I Have to Present This? In Front of People?

I remember an early client of mine. She was a graduate student who had written a paper on the value of beauty. The paper included complex philosophical ideas and extensively covered the realm of beauty as an ideal. She did excellently on the paper. In fact, she was asked to present it to a panel of professors. She turned to me for help, because writing a ten page paper and having to present it to an audience over the course of 10-15 minutes are two different things. So how is it done? There are various formats, including an informal discussion, or a frontal presentation. She delivered a frontal presentation, but together we found ways to make it interactive, so that the audience would remain engaged.

Here are some of the basic building blocks to building a presentation. They can be applied to various kinds of presentations.

First, answer the following questions before beginning to prepare your presentation.

1. What is the goal of my presentation? What do I want the audience to walk away remembering?

2. Who is the audience? Is there something they want or need to hear? Is the presentation for industry engineers, scholars, or for potential lay consumers? Do I anticipate a hostile audience? Will I need to address some challenging questions?

With this information in mind, begin with listing the few main messages of the presentation. This is the short-term purpose of your presentation- you want the audience to receive these messages. A long term purpose may be to create a business partnership, to obtain new clients, to get hired, etc.

Now add to those messages, some tools from the presentation toolbox, which will help emphasize, clarify, and sharpen the messages. You can do this by including example stories, fact and figures, props, and visual aids. This is all the supplemental information which will strengthen the message, helping transmit the message in various ways, so your audience will get it. Some people react better to visual aids, while others will relate more to a story, which makes the information more personal and applicable to their lives.

Once you have prepared the main messages and their supporting information, you have the body of the presentation. If you anticipate questions and are anxious about being able to answer them on the spot, prepare. List for yourself all the questions you can anticipate, both the ones you don’t mind being asked, and also the ones you hope are not asked. Once you can address those tough questions, you should feel ready, having done your best to thoroughly prepare. And if you cannot answer some questions, that doesn’t signify defeat. In many circumstances saying you cannot answer is a legitimate response. Be sure, however, to offer a reason for not being able to answer, as well as something you can offer. You can say something like, “I can’t give you the final numbers of sales for this year, because we are still in the process of calculating the figures. But what I can tell you is that we have seen an increase in sales over the last year. ”

Now you need to add the introduction and the conclusion. Without these, you don’t have the frame for the image or message you are trying to create.

The introduction should include something that will get the audience’s attention. I don’t mean a loud bang. I mean some piece of information which will get them interested. It can establish you as an expert on your topic, thus giving them a rationale for why it’s worth listening to you. It can also introduce the topic and its importance in a way which relates to them. It should answer the question of why they should listen to you. It can also surprise them with something unknown, leaving them wanting to know more. And when you have that attention, tell them what the presentation will cover. Let them know what to expect.

The conclusion is essential, in that this will probably be what the audience takes away at the end of the presentation. You want to summarize those main messages again for them to take home. This isn’t the place to add new supporting information. You’ve done that already. This is the time to drill it into them. You can also bring it all full circle by closing with a reference to something you mentioned at the beginning of the presentation.

Statistics show that people will mostly remember the first and last things you say in a presentation. That doesn’t mean that the middle or body is insignificant. It’s actually your base for proving your points. But remember to use the beginning to command attention and establish yourself as worth being heard, and use the end to remind them of the important things to remember.

There is a lot more to building a stellar presentation, as well as a lot more tools in the toolbox, such as humor, vocal variation, hand and facial gestures, etc. This is a basic sketch of a structured presentation and should prove helpful in working to deliver your message.

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