Application – Preparing informative documents
Learning to write can help you speak before a group. Successful presentations, talks, speeches, sermons, lectures, and briefings—whether given in person or recorded—require preparation. An effective presentation is more than throwing together a deck of PowerPoint slides and reading from or talking to those slides. Rather, each good presentation starts with a well-written script.
This does not imply that all you have to do is write out a great talk and then read it in front of your audience. No. A great presentation also requires rehearsing the presentation and refining the content and the mode of delivery through practice and iterative adjustments. Without writing out what you will say and practicing, you will never hear beforehand your words and assess their effectiveness.
Prepare your presentation
A speaker’s first mandate is to have something valuable to say. This aligns with the first three steps of the writing process:
1. Get clear on your audience and your purpose
2. Collect material to support your premise
3. Brainstorm additional content
A speaker’s second mandate is to engage with the audience. This requires preparing an opening that catches their interest and summarizes the presenter’s message. Follow with substance that holds your audience’s attention and links to their needs and desires. Include stories, share analogies, quote authorities, and cite facts. Prepare to do this by using steps 3 through 6 of the writing process, namely:
3. Brainstorm how to effectively use your material
4. Organize your content to hold interest and drive home your point
5. Draft what you will say and prepare what you will show
6. Refine what you will show and tell
Prepare a conclusion, which links back to your opening; and formulate a call to action.
Along the way, double-check your facts and thoroughly proof your slides.
Prepare suitable visual aids
When preparing your script, decide on your visual aids, if any. Remember, what you will say and how you look will be far more important than a slide deck or other visual material.
When you elect to use slides, ensure that they:
· Present a clear message
· Offer benefits to the audience
· Economize on ideas and words
· Present only one idea per slide
· Include only the essential details
· Include at most 6 lines per slide and 6 words per line
· Use a large, easy-to-read font
· Use simple charts or tables to show numbers
· Employ larger font, bolding, or contrasting colors to emphasize what is most important
· Do not overemphasize slide titles by making them too big
Slides with long sentences and small fonts cause audiences to work too hard. This stops them from reading such slides and from listening to the presenter.
When you want people to remember your message and to act on it, write a report or proposal. Deliver your presentation, and then hand out the report or proposal. A written report will accomplish more to encourage action and enable people to remember what you said than any slide deck. Moreover, a business proposal distributed at the end of a presentation offers many opportunities for you and your team to follow up with your audience.
Once you have finalized what you will say and show, rehearse your presentation until you can present it naturally and with only a few notes. Your goal is to deliver it without reading it word for word. Rarely is an improvised talk as good as a well-prepared presentation that is read; but best of all is a well-prepared and well-rehearsed presentation.
Practice your presentation by standing up and reading your script aloud again and again with the expression, tone, and body language you plan to use. As you do, you will find portions of your presentation that need changing. Some of your words and phrases will seem unnatural. Some of your ideas will be unclear or weak. Improve them.
Spread out your practice. This will enable you to internalize your material and ultimately deliver it with more confidence.
As you progress, bring in a colleague or two to critique your content and presentation techniques. Be open to their comments and make changes.
Prepare for questions
Anticipate questions from your audience, and write out answers. Keep these in reserve until needed.
Control your emotions
When the time comes to deliver your presentation, relax. It is normal to feel anxiety standing in front of a group of people. To control nervousness, focus on your audience and your message. If you have prepared a great message and practiced delivering it, you will be confident. And this confidence will show.
Be authentic. Present your genuine character and a true message.
Be charitable. Wish the best for your audience and for others.
Be vulnerable. Be open to questions and criticism.
Control your looks
Consider your dress, grooming, posture, facial features, eye contact, and hand gestures.
How you look will influence your perceived authority, competence, and humanity. As you walk on the stage or move to the front of a conference room, your audience will size you up. They will judge your credibility before you begin talking. So, consider your audience, as you select your clothing and grooming.
In addition, maintain an upright posture and project a friendly face. To prepare for this, before you speak, relax your body by taking several deep breaths, by stretching your arms and legs, and by slowly moving your head from side to side and nodding up and down to stretch the muscles in your neck. However, do this in private or inconspicuously.
When speaking in a conference room, stand up and move to the front of the room. Do not stay seated in your chair. Do not lean against the wall. Do not sit on the edge of a desk or table.
Face the audience. Stand with the projector screen, white board, or easel to your left. Use your left hand, with the palm open and facing the audience, to point to important points on your visuals. Doing this allows your audience to look at you and then sweep their eyes to their right to your slides. This is the normal eye movement for speakers of English and most other languages. (If you are presenting in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or other languages where word flow is right-to-left, stand on the opposite side of the presentation.)
When talking, if possible, move around in a natural way. Stand straight, but not rigidly.
If using a podium, stand behind it, but do not touch it. Let your hands hang loose. This prevents you from clutching or leaning on the podium. In addition, it frees your hands so you can make hand gestures.
If not using a podium, also let your arms and hands extend to your sides when not using them to gesture.
Smile—make it natural. You do not have to smile constantly. Rather, smile from time to time, when your message indicates a smile is appropriate.
Make eye contact. Effective eye contact conveys honesty and authority. When standing before a group, look squarely at one person for several seconds. Hold this eye contact until you complete a sentence. Then move to another person. In a 10-minute presentation to 30 people, you should be able to look at every person several times. As you proceed, bounce around the room—do not move person by person in a row as if knocking down aligned dominoes. Obviously, if you are speaking to 100 or more people, you cannot look everyone in the eye, but moving to different parts of the room will convey the impression that you are looking at everyone.
When making hand gestures keep your hands at your chest or head level so they are more visible.
Control how you sound
Speak up. Provide volume, especially when on stage or in a large room.
If using a microphone, arrive before your talk early enough so you can test the best place to position the microphone stand or to hold the mic. When public speaking, the best mic position is a few inches in front of your mouth at a 45° angle. This enables the mic to capture your voice while leaving the view of your face mostly unobstructed.
When testing a mic, have another person check the sound of your voice throughout the room.
Speak distinctly. Annunciate every syllable.
As you speak, vary your volume to match the words. Increasing the volume communicates authority, while reducing the volume generates a feeling of intimacy or suspense.
Control the pitch of your voice. When you are nervous or excited, the pitch of your voice naturally increases. To project confidence, relax your voice and drop the pitch.
Vary your pace. Speak quickly to create excitement or when presenting many details that are subordinate to your main point. Speak slowly when you want to emphasize words and items. A complete pause of several seconds can add huge emphasis.
Cut out uh, um, false starts, and other speech disfluencies. They kill credibility. If you need to collect your thoughts, pause.
Control your tone by controlling how you feel. It is possible to speak the same words but vary the tone to create a wide range of feelings—spanning from joy to sorrow, sincerity to sarcasm, and excitement to apathy. Do this by consciously feeling an emotion and then inflecting your voice to match that emotion.
To be effective, you will need to practice these techniques when rehearsing.
Arrive early at your venue. Use this time not only to check the microphone and audio system, but also to get familiar with the room and/or stage. If appropriate, meet and briefly interact with a portion of the audience as they enter the room.
After your presentation, if appropriate, linger and talk with those who have questions or comments. This is a good way to make useful contacts.