Last week I moderated a panel at the annual Cincinnati VMware User Group conference with some great panelists. As a moderator, I had a pretty simple job: enable the panel to educate and entertain the audience. Ask some questions, engage the audience, and don’t let anyone ramble on. Pretty straight forward, but when I got off stage one of the staff members commented that it was hard to find IT people who are decent at speaking to a large audience. I dismissed his comment at the time, but it got me thinking about being a high school freshman. That was the first year I had to write and give an actual presentation to the class. I don’t remember the topic at all, but what I do remember was being filled with anxiety at the seemingly daunting task in front of me. Everyone is looking at you, judging you, waiting for you to fail. Ok, so maybe they didn’t want me to fail, but try telling my scare high school self that. I managed to get through my high school presentations and many more since then. I wanted to take some time and share my tips for really giving a great presentation.
Any good presentation or speech follows the same path as a great story, and that starts with a narrative. A single thread or theme that connects your entire presentation together. This can be something you’re trying to prove or teach to the audience or something else. Having a single thought out and simple narrative forces your presentation to stay on topic and let’s sell your material. It’s important that you keep your presentation simple relative to the audience and point you’re making. It’s way too easy for people to become distractive with phone and social media if you’re presentation is too complex.
One key to giving a winning presentation is always to be giving or educating to your audience. You want the audience to gain something by listening to you speak, and an important key to that is repetition. Repetition cements a thought in the audience’s head. The classic way to do this is a three step process:
- Tell the audience what key thoughts they should be taking away from your presentation. You can say things like “The one thing I want you to take away is..” or “If you only get one thing from our time together it should be…”.
- Actually tell them the key thoughts you promised.
- Remind the audience of the key takeaways.
While educating the audience is very important, equally important is to entertain the audience. To be entertaining, you have to be energetic and deliver you content effectively. That means having vocal variety and not speaking in a monotone voice. Human nature is to ignore and dismiss monotonous content. Nothing makes an audience disconnect from you than speaking like a robot. Also important is to deliver content at an appropriate speed. Sometimes you have to slow down when delivering some parts of the content for it to resonate with the audience. Great content doesn’t matter if not paired with good cadence, energy, and vocal variety. Being energetic and loud won’t make your presentation great, but being boring and quiet will make it bad.
The last point I want to make is to spend some time and understand your audience. If you don’t know your audience, you’ll never be able to make a real connection with them. If you were talking to a room full of financial advisors, a presentation of storage latency isn’t going to go over very well. Knowing your audience lets to connect and build rapport with them. No one in the audience wants you to fail. They are all in the room because they want to hear what you have to say. If you connect with them, educate and entertain them, giving a presentation or speech can be an invaluable reward.