In my current role I regularly speak at conferences and carry out training or strategy workshops with teams of adults across the UK. At one point in the randomness that is my career I trained to be a primary school teacher and stood up in front of a classroom full of fidgety, mischievous, easily bored 8 year olds. When I was a trolley dolly I had to ‘present’ the safety demonstration to 195 equally fidgety and easily bored passengers. I’ve presented in plush five star hotels and in porta cabins at the side of Loch Lomond. Once at a conference in the Highlands the door burst open mid presentation and a black Labrador daundered in and joined me on stage. In other words I have enough experience of public speaking to qualify me to write this article.
What I have learned along the way cannot be described as rocket science. It’s pretty basic stuff which can turn death by PowerPoint into a winning pitch.
1) Find out who you are presenting to
This is blatantly obvious, crucial and frequently overlooked. If your presentation is pitched at an advanced level and your audience are beginners then they’ll quickly get lost and distracted. If you are pitching for work and know who the panel are then tailor your content appropriately, a quick search on LinkedIn or twitter and you’ll gain insight into their background and interests. In the past I've asked event organisers to send a short questionnaire to those participating in my workshops and I've based my content and tasks on the responses. Sure, it takes a lot of time and effort but 1) that's what you are being paid for and 2) your audience are potential clients and well worth the investment.
2) Paint pictures and avoid text
If you are accompanying your talk with a presentation then choose bright, bold images or video content which tell the story of what you are talking about rather than listing text descriptions on the screen. If your habit is to show slides with bullet points and read through them then it’s time to get more creative!
3) Involve the Audience
Always involve the audience. I recently presented to teenage girls and started the workshop by getting them all on their feet to learn a simple 20 second ‘confidence boosting’ dance I’d invented. It woke them up and the element of surprise meant I had their attention for the rest of the session. If you are presenting to a large audience get a few volunteers on the stage to take part in a quiz or demonstration and encourage the audience to choose a person to support. Anything with a competitive edge works a treat. If you are time limited then simply ask the audience to get involved by raising their hand or standing up. As the presenter don't hide behind a lectern, move about the stage or room.
4) Spanners In the Works
Technology is brilliant when it works but often at events, even in the swankiest high tech venues, the internet connection or Wi-Fi is rubbish and what you planned to do just won’t work. (Even when you’ve phoned up and checked in advance the reality can be very different.) Have a Plan B which includes carrying a memory stick or being able to download your presentation. Worst case scenario it's back to basics with a flip chart and pen. The show must always go on.
5) It's Okay Not To Know Everything
If someone asks a question and you don’t know the answer it’s okay to say ‘I don’t know…..but I’ll find out and let you know.’ You're only human, you can't know everything especially if you work in a field that changes on a daily basis.
‘Let’s have a chat at the end’ are magic words if one participant wants to dominate the session with questions that are only relevant to them. Manage this situation so it doesn't detract from what everyone else has come to learn about. Be polite but firm on this point as the organiser expects you to deliver what you promised to deliver without running over time and messing up their schedule.
Okay, so you’ve delivered your presentation or workshop and you’ve answered all the questions from the audience. What next? There’s a few options depending on your style. Invite people to join you for a chat afterwards, or to connect with you on LinkedIn, twitter or by email. (final slide should have this info in large print). You can provide a physical handout to be collected from the front and leave a pile of business cards if you’re old school, or you can set people a task and ask them to tweet or tag you with their answer. The important thing is to keep in touch, spot opportunities to grow your business or simply make new connections who share a common interest.
Thanks for reading. Annie Boyd is a marketing and business consultant specialising in social media strategy. Her clients range from large public sector organisations to SME's. She enjoys working with individuals or teams who are open to new ideas and who like to look for solutions rather than look at problems! Get in touch if you'd like to have a chat about working together. firstname.lastname@example.org