4 Steps to Giving Effective Presentations

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By Marcelle Yeager

While it's not a requirement in every job, you'll likely have to give a presentation at work at some point. It could be sitting at a table with one co-worker or standing in front of a room of numerous colleagues or partners. Whatever situation you could find yourself in, it can be challenging to give an effective presentation.

Design is a critical part of the process, because without a good base, it's going to be hard to deliver a presentation well. Then most of us have to deal with our nerves immediately before and during the actual presentation. Delivery is its own art, because you must think about your articulation and intonation.

Your goal is to keep the audience engaged from start to finish – not an easy thing to do. Think about good presentations you've heard. Ask yourself why it was well done, and try to emulate those aspects. Incorporate what you felt was most effective as you work on your own presentation.1. Design. Before you delve into PowerPoint, start with a basic outline. What information must be included? What are the three most important points you want the audience to come away with? Decide if the information must be presented from A to Z or if it warrants some re-arranging to make it more interesting. For example, sometimes you can captivate your audience by beginning at the end. That's what people likely came to hear anyway, and it will be more of a surprise to present it right off the bat.

2. Content. When you feel ready to pull together the actual presentation, keep brevity in mind. It doesn't matter whether you're using visuals or not, since the same is true for either type of briefing. If you're making a PowerPoint or other visual, get the text down first. Think in terms of a headline with three to four points each. Any more than that and you're likely to lose your audience's attention span.

Think about whether you want it to be an interactive presentation or strictly lecture style. Asking questions and moving around the room are great ways to keep people on their toes and interested in what you're saying. If it's a smaller audience of people who don't know each other, consider starting with an icebreaker exercise or brief introductions to increase the comfort level in the room.

3. Visuals. When it comes to visuals, keep it simple. You want the viewers to be able to read the screen, even if they're far back. That means you need large font and a color that will stand out against the background you choose. The goal is to have the audience listen to you – not read your slides. Less is more.

Any images or backdrops you choose should add to the presentation and not distract or confuse people. Color choice is also important, because you may need to remain sensitive to a client's brand or your own company colors. As always, text must be readable. Loud and obnoxious colors don't automatically mean they'll grab peoples' attention. Often it can be so distracting that you do just the opposite.

4. Practice. Some people are naturally good at presenting, and it hardly fazes them. Projecting their voices to large rooms and with varying tones comes easily to them.

For most of us, it takes a lot of talking to ourselves to calm our nerves, as well as practice – lots of practice. If you're delivering a presentation in a small room with few people, you don't need to worry about projection as much, but you have to think about how to keep listeners engaged, just as you would with a large group. While it's distracting to pace back and forth, a bit of movement can hold the attention of an audience.

Figure out if you do better having a small notecard with notes in front of you to help guide you or an actual copy of the visual presentation. If you know your mouth tends to get dry, make sure you have a glass of water nearby. Also, will you need to jot down notes if participants comment? If so, have a notepad and pen handy. Ensuring you have the necessities and a general plan will help calm your nerves.

Crafting and delivering a good presentation is a skill you must develop over time and with practice. Take what you've learned from successful presentations you've heard, and try to apply those elements to your own. Be concise, and keep the audience engaged by telling them exactly what the takeaways are and asking questions throughout. While it's impossible to satisfy all participants, you can make a bigger impact by presenting less information in a more effective way.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.
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