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Delivering an Effective Presentation

A presentation is only as effective as how your audience absorbs it. Let’s take for example a comedy show, a common and very popular event that requires a lot of consumer engagement. The comedian, or ‘presenter’, is working all angles to keep the audience locked in through their entire act. It’s a constant cycle of information being received, interpreted and reacted upon. However, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the delivery and style between comedians is hardly similar. An effective delivery is what makes a great comedian stand out (or stand up in the literal sense). From the opening line, through the tone and tempo, and how they react and respond to the audience are all key drivers to delivering the most effective presentation.

I personally didn’t understand the importance of a really good presentation until my first job out of college. I was working in financial sales which required a lot of presentations to a variety of different audiences. I gave countless speeches about investing and retirement, and many other areas where I had little or no experience. I quickly discovered that a successful presentation isn’t just about the information you present, but also about how you deliver the information. You could have a million-dollar idea but if you fail to effectively communicate the idea, then it’s essentially worthless. The path that I’ve discovered to deliver the most effective presentation involves 5 key items:

  • Know your audience
  • Be confident about your subject
  • Have a strong open and close
  • Outline your main points
  • Always, always, always be an active listener

Knowing your audience is a simple idea; so simple that it’s often overlooked. Once you understand who your audience is, their level of knowledge on the subject, and their need to know (or not know) the details, you can tailor your presentation and gain an easy advantage. After you’ve discovered who your audience is you begin to gain confidence.

A great transition to the second item: confidence in your topic. Carrying confidence into any meeting or discussion shows that you’re the expert in that field. When you’re viewed as the subject matter expert, credibility increases and your audience’s engagement will quickly follow. Confidence comes with preparation; one thing I always try to do is create an outline for the entire discussion and highlight all of the main talking points. Practice is important and builds confidence. Stand in front of a mirror or maybe a friend (if you’re feeling real bold) and practice what you’re going to say. For me, this gives the assurance and confidence that I won’t miss any important facts or information during the discussion.

Once I’m confident about my audience and my topic, I start to prepare my presentation. Some people prefer to write the meat of their subject first and finish with their open and close. My style is to begin with the intro and then start writing. No matter which way you prefer, one common theme I’ve learned is that your intro and closing remarks are what can set your presentation apart from others. A successful intro that involves a strong attention grabber will draw your audience in. A dull intro may quickly lose the attention of your audience, and in many instances, is difficult to win back. Equally as important as the intro is your close; it’s the last statement your audience hears in the presentation. This is what I like to refer to as the ‘mic drop’. Just like a music artist, the strategy of the mic drop is to reiterate the beginning of your story and then hit your audience with one powerful point. This will tie everything together in one final statement for your audience to leave with.

The fourth piece of an effective presentation is the delivery. The key to a good delivery is to stay organized. It should feel clean and effortless. Keep everything simple and treat the presentation more like a conversation. One way to do this is when delivering a strong statement or important detail I take a couple of seconds to focus on one single person, almost to the point that it feels awkward. I can almost guarantee you that this person will be engaged and will remember the point you just made.

The final item that I believe will help you deliver your best presentation is being an active listener. This may be the most difficult of the five items, but it can really tie the other four pieces together. An active listener, by definition, is the act of being mindful and attempting to comprehend the meaning of words being spoken during a presentation. I’d add to that by saying it’s not just comprehending words but also interpreting body language. In any conversation you’ll notice that your audience’s reaction is shown through body language. Excitement may be seen through facial expressions while confusion can be shown by a lack of eye contact. You continuously read the audiences reaction and adjust your presentation appropriately.

There may not be a ‘perfect’ style of presenting but there is a common structure that I’ve found to be very useful. Your most successful presentation is one that’s tailored to your own style. Using these five items can help you feel more confident and prepared for your next speech and turn it into an effective presentation.

Josh Bauer
Senior Manager, Analytics

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