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Four tips to ace your next presentation

Samir Parikh

Achieving the support of an audience will generally require more than the smooth delivery of a few PowerPoint slides. Prior to an important meeting, especially if you anticipate a sceptical or hostile audience, you may find yourself thinking: I have designed my presentation material, but what else will it take?

The following pointers can help you to succeed in a broad range of presentation situations, to both colleagues and senior client executives alike. They consider simple, easy-to-implement practices in four specific areas: Setting the stage as a speaker; Generating interest around the topic; Crafting an audience engagement approach; Handling questions and concerns.

Setting the stage
One of the most underestimated aspects of any presentation is the speaker introduction. The response from your audience will be based upon the strength of your content and the credibility of the person presenting it. Highlight the experience that you will draw upon to illustrate your topic. Don’t rush the introduction, and be personable in tone to position yourself as an interesting speaker. Most importantly, be context-specific and emphasise your credentials relative to the topic. Even if presenting to colleagues who know you well, make sure that you explain what makes you qualified to present on the subject. 

An interesting topic?
Next you will need to generate interest around the topic. Outline the main points that you intend to cover and explain why they are relevant to your audience. Weaving these things into a compelling set of introductory words is an art, and the key is to understand who your audience is and to connect to their reality. Everyone will be asking themselves the same question: What’s in it for me? Real-world examples and references command a high level of attention, particularly those that refer to the perils of poor practice. Do make sure, however, that your presentation provides solutions to any dilemmas that you introduce.

Engagement is a Two-way Process
Prolonged periods of one-way communication are challenging both for a speaker and audience alike. In most presentations you will need some form of interaction and it is advisable to plan your principal interaction points in advance. The benefit of working with smaller audiences is that you can really have a dialogue with them. Facilitate short discussions, and create additional momentum by inviting them to share their own examples to further illustrate your points. Presenting to larger groups lends itself to other techniques, such as polling (asking for a show of hands from those supporting an opinion), or allowing the audience to collectively respond to simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. Try to make your first interaction early in the session. This gives the signal that two-way communication is expected, and people will naturally pay more attention and be ready to respond.

Handling questions
Some presenters prefer to defer questions until the end of their session. While this makes the presenter’s job easier, it is a measure that should be avoided other than in exceptional situations, where the number of questions becomes unmanageable. Whilst good question handling requires preparation, it’s usually better to encourage people to speak up and address their questions in order to secure commitment. Some of the most common ways to handle questions are to: Answer the question, being clear and concise in doing so; Politely defer the question to a later point in your presentation, where it can be answered in a clearer context; Take the question off-line, particularly if the answer is unlikely to be of interest to the wider audience; Take an action item to look into an answer, if appropriate to do so; Use your audience – ask others in the room to propose answers and facilitate a constructive discussion. Try using some of the simple techniques shared in this article and see how they can contribute to your own performance next time you present to inspire.

Samir Parikh is the CEO of SPConsulting AB. His book The Consultant’s Handbook: A Practical Guide to Delivering High-value and Differentiated Services in a Competitive Marketplace is published by Wiley and examines the science behind strong consulting collaborations, supported by industry examples.

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