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7 steps toward a successful presentation

In my capacities as executive coach and professional development provider, I regularly prepare presentations for live and Web audiences. Whether the focus is on content or sales, I know the importance of a strong presentation in delivering value to clients and promoting my business.

We have all attended great presentations that left us wanting more. And then there were the ones that gave us the itch to get up or log out. Oftentimes, the difference between the two talks had nothing to do with the presenter’s experience or content knowledge. Rather, it came down to knowing their audiences and finding ways to connect with them early and often.

Identifying your audience allows you to be as precise as possible with your message. Ask yourself who will be in the room and what prior knowledge they bring to the conversation. What are their challenges and how will your product, service, or content help them overcome them? Keep that in mind as you prepare your language and examples.

If you are not sure who will be in attendance, then you will have to rely on your sixth sense. As you begin your talk, you may choose to informally survey the audience so that you can keep their specific needs in mind as you go.

If you turned out to be way off during planning, acknowledge that so that it becomes clear as to why you chose to shift from your game plan (assuming that there is a slide presentation, handout, or something similar that was developed for the presentation.)

There are a number of other steps that you can take that will help make your presentation shine.

  1. Prepare as far in advance as possible. Get your core presentation in place early on so that you can spend as much time as you need tweaking and editing. As you learn more about your topic (the best presenters keep learning, all the way to the end and beyond!) you may want to make modifications. The same is true as your audience becomes clearer and other logistics settle as well (such as the final duration that you’ll have for this workshop.) The readier you are in advance, the easier it’ll be to make those changes.
  2. Keep things clear and simple. It can be tempting to spend meaningful time adding bells and whistles to your presentation, in the form of cool graphics, transitions, sounds, and the like. Keep in mind that these people are not coming to listen to you become of your animations but because of your content. Sure, beautiful slides and graphics will add to what you have to say, but they will not make the sale.
  3. Review again and again. Another benefit of an early start is that you can let things settle in your mind. I rarely present anything without the benefit of a good night’s sleep. By stepping away you become less attached to the material, which creates more objectivity. Maybe that quotes list or data that you worked so hard to develop really does not add so much after all. The farther you are from the initial effort, the more willing you will be to let go of the useless or distracting content.
  4. Distribute for feedback. Once you are generally satisfied with what you have put together, circulate the presentation to a few pairs of trustworthy eyes for feedback. Maybe they will catch a glaring error. More likely, they will flag ambiguities and assumptions that you really ought to be avoiding. People like this can mirror the intended audience in terms of what they understood or did not grasp and how they envision it going over with an audience.
  5. Become fluent. The better you know your content, the more fluid, natural, and confident you can be. Fluency allows you to use your displayed and printed content to supplement your message rather than to drive it. This keeps them focused more on you and your message.
  6. Tell a good story. Successful salespeople routinely speak of the importance of making a strong connection with a potential buyer. More so than not, people will buy or accept from those that they like and trust. One great tool for instant rapport and trust is storytelling. Talk a little about what you and why you do it. Let them see your passion and feel your energy. Use stories to drive home points and underscore urgency. Stories keep people interested and connected to the end, when it’s time for you to deliver your final message.

This article first appeared in SmartBlog on Leadership.

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