Presentation Pearls of Wisdom

I attended a panel discussion at the Greater Houston Women’s Conference with three professionals who collectively have over 75 years of experience in acting, radio and TV. They shared some valuable reminders and tips about Presenting Your Best Self On and Off Camera. So, I’ve included four things to think about the next time you’re preparing to be in front of an audience:

1. Who is my audience and what will they want from me?

Any presentation starts with thinking about your audience. Even if your audience is just one person, first take a few minutes to put yourself in their shoes. Think about what they will want from you whether it’s information, reassurance, or something else. This will go a long way in helping you position your ideas in a way that addresses their underlying needs and resonates with them.

2. What do I want from my audience?

As a presenter, you also typically want something from your audience. For example, you may want them to feel confident in your abilities or think you are the right person for the job. Knowing what you want from your audience will give you more insight into the type of information to present and how to best communicate it.

3. What is my story?

Remember that storytelling is powerful—and there’s always a story line. A talented Deloitte partner taught me this lesson early on in my career. To this day, I remember walking into his office with a draft presentation for a client meeting. He left it sitting untouched on his desk until he asked me a series of questions. I can’t remember the exact questions but they led me to give him the 3-4 headlines, the key messages we really needed our client to know and understand.

By the time we finished talking, I knew I had missed the mark with my presentation. I had a gold mine of information (supporting charts, data, etc.) but I hadn’t effectively woven it into a compelling story that made the “so what” crystal clear. I remember sheepishly reaching across his desk to take back my work, hoping he wouldn’t look at it first.

4. What do I need to do to take my nerves out of the equation?

The last two tips focus on addressing nervousness that many of us experience when it comes to presenting in front of an audience, especially when a lot is at stake. Nervousness can come from not being fully aligned or associated with your story, or focusing more on yourself than your audience.

On the first issue, the best advice I can give you is to practice saying your presentation out loud. According to the panelists, three times is the magic number to imprint the script in your memory. Think about how valuable this preparation could be if a meeting runs over and your presentation time gets drastically shortened. Knowing your story would help you quickly distill your presentation down to the essential headlines.

Second, remember to focus on your audience instead of yourself. Many of us can’t help but zero in on our own fears and what others think of us. So, to address this, imagine that your audience is full of people that you enjoy being around, and that your primary objective is to serve them. By staying focused on what your audience needs you will focus less on your fears.

Hopefully after reading through this, you realize that there are some small steps you can take to prepare that can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your presentations. Remember that taking even as little as five minutes to think through these questions can go a long way. So, I would urge you to identify one practice that you’d like to start incorporating today.