Target audience: Nonprofits, cause organizations, public speakers, educators, NGOs, general public.
We’re a bloodthirsty lot and happy to be so.
Today, I wanted to share seven lessons I learned as I prepared for a big presentation at Ignite DC. These tips go beyond the commonsense “know your audience,” etc. They are also a testimonial to Jill Foster, who served as my unofficial coach for Ignite, because she really underscored the importance of what I’m about to tell you.
What is your story?
1I envy speakers who have the perfect anecdote or joke ready to warm up their audience … because I usually don’t. They begin with a short story that they come back to at some point in the presentation that bears out the point they’re trying to make.
Even if you don’t have a funny story, I learned it’s important to set the stage for your story, and to tell the audience what they can expect over the course of the presentation.
This doesn’t mean you have to go into every detail. But you can take 15 seconds (that’s how much time each Ignite slide was allotted) to go through the top three or four “sign posts” on the journey they are about to take with you.
So write – yes, write – out your story arc. Where will it begin, where will it go, and where will it end? Then start filling it in.
2One of the most important things when you’re about to give a presentation is to time yourself.
The Ignite format is more tightly timed than others (5 minutes, 20 slides, 15 seconds per slide). Most conferences allow somewhere in the region of 40 – 50 minutes for your entire presentation. That includes Q&A, which is often the most interesting part of the session.
That means your presentation itself should be no longer than 20-25 minutes. The only way you’ll know if you’re hitting the mark is to time yourself.
There are a couple of ways to do this.
First, and most basic, use a watch or stopwatch to time yourself from start to finish. That way, you’ll get a sense of how long you’ll be carrying on.
Second, and I think a better way to do it, is to use the “custom slideshow” option in PowerPoint (which is still the most frequently used presentation tool), to set a specific time for each slide.
On a Mac, which is what I use, you go into “Slide Sorter” view and then set the time for each slide (assuming they are the same) in “Transition Options.” On a PC … you’re on your own, sorry!
Then practice to your timed slides. You’ll know where you’re going long, and where you need to add more content or banter.
Once you’re comfortable with your story and its timing, I suggest removing the timing from the slides, because you have no way of knowing when the audience will interrupt you. If they do, then it’s disconcerting to have your PPT proceed on its own without your accompanying commentary.
Identify the core message of your presentation
3While this might be one message, it could take the shape of two or three phrases that are central to your story arc.
For example, in my Ignite presentation, these were “humanity,” “the future” and “ball of light.”(You’re wondering just what the heck I was talking about now, aren’t you?)
This helps because, first, it will help you identify the most important moments in your story arc, which might help you with No. 1 above.
And second, if you find you have a few seconds to spare, you can fall back on these as gap-fillers.
Practice your presentation standing up
4Once you’ve been through these steps, it’s time for you to do your presentation standing up, not sitting at your desk.
When you’re in the spotlight, your entire presentation mode will change. Your energy, the inflections in your voice, how you use your hands — all of these will come into play only if you simulate the environment you will actually be presenting in. And that’s rarely sitting down.
For Ignite, I knew that I would likely not have a lavalier mic, but have to use a hand-held. So I found a water bottle, and used it as my “pretend” mic as I practiced. It made me pay attention to my posture, my hands and everything else.
Make eye contact
5There is nothing more off-putting than a presenter who doesn’t look at her audience. So practice looking at them, even if that means you’re making do with the couch or your dogs.
With an Ignite-style format, I knew that my slides would be projected on a screen in front of me. The way I simulated this was to set up my timed presentation, stand a distance away from it and ensure I was watching it out of the corner of my eye (to see when the slides advanced). And then I talked to my couch.
Do not read your notes
6I know notes are really, really important and, if you’re taking your presentation really seriously, you’ll even have a script. But what makes a good presentation is not making eye contact with three pieces of paper in front of you. It’s knowing your stuff well enough to feel comfortable enough to look away from them (if you hold them in your hand, which I would not recommend).
It’s looking at – and connecting with – your audience, so that you can pick up on their mood and ensure you are giving them what they thought they were getting. You won’t be able to do that if you’re reading your presentation.
Prepare, prepare — then prepare some more
What Jill and I did was to set up daily sessions via Skype, since we couldn’t meet in person. I would go through the presentation, and she’d give me notes. We’d sign off, I’d have my homework, and then we’d do it all over again the next day, down to a few hours before the event, when she’d hit me with questions as to “what would you do if…” via text message.
I don’t think I’ve prepared as much for any presentation in recent memory. This is not because I don’t care about my audience; I do. But it was a presentation completely out of my comfort zone. So I prepared, prepared, prepared — and then prepared some more.
Those are the immediate tips I have for you. To set your presentations on fire, because if you do all this and have real fun with your presentation, you’ll be able to have fun when you’re doing it.
And that’s the most important thing for you to CRUSH IT!
What would you add?
Credits: Image at top by heal and inspire. 2. Stopwatch image by William Warby. 3. Spotlight image by Chris Goldberg. 4. Homework image by Luigi Anzivino.Shonali Burke is a public relations and social media expert and consultant based in Washington, D.C. Her firm provides integrated PR for measurable results. You can connect with Shonali via her website or follow her on Twitter.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.