Presentation skills

According to author Suzy Siddons: “A good presentation contains many of the same constituents as a good restaurant meal. The participants should be hungry. The chef should be at least competent, if not inspired. The menu should be tempting, understandable and offer a range of choices to all the diners. The ingredients should be the best possible.”1 And she’s right. The thing that whets your appetite the most for a meal is the first impression. Even if a meal surprises you because it tastes better than it looks, your mood for the meal is set from the moment you see it.

The same is true of presentations. Try to think of the best presentation you have ever heard. You probably knew you were going to enjoy the presentation within the first few moments, when the speaker opened “with a bang” or said or did something to raise your curiosity about what was to follow. Good, memorable presentations do not happen by accident. They are carefully planned and competently delivered. In this article I will focus on the two key elements for giving effective presentations: preparation and delivery.

Preparation

What you say

Like any other form of communication, in order for a presentation to be effective you have to consider your audience and you have to think of structure. Think about other forms of communication such as newspaper articles or radio programmes. Your interest in reading or listening is aroused by the introduction. The body of the story contains the detail and at the end, there should be some kind of summary. For any presentation to be successful the same rules apply — it must have an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

But before you even think about how to structure a presentation you have to know why it is being given in the first place. If you have been invited to give an after dinner presentation then it is most likely that you will be expected to entertain the audience. For most other types of presentation your audience will expect to be instructed, persuaded, inspired or motivated and you need to have a strategy for meeting these expectations.

Who are your audience?

Knowing your audience is fundamental to pitching your presentation at the right level. For example, will the audience be experts in a particular field, a mixture of health care professional or a group of pregnant women? It is impossible for a presentation to meet the needs of all, so the safest option is to aim for the middle. It might also be prudent to check with the organisers on any audience history. For example, have members of the audience had negative experiences with the organisation that you represent in the past? Being aware that your audience might be predisposed to negative feelings can help you to tailor your presentation to take account of previous difficulties or at least to be prepared for a hostile audience, eg, by anticipating divisive questions. If you do encounter a difficult audience, always try to remain friendly and calm.

Preparing your subject matter

Having identified the purpose of your presentation and armed with knowledge about your audience, you can start to prepare your information. Gather information that you know will be relevant to the needs of your audience and their level of expertise and experience. Sort your information into a logical order much as you would do if you were writing an essay. Become familiar with the subject not just by reading about it but by thinking it through.

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Citation: The Salvadore URI: 10981952

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