This article provides general support and guidance to anybody facing the task of making a formal presentation. However, the principles outlined below are applicable in preparing and presenting information in a variety of contexts throughout commercial and industrial organisations.
The article is divided into 3 main areas:
2. METHODS OF DELIVERY
3. THE USE AND ABUSE OF VISUAL AIDS
1.PREPARATION to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail
One major fear of people is that they will make fools of themselves in front of the audience. This is understandable. Thorough preparation is therefore vital to anticipate likely problems which may occur in the course of a presentation and to ensure control over the more predictable sources of trouble.
The following points should be covered as part of the preparation of the work:
a) Start as soon as possible.
It is tempting to put off any work until the last minute. Time spent early on will give greater opportunities to compile useful material eg. quotations, material for visual aids, etc.
Time devoted early on will give greater likelihood of an early finish and therefore more time to rehearse.
b) Define precisely what it is you are trying to say.
If you have a choice of topics then choose one with which you have some confidence in explaining. This may seem obvious, but it is often tempting to choose a topic that you may know something about, but will be difficult to handle effectively when time is limited.
NB.1 Always ask what time will be allowed for the presentation.
NB.2 Think carefully how visual material might help your delivery.
c) Consider the audience/where to pitch
The audience may be people who are well known to you in advance. If you are giving the talk “blind” it is worth checking out the characteristics of the group as this is likely to have an effect on the way you approach the topic;
i) The type of group; eg. likely size of the group, whether attendance required or voluntary, etc.
ii) Likely demographic characteristics of the group; eg. Age, composition, sex, race, likely educational backgrounds, etc.
iii) Likely/Possible group reactions to you as a speaker or to the topic chosen (re i & ii).
d) Systematically organise your ideas.
i) Firstly it is essential to be selective and gather together the information you think your audience needs to know.
ii) Organise your information so that it is clear;
– what major points are under discussion
– how these issues are built upon; eg. moving from a simple idea towards more complex ones, moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar and points of agreement to disagreement.
iii) Structure your information/arguments eg, thematically, chronologically to make your talk easier for the audience to follow.
e) Make a clear outline of your talk.
It is important for your presentation to have an introduction, a main body and a conclusion/summary.
i) The Introduction – draws attention to your subject/problem and outlines the reasons why the audience should take your points into account. It is useful to incorporate some of the following in the introductory section;
– Use a question, a shocking statistic, an exciting, humorous or anecdotal story, a visual aid or a challenging statement to capture the audience’s attention.
– Keep this short (don’t let it exceed a quarter of the available time).
– Avoid just merely announcing the topic, giving a false lead etc.
– To be sure it gives an accurate lead into what follows, write this section last.
ii) The Main Body – this focuses on the main information to be discussed. In practice the following points may give guidance to your structuring of this section;
– Material placed either at the opening or closing of this section are the most likely to be retained longest by the audience.
– Information that is repeated is more likely to be understood and remembered.
– Avoid overloading with information. Most people can only handle 5 to 9 pieces of information at one time as a general guide! Some general tips to help are;
o Cover only a few main points
o Combine similar pieces of information
o Preview information you plan to present
o Summarise frequently
o Narrow your topic!
o Reinforce your main points with the effective use if visual aids.
iii) The Conclusion – should ideally reinforce what you have said and leave the audience remembering what you’ve said and wanting more! Again, it is worth keeping the following points in mind;
– Keep this brief. (as a guide no more than 10% of the total time)
– Don’t introduce new material at this late stage – it can lead to confusion.
– You may illustrate the central idea again with some attention-seeking device eg. an apt quotation, an idealised prediction, or a recapitulation.
– Pay attention to the organisation of this section, people may take away lasting impressions of the finale with them.
– Like the introduction, attempt to memorise the section so well that you don’t need to read it all out and thus lose eye contact.
– Don’t trail off, use this section constructively and don’t just say “Well, I guess that’s about all…..”!!!
f) To assist the flow of your ideas plan the TRANSITIONS carefully
Transitions lead your audience smoothly from one point to another. They can function as built in review mechanisms relating one point to another before moving on. The analogy with road signs which show you where you’ve been and where you’re going is reasonably appropriate. When used effectively they give the speech unity and keep the audience focused on your central arguments.
Some examples of the phrases used to denote transitions are;
i) “Let’s now consider….”
ii) “But this is only one of the problems we face….”
iii) “In addition to … we have ….”
iv) “Consequently ….”
v) “In spite of …..”
vi) “In summary….”
vii) “Following this, let’s move onto…..”
2. METHODS OF DELIVERY
There are two matters of interest. First concerns the appropriate way to prepare the material to effectively convey it to the audience. The second relates to techniques that can help project you and your ideas to the audience.
a) Delivering the prepared presentation
It is possible to use a variety of styles in this respect. The style chosen should really be appropriate for the nature of the topic, but more important, appropriate to the capabilities of the speaker. The following are some possible approaches with their respective advantages and disadvantages;
i) Temporaneous. – this is where the speaker summarises the talk into brief notes written on inconspicuous cards and referred to as a guide through the main themes.
o It allows better eye contact with your audience
o It allows the flexibility to change your delivery in response to audience reaction.
o It allows a more conversational style.
o It requires quick thinking.
o It requires thorough preparation beforehand otherwise the words, ideas, transitions and information may not all come to mind as the talk progresses.
o All too often this approach may lead to the presenter punctuating the talk with nervous “ands, uhs & ummms” particularly between ideas/thoughts.
Therefore, it is vital that the notes supply you with adequate key words and the various phrases you need at the key points in the talk.
ii) Memorisation. – this is where the entire speech is committed to memory and the speaker recites it using no notes.
o It allows you to move and gesture freely
o It allows the effective establishment of eye contact.
o There is a tendency to memorise only the word sequence and not the sequence of ideas. If you forgot this at any point it may lead to panic!
o It is difficult to improvise if you forget a section.
iii) Manuscript. – this is where the presentation is read out in its entirety.
o It is possible to say precisely what you intend without fumbling.
o It is useful to prepare a statement in situations where diplomacy or tact is called for to avoid using an inappropriate phrase.
o It reduces eye contact opportunities with the audience and thus may limit feedback.
iv) Impromptu. – This is where the speaker makes the presentation on the spur of the moment. This is unlikely in formal situations. The preparation time, being limited to the time between leaving your seat until you reach the podium, will rarely enable much more than a short talk. If you are ever caught in a situation of this kind it is advisable to think of an opening line, a body of 2-3 points and a conclusion.
b) Projecting yourself as a speaker
The audience is likely to judge not only the content of your presentation, but also the manner in which it is given. In order to give a favourable impression the following points are worth bearing in mind;
i) Be natural –
– Focus the attention of your audience on your ideas rather than your delivery.
– Try not to distract. Control your speech and body language.
ii) Rehearse – this is essential to your preparation.
– Know your introduction and conclusion to enable maximum eye contact at these stages.
– Be familiar (no need to memorise) with your notes so that you can easily find your place.
– Visual aids should be placed in sequence (preferably numbered) and the points at which they are needed prominently marked on your notes. Always rehearse with them beforehand to get the timing as accurate as possible.
– Make a checklist of everything you need.
– If it is possible, visit the location where you are to make the presentation. Ensure appropriate equipment is on hand and consider the lighting position of speaker etc.
iii) Platform presence – just prior to being called on to speak it is advisable to take some deep breaths and relax. In an informal situation choose a posture which you feel relaxed with. In formal situations greater control will probably be needed to project yourself with appropriate authority and purpose.
– Take the time to arrange your notes and visual aids and establish the appropriate position to face the audience.
– Look into the eyes of the audience and locate interested faces in different areas of the room to which you can turn and address personally. Your attention will then be diffused around the audience.
– Let the audience know you are in control. If the audience are noisy, for example, you can say “Good Morning!” and wait for the room to quieten.
– Take time over your introduction. Don’t hurry it.
– Project your voice and maintain it at a constant level. Don’t drop the level as it will tend to send the audience to sleep.
– When referring to notes try and avoid moving your head – just drop your eyes as you glance down!
– If you get lost, don’t panic. Breath out, take a careful look at your notes and resume, even if there has been a lengthy pause, try not to let it bother you (it will soon be forgotten)
– Try and assess the audience’s reactions and where possible make adjustments to suit. eg. ask a question, raise the voice level etc.
– When you have finished thank the audience for listening and invite questions.
3. VISUAL AIDS
The important aspect to note about visual aids is that they are effective only when used appropriately. Visual aids should illustrate and illuminate your points and not distract the audience. Selectivity is therefore the key.
Some points to bear in mind when using visual aids are;
a) Make sure they are relevant, avoid overloading with information and utilise colour and large type to enhance their visibility.
b) Rehearse with them in advance and get them in order beforehand.
c) Stand clear of the aids to enable all the audience to see them.
d) Try not to turn your back on the audience when explaining the aid.
e) Explain slowly and carefully the main points and pass any articles out at the end if this is practical.