"Maybe I should have prepared a bit more."
I'll admit it. I've said these words to myself right before stepping in front of a group to make a presentation or pitch. I feel sorry for both the audience and myself before even getting started.
This feeling of regret comes in part from my constant belief that I could have done more -- and from the knowledge that I actually could have done more. For me, rehearsals tend to get pushed down on my "to do" list. They sure are important, but lack the sense of urgency that most of my daily work has... until moments before I'm about to take the microphone.
This trait doesn't benefit me. However, I've learned lessons about presenting during these awkward moments that might benefit you before you're in front of a crowd.
- Plant your feet- you'll look and feel more grounded. Stay rooted for the first three minutes while you get acclimated, then feel free to move around.
- Make a lame joke. Assuming you're anywhere but the Improv, you'll get a chuckle. The audience will appreciate the gesture, even if you're not objectively funny.
- Take a pause. Traditional advice suggests you take it slow. What's better is to periodically pause. Catch your breath, think of your next point, and allow your last statement to sink in.
- Find a friendly face. Your audience wants you to do well -- because it makes the experience better for them. There will always be 2-3 people in the room who will show their support on their faces with early smiles and nodding. Find and connect with them while you win others over.
- Write your presentation in a tweet. You may or may not actually send that tweet, but challenge yourself to summarize your main point. Sprinkle this statement -- or variations of it -- throughout your presentation to drive your point home.
- Have a point. It seems obvious, but too often we get up to share information without a main point. Pull out one new, critically important fact or call to action. If you can't find it, reschedule your presentation to a time when you do. Don't waste people's time.
- Don't read -- unless you must. No one enjoys listening to someone read material they can read themselves on the screen. There's a caveat here, though. If you're truly a terrible presenter (who is surely talented at other things) but have something important to say, go ahead and write it down. Ideally, you write out your important points in your notes (not on the slide) and then read them. It's better that you get the information out there than forego the opportunity to make an impact.
- Tell three short stories. You've heard that you should "tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em, tell 'em, and then tell 'em what you told 'em," right? The better approach is to tell three short stories. The first demonstrates why you care (and, hence, why the audience should too). The second story describes the solution in action. The third story illustrates the impact or benefit of implementing that solution.
- Speak to the person in the last row. If you're speaking into a microphone, you'll need to ensure everyone can hear you. Project your voice as if you're talking to the person in the back of the room. It might seem like you're yelling, but don't worry, you're not.
These are just some of the lessons I've learned the hard way -- by having many awkward moments in front of a crowd. The good news is that you can always improve on your last presentation performance by employing these all -- or even just a few -- of these techniques.
When presenting, your focus should always remain on your audience and their experience. You dramatically increase the chances of them absorbing and retaining your message by making some simple but important tweaks to your approach.