Do you remember the last time you felt the butterflies in your stomach just before your presentation?
Do you remember having to tell yourself to calm down and relax just before you stepped out in front of the audience?
It happens to me every time I have to stand up in front of a large audience and present and it doesn’t necessarily get any easier with experience. Larger audiences tend to be more challenging to work with and keeping the audience hooked onto the conversation from start to end literally keeps me on my toes, both before the presentation and during the presentation. Of course I won’t suggest that I know it all when it comes to delivering great professional presentations but I’ve learned a great deal over the years based on feedback I’ve received. I still think I’ve got a long way to go and can improve effectiveness of my presentations on numerous fronts. This post is based on an interesting episode that occurred not very long ago and reminded me of a few things that I should focus on during presentations. Am sure there is something for everyone to learn from that episode.
Not very long ago we had arranged for a presales representative from a large organization to come in and talk to us about the cutting edge products and service offerings their company had to offer. The vendor had advertised a great deal; everyone was enthusiastic about what the solution could potentially do for them especially since the vendor had been touting how great their solution offering was over their competition. The participants were keen to hear about details of the various products, see the solution in action and understand how it might be beneficial to them on their own programs. Everyone was excited and looking forward to a great presentation.
Unfortunately, nothing seemed to go right for the presenter and everything seemed to go pear shaped right from the start. The presenter was a warm gentleman, seemed confident about his subject but it soon became apparent that he was completely unprepared. The presenter started off by saying that he would be using a generic slide deck; kept skimming through the slides, didn’t have any specific message to deliver on any of the slides and finally stumbled miserably when it came to the demo. The fumbling and tumbling during the presentation meant that the presenter couldn’t convey what he intended to and ended up making everything look like rocket science.
The presentation lasted a good hour and most of the participants came away with the feeling that the concept sounded great on power point but the implementation completely lacked intuitiveness and ease of use. That was the unfortunate end to the presentation and product demo. It was sad that the vendor has lost the opportunity to get us excited about what they had to offer.
The experience reminded me of a few things one should keep in mind while preparing for any presentation or demo.
- Don’t take the audience for granted, come well prepared – Make the audience feel really special and customize your pitch for your audience. You might have delivered the same presentation a million times but don’t come across as someone who is uninterested or unprepared, your audience will never forgive you. Do your homework and make it your point to understand customer’s business. Do your homework well and come well prepared. Lack of preparation shows up very easily and is a big letdown. Lack of preparation only tells the customer how little interest you have in them or their business. Make it a point to research your customers business and if possible the profile of those to whom you would be presenting.
- Everyone likes a great story – Whatever you might be selling come up with a storyline that makes your presentation interesting. Add a few anecdotes and a bit of humor possibly at the start which might also help break the ice with your audience. Weave a story around your presentation and avoid turning your presentation into a boring sales pitch. No one like a boring sales pitch. It requires a lot of effort and coming up with a relevant story line that links the presentation to the audience takes a lot of thinking. Everyone likes a great story, everyone likes a great solution. Make it interesting for the audience and keep them captivated from the start.
- Focus on taking away the customers pain – Most presentations I’ve been in focus on how great the organizations products are over the competition. Most product vendors focus on how their technology and solution has won accolades from customers around the world, how it is going to revolutionize the industry, how it has saved other millions and how it could potentially save us a few millions. What most presenters fail to realize is that rather than focusing on a dozen slides about how great their solutions are they would rather start off by articulating the problem statement and how the customer’s challenge can be addressed in a suitable manner using their product or service. Focus on the customer and how you can take away his pain.
- Keep your slides simple, don’t clutter them – Unfortunately this is something that you might have heard very often. Keep your slides as simple as possible; don’t cram up too much of text or images on it. The human brain can only focus for a very short while and use text / images in moderation to convey your point of view. Make things easy for the audience and help them focus by simplifying your content. Remember, less is always more.
- Have a take away for the key slides – This builds on what I’ve just mentioned in the earlier point. Focus on having a few slides and weave a story around those slides. Make sure you have a take away message for your key slides that summarizes the information on the slide. Remember, things might be amply clear to you since you are a guru on the subject and have presented a million times but it might not be the case for the audience.
- Iron out the technicalities before the presentation – Test your setup out before the session starts. Come early and test your connections out and ensure that everything works as expected especially when product demonstrations are involved. Have a backup plan if possible. Keep all your important applications running in the background and make sure you’ve got the setup ready and raring to go.
- Engage the audience, move around the room and maintain eye contact - Try not to be fixed at one spot. Move around and engage the audience and try to get them involved. Ask questions to clarify their understanding. Remember a lot of participants are generally shy and generally don’t speak up. Maintain eye contact with your audience and you’ll soon know if your boring sales pitch is putting them to sleep.
- Maintain a good posture – Avoid putting your hands in your pocket, pacing around the room to fast, jumping from one posture to another, etc. Maintain a good posture with your shoulders upright and hands behind your back. Send the right message and tell your audience that you are interested.
- Pay attention to your dressing – Soft warm colors that don’t stand out are a generally a good choice when presenting. You don’t want the audience focusing on you, you want them buying into your story and not your attire.
- Time yourself and keep enough of time for Q&A – Time yourself well. Don’t pack so much into your presentation or sales pitch that your audience has no time to ask questions or provide feedback. Practice timing and if required have one of your colleague assist you with tracking the time.
Delivering good presentations requires a lot of effort and preparation. There’s so much that could potentially go wrong. Knowing your subject, believing in your product or service, acknowledging the customers pain and having empathy for the customer will go a long way in helping you deliver effective presentations.
Hope you’ve liked this post. Send us your thoughts and comments on this article. We are keen to hear from you on your experiences delivering presentations and the learning you’ve gained over the years.