You should be making presentations at work. There is no more powerful method for communicating ideas, building value, earning respect and gaining support than standing in front of a group and speaking with passion.
Nevertheless, most of us have been the victim of terrible experiences in the conference room. We’ve been tortured by PowerPoint and bored to death by long-winded speakers. What are the best practices for productive presentations at work?
Commit to Preparation – This might seem obvious, but so many lectures fall flat because the presenter didn’t spend enough time getting ready. Allocate at least ten times as much space on your calendar to get ready as you do in the actual speech. That means an hour with your audience requires at least ten hours of preparation.
Tell a Story (But Don’t Be the Hero) – Your job is to craft a narrative, which means you need a beginning, middle and an end. Use analogies, humor and suspense. Set up problems and show solutions. And throughout, remember that you are the mentor, not the hero. Help the audience to identify with others, not you.
Never Read Aloud – If you place words on a slide or in a handout, never read them aloud yourself. There are few experiences more frustrating for an audience member than a narrator droning a bunch of words that the audience can read for themselves. The only exception to this rule is quotations—but even that works better if you ask someone in the group to say it for you.
Eye Contact and Pacing – You must look at your audience, and not just at one person. In the same way, you must give your audience time to digest ideas. Pause. Take breaks. Ask people to turn to each other to discuss what you just covered. Anything to create rhythm.
Deliver Action Items – People who experience a presentation deserve a gift. The best present you can offer is not a free lunch or a t-shirt, but clear next steps. This may require handouts or crisp phrases, but you want to ensure that people have something they can take back and put into action.
Follow these best practices and your presentations will not only be entertaining—they will be productive. They will inspire and engage your audience. Your words and images will help them make the right choice and pursue the next step.
Robby Slaughter is a principal with AccelaWork.