A strong presentation conveys information in a clear, logical way and keeps the audience engaged. But how can you prepare for these public speaking events and ensure your key messages lead to the outcomes you want?
The AOE team recently had the pleasure of attending a webinar about presentations by the American Concrete Pipe Association’s VP of Marketing, Michael Kramer. Throughout his 20-year career, Kramer has spent a lot of time on the speaking circuit. He also teaches a marketing class at a community college, which includes guiding students through the ins and outs of becoming “ACE” presenters. He shared several tips to help novice and expert speakers alike deliver more effective in-person learning sessions, online webinars and other types of presentations. Below, we share the highlights on how to become an ACE presenter below.
ACE = Authentic, Confident, Engaging
Being your authentic self, developing confidence in your presentation material and how you deliver it, and acquiring the tools to help engage your audience are at the core of being a successful presenter. Let’s look at some ways to accomplish each of these objectives.
Authentic: Be yourself! If you’re good at telling jokes, then open with a joke to grab people’s attention. If you don’t consider yourself funny, don’t risk telling a joke that may fall flat or alienate your audience. If you like to tell stories and share personal experiences, do that—but don’t make up or embellish a story for the sake of the presentation. The best stories are the ones you know by heart. If you have a straightforward personality, there is nothing wrong with introducing yourself and launching straight into the presentation. Every person is different and has their own style.
Confidence: There are several components to both building confidence and coming across as confident during the presentation. Externally, dressing for your audience—and appropriately—goes a long way in showing confidence. The speaker should be the best dressed in the room, says Kramer, but not to the point that they look out of place. Internally, presenters should practice self-care and do what makes them feel at their best before the big event. This could mean getting a good night’s sleep the night before or eating a light breakfast and taking a brisk walk to avoid feeling sluggish during the presentation. Also consider going easy on the caffeine to avoid feeling jittery, if that’s what caffeine does to you.
Delivering a presentation with confidence also requires that you know the material to be covered and practice your delivery enough to feel comfortable—and don’t venture into the unknown. Stay in your lane, cautions Kramer, and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know something. If asked questions you cannot answer, it’s best to say you don’t know the answer but will find it and get back to them at a later time. If tasked with presenting a topic outside your expertise, consider bringing in a co-presenter with that experience.
Engaging. There are several ice breakers that can be used to grab your audience’s attention, including the jokes and storytelling mentioned above. Another tactic is to share facts and statistics that may surprise them. Be sure to share how the topic relates to them and their jobs or industry. But to keep their attention, you must think about what you want them to learn or what actions you want them to take afterward.
What are your presentation goals?
When outlining a presentation and writing the script, begin with the end result in mind. Consider the top two or three takeaways you want your audience to remember. Do you want them to know that concrete is the best building material or to understand how to perform a certain task? Do you want them to contact their congressperson or advocate safety practices to co-workers or jobsite partners? Stick to fleshing out two or three key talking points that support how you want your audience to engage with your message—additional information and resources can be provided via website links and take-home materials, including the presentation slides.
When using presentation slides, ensure each slide and image has a reason for being there and is relevant to the topic. Make the slides as visually appealing as possible without adding extra “noise” to them (i.e., unrelated images just because they’re cute). Your slides also should serve as your cues for your next talking points or information drops.
Below are a few more tips to improve your presentation skills:
Get critiqued. Practice a run-through in front of colleagues or family.
Minimize distractions, including phones and other devices that might deliver alerts and incoming messages.
Use a microphone to ensure everybody can hear you—and make sure the audio is working beforehand.
Use note cards or notes to remind yourself of the most important talking points to share.
If presenting virtually, look at the camera. This ensures the online audience members see you as looking at them.
Understand your online platform—how to use it and its features, such as Zoom polls.
Prepare for disaster. This could mean having an extra laptop with your presentation on the hard drive and having an IT or tech-savvy person on hand for support.
Arrive early, and don’t go over your allotted time.
Relax! The people in the audience are not grading you and want you to succeed.
According to Kramer, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to speaking to an audience—and there is no such thing as a perfect presentation! However, following these tips and taking opportunities to practice your speaking skills will greatly increase your effectiveness. If you need help preparing a presentation that resonates with your audience, contact AOE!