A great presentation is like a gourmet meal. It requires quality ingredients, lots of planning, and careful preparation. But if you've never made Boeuf Bourguignon or whipped up a fluffy soufflé, you'll find out that your beef stew and Betty Crocker cake doesn't stand up to the scrutiny of your expectant audience. Recently, I shared the 21 Habits That Make Your Presentation Look Unprofessional. It's fine to know what not to do, but it would help you to know how pros make presentations phenomenal.
Once you cross the line into speaking for pay at large events, the expectations are extreme, and you don't get many chances to show you can be entertaining and informative. Despite a degree in theatre and years of experience speaking at company gatherings and marketing sessions, when I committed to speaking as part of making a living, I had to seriously up my game.
As I prepare to speak on brand-new material at the Inc. 5000 Conference this week, I thought I would give you an inside look at my approach to delivering a highly impactful and memorable presentation.
1. Make the concept relevant and focused.
One of the biggest mistakes amateur presenters make is assuming everything they say is interesting. It is -- to THEMSELVES. As a pro, you are responsible for the experience of the audience, so you need create your presentation with the audience as a priority. Ask yourself the following questions: What will keep their interest? What will they learn that they can use right away? You must prioritize your information. Every sentence cannot get equal emphasis. Context is important, but if you overload an audience with small details they will likely miss the big, compelling takeaways.
2. Use slides and technology sparingly.
PowerPoint is generally a crutch for the amateur presenter. Visual reinforcement can help make a great speech connect, but it won't make a poor presentation better. Design your presentation without slides or videos and then determine if and how visuals can add to the audience experience in a meaningful way. Many professional speakers are stepping away from the slide-show approach and focusing on making a face-to-face audience connection.
3. Give people something to do.
An hour is a long time to sit and listen to someone, even if they are energetic and entertaining. People need to engage with the speaker and the information in order to get real value. Create quick, simple, and powerful exercises that help the audience internalize the concepts you are sharing. Make them want to pull out those notes as soon as they get home.
4. Create "Aha!" moments.
You are there to entertain and teach the audience valuable concepts. The surest way to do that is to help them think in a new way. Figure out where their conventional thinking differs from your approach and design key parts of the presentation around those moments of surprise and realization. These are the memorable insights that will last weeks or months after they heard you.
5. Memorize the concepts AND the script.
Audiences know an amateur the second the notes come out or the presenter looks at the screen as a reminder. This is your material. If you don't own it, you can't expect the audience to respect you as an expert. The variables for speeches can be plenty. Technical problems may occur, an audience can be unruly, or something emotional could happen to you right before your presentation. Your best safety net is owning your material at its core so you can improvise with whatever the presentation gods throw at you.
6. Practice until you are bored.
The largest difference between an amateur speaker and a pro is the rehearsal time. I generally work through a presentation 15 to 20 times before actually delivering it. I work out all of the quirks and challenges so it can run as perfectly as possible. My first audiences are just as entitled to a polished presentation as the ones who see it a year later. Once I am well practiced, I feel confident and relaxed when I go out on stage.
7. Summon happy energy.
The downside of extensive rehearsing is that it can make your presentation feel tired and stale. Your job as a pro is to bring fresh excitement to the same material you have been delivering for years. If a Broadway performer can make their performance feel fresh and new eight times a week, you can certainly get pumped up a few times a month. Be energetic and enthusiastic about your material and the audience will feed off the positive energy. A genuine smile goes a long way in brightening the mood for both you and the audience.
8. Warm up your body and voice.
You don't want to appear stiff on stage, nor do you want to mumble. Fifteen minutes before you go out, loosen your body with some stretches and a touch of cardio. Move your mouth with a few tongue twisters and stretch the muscles in your face. If you are loose and mobile, you and the audience will focus more on what you have to say, rather than your challenge in saying it clearly. Now go out there and knock 'em dead!