There's only one thing worse than having to sit through a presentation – having to give one.
Just thinking about those bored faces, willing you to finish as soon as possible, is enough to strike fear into the heart of the most confident public speaker.
Of course the key thing to bear in mind is that if you could do without a presentation then close PowerPoint immediately.
But if a presentation is really necessary then there are some key factors to bear in mind to make it as painless as possible – these are setting expectations, having a simple approach to content and ensuring that the audience stays engaged.
Where to start
Every presentation must start by outlining to the audience what you plan to cover and when you will finish. Demonstrating that you have a clear structure and that there is an end in sight will set your audience at ease because it shows respect for their time.
The key is to stick to what you promise at the start – people are busy and they have taken time out to listen to you. Don't take advantage of this by going over time.
Keeping people from their next meeting, or worse, from going home, is the worse thing any presenter can do. This can easily be avoided by practising the presentation beforehand, and keeping an eye on the time.
Content is king
In terms of structure, simplicity is key. As tempting as it is to convey as much information as possible, it is always best to stick to one message. You can make a few points to support that message, but ultimately these points should just be supporting that one key thing you want to convey.
And so it follows that less is always more – keep slides to a minimum, and opt for images over text. Having some notes is fine, but these should only be needed as a prompt and certainly not used as a script.
When deciding content you should always consider how you could connect emotionally with the audience. After all, research has shown that 80% of decisions are based on emotion rather than logic. With that in mind, you need to think about how you can elicit emotions like happiness or sadness. You'll find the easiest way to do this is through telling stories. With this emotional context, it's no wonder that Chip & Dan Heath said that after a presentation 63% of attendees remember stories, but only 5% remember statistics.
Keeping audience engaged
Whether you are talking for ten minutes or two hours, it is important to check in regularly to take the temperature of your audience; you don't want to see anyone surreptitiously checking their iPhone under the table.
At the end of each section check that everyone understood what it was you were trying to get across.
Encourage participation by asking questions and asking for a show of hands. People tend to fade in and out in your middle section, as this is when their concentration waver's, so it's always a good time to include an exercise that will allow them to talk between themselves.
You can further ward the glazed-eyes away by encouraging questions as you go through. You shouldn't wait to the end to field questions, it is much better to take them at the time they are relevant because it will enable the conversation to flow more easily.
As you near the end, summarise what you have covered and the main message of your presentation.
This is the last opportunity you have to hammer this point home and you want it be the last thing you say, so your audience thinks about them as they leave the room.
Ultimately, this should not have been wasted time for either party – but a worthwhile experience with a clear point of action for the future.
Shaun Thomson is the CEO of Sandler Training