Three Keys to Giving Effective Presentations
All technologists need presentation skills, whether you’re presenting to one person or to many. As such, here are three tips that I’ve found particularly useful that can help you get your message across.
What is the cognitive effect I want my audience to experience?
Often times, we forget the audience when we’re developing our presentations. It is easy to focus on our subject and just dive right into the content — and hope people catch on. But it is helpful to think about the effect you want your presentation to have BEFORE you start building it.
For example, if you were asked to give a talk on a new technology your team is looking to use, your cognitive effect could either be “to get the team excited about it” or “to teach the team to operate it.” Do you see how those would be wildly different presentations on the same subject?
Knowing your intended effect even before creating your presentation is a great strategy. But don’t leave it only as an initial step. Continually review and ensure that your presentation is meeting this important goal throughout the development of your talk.
Get comfortable with silence
I spent a couple of years in a Toastmasters club, and one of the most important takeaways is that silence is a key part of any presentation.
Most new speakers have an aversion to silence, though. After all, the point of a presentation is to talk, right? So we react and try to fill all of the available time with words.
But silence does a lot of important things: 1) it allows your audience to process what you’ve said, 2) it can be leveraged to create tension and drama for an emotional connection, and 3) it shows your audience that you are at ease, even if you feel like vomiting or passing out.
The power of “Thank You” and “I’ll Get Back to You On That”
One of the most challenging things that can happen during a presentation is when one of your audience members gives you some feedback or asks a challenging question you don’t know the answer to right away.
In the first scenario, if someone speaks up to tell you that you had an error in your presentation — whether or not they are correct — don’t try to argue or defend your point. Just say, “Thank you,” earnestly and sincerely and move on.
Similarly, if an attendee asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to immediately, it’s completely fine in most circumstances to say, “I don’t have that right now, but I’ll get back to you on that.” And after the presentation concludes, follow up with the questioner. This way, you avoid getting derailed and stay in control. But you are also genuinely helpful. None of us knows everything, so it is completely acceptable to say, “I’ll get back to you on that,” and follow through afterward. But danger! Saying you’ll follow up and then never following through is a credibility killer. If you say you will do something, then do everything in your power to do it. I like to have a notebook handy. And as soon as my presentation is over, I write down my takeaways right away so that I don’t forget them later. In other words, do what works for you.
Practice these the next time you give a presentation, and I’m sure you’ll get your message across more effectively.