After defining the focus of your presentation, you're ready to draft an outline. Remember, you don't want to read a script to the audience because doing so is a snoozer and an insult. To connect with the audience, you must be animated and enthusiastic about the topic.
For some, notes scribbled on 3-by-5 index cards are enough, while others need more detail when outlining. Don't try to memorize your presentation, because even if you don't sound like a robot on a bad hair day, you're bound to stumble or skip a portion, and going back to the missed material will be awkward and disjointed.
The presentation should be simple and direct. It includes an opening, body, summary and closing.
"Some say you should always begin with a joke or an anecdote," Eggleston says. "It's not a rule, and if it were, it should be ignored."
The opening sets the stage for what's ahead. State the purpose of the presentation and quickly summarize the main points to be covered.
The body of the presentation covers the nits and grits of the topic in detail. Break the issues into discrete parts that the audience can easily understand. Each subsection should make a single point.
Keep the summary short. This is where you underscore the presentation's theme and key points.
After a question-and-answer period, thank your audience for their attention and hand out any material that wasn't vital to the presentation. In general, material handed out during the presentation is a distraction and will weaken the impact of your talk.
Remember two critical points when preparing a presentation.
First, take Henry David Thoreau's advice and "Simplify, simplify." It's your job as speaker to translate complex details into simple, direct sentences.
Second, follow the advice of broadcast editors everywhere: "Tell them what you're going to say, say it and then tell them what you've just said." Repetition needn't be repetitious. Reinforcing central points of the presentation depends on your skill as a speaker and takes practice. Getting it right is the difference between an effective presentation and wasting the audience's time.
Slides can be a key element of a solid presentation. Keep in mind that slides are bullet points--not paragraphs. If you have to say, "I know you can't read this, but " you've flubbed it. In most cases, limit each slide to two or three key points expressed as succinctly as possible.
If a member of the audience nails you with a question you can't answer, don't be afraid to say, "I don't know. I'll have to look that up and get back to you." Thrashing around for an answer--any answer--will be obvious to the audience and instantly kill your credibility.
If you're confronted with a heckler who won't shut up, say, "Let's talk privately at the conclusion of my presentation. There are others with questions I must get to now."
The foundations of a solid presentation are the same whether you're speaking to a service club or a giant like Exxon Mobil, eBay, and JPMorgan Chase.
Finally, remember that no matter how detailed your preparation, things can still go wrong.
"You never know what will happen," Eggleston says. "The extension cord for the projector won't be long enough, there won't be a plug or the bulb will burn out. So no matter how carefully you've prepared your visuals, always be ready to sing a cappella."
Manik Thapar (MBA)