go do: PRESENTING (Part III)

In Part I of this post, I talked about some of the practical issues to be aware of when preparing a presentation. In Part II, I offered some ideas on structure, theme, connection, and research. Now lets talk about building and rehearsing your presentation.

Keynote (blogs.exeter.ac.uk)
Keynote (blogs.exeter.ac.uk)

Keynote/Powerpoint or no? Your first decision is whether you even need this element. Consider your audience, consider your ideas, and then remember the old chestnut that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. It’s a cliche but it’s true. Powerful images can allow audiences to connect to your idea more quickly and to recall it with greater clarity later.

However, if your primary reason for using Keynote is to “snazz things up”, please reconsider. Visual aids should be deployed to reinforce your ideas, to provide visual cues to your audience, and to illustrate key concepts. If your material allows you to accomplish those goals without visuals, then Keynote may be an unwelcome distraction.

I’ve had numerous discussions with colleagues about the “best” ways to use Keynote and virtually everyone says the same thing (keep it simple, don’t rely on animation, don’t fill the page up with text and don’t just read the slides). These are all good points so I’ll take them in order.

Keep it simple. YES. Think of the most powerful speakers you’ve ever heard. Chances are, the words they used were carefully chosen for clarity. Your images and page design should do the same. Your audience must understand your point; select images and words that communicate your idea with simplicity. If you have complicated information to convey, either simplify it in an infographic style or include it in handout materials.

Don’t rely on animation. Wise words, indeed. Every now and then, a little bit of text, picture, or slide animation is welcome. Consider how the animation is used. Does it support the ideas you’re presenting? Is it a button to your speech? Can it be used humorously? The point here is to use a light hand with animation effects. They shouldn’t distract the audience from you or the point you’re making.

Don’t fill the page up with text. This goes along with keeping it simple. Presenters who do this seem to think of Keynote as a way to display their notes. It’s not. Either memorize your text or use notecards; just don’t fill the screen with all the words that should be in your head. When people are distracted by reading every word on your slide, they’re not concentrating on you and your message.

Don’t just read the slides. This is death by a thousand paper cuts for an audience. You are there to make a point, tell a story, and engage the audience. You can’t do that by rattling off a list they can read on a handout later. Take a look at the slide below for a typical corporate presentation.

Blah Blah Blah. Who wants to hear someone read bullet points? (KC Wilkerson, 2016)
Blah Blah Blah. Who wants to hear someone read bullet points? (KC Wilkerson, 2016)

Now try this: For each point, eliminate all the unnecessary words.   Arrange those words on the page in an interesting way. You’ll find that your image is more striking and your point is more clear.  This would be the uncluttered version:

Right to the point. (KC Wilkerson, 2016)
Right to the point. (KC Wilkerson, 2016)

The main points are clear, and the design even allows the presenter to visually represent that their three goals are interconnected (ah…corporate America…).

Using a key word or image creates a visual prompt. The prompt helps you remember your story (and your point) that you’ve memorized and rehearsed. It also helps your audience recall information after the talk.

To the above points, I’ll add the following:

Cite your sources.If you cite statistics, cite the source. I typically use a smaller, italicized font to indicate my source. That allows your audience to see it’s a verified source without adding visual clutter to the slide.

Similarly, give credit for the images you use. Obtain the photographers/artists name, if possible, and credit them accordingly (by adding their name in a small, italicized font in the lower corner of the image).

Rehearse. Rehearsal will allow you to gauge the length and pacing of your talk; and is your opportunity to experiment with delivery and timing. Even if you know your core material inside-out, rehearsing your talk will put you at ease with the presentation itself. During rehearsal, you may discover that slides need to move around in order to establish your ideas more effectively; or that the order of your most important points are better delivered in a different way.

The quantity of rehearsal may vary with your talk (more rehearsal for a new talk, less for one you’ve given previously). I recommend rehearsing several times, making quick adjustments as needed, then setting the material aside for a few days. This gives you time to think (between sessions) about cadence, tone, and pace. After you’ve made adjustments (rearranged or cut slides, re-ordered talking points, etc), circle back and rehearse several more times.

You may benefit from having a quiet place to rehearse; free from distraction. It’s helpful if you can do this in front of a mirror. Set up your laptop with the first slide ready to go and begin. This may feel a little ridiculous at first. Don’t worry, it’ll pass. During your rehearsal, listen to your voice: Are you varying your tone and speed? Experimenting with emphasizing different words or phrases? Looking for ways to engage audience interaction? Watch your movement: What are your hands doing? Are you standing straight, but comfortably? Be conscious of your voice and your body; audiences pay attention to both. Practice operating the wireless presenter (that’s the device that forwards each of your slides remotely) and making the timing of your delivery to match your slides. Feel free to stop and start. When you stumble, try to figure out the root cause of your stumble. Too wordy? Weird slide transition? Fix it and move on. Your final rehearsal should be start-to-finish without stopping, as if you were actually presenting to your audience.

The key here is to rehearse enough to that you’re prepared to speak, with a solid grasp on your material, but not SO rehearsed that you come across as an automaton.

Alright, you’ve collected your images and words, you’ve built your presentation and rehearsed it. Whew. Lot of work isn’t it? Yeah it is – good presentations take time to create. But now comes the payoff. In the next post, I’ll talk you through the day of your presentation.

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