15/07/2015

By Mark Edwards, author of The Visual Communications Book: Using Words, Drawings and Whiteboards to Sell Big Ideas


On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being ‘outstanding’ and 1 being ‘very poor’) how would you rate yourself as a presenter?

As this is an area where many people are very critical of themselves, it is likely that you will have given yourself a relatively low score (below 6 for sure…and maybe lower still). So, with that in mind, let’s see what we can do to help you lift your score (and your self-esteem) by at least one point; maybe two, or maybe even more.

Firstly, know your stuff. The person who stands at the front of the room with a whiteboard pen (or a mouse clicker) is automatically awarded the role of subject matter expert. Make the most of this opportunity by being the best that you can be with regards to your subject matter and presentation content. A thin veneer of knowledge can be easily lost – whereas a solid, expert knowledge will provide you with the very best platform for presenting.

Secondly, make your content visuals work for you. The phrase ‘Death by PowerPoint’ exists because most presenters use the standard slide wizard to help design their slides. These slides are all too often centred on a list of bullet points; and it’s the mechanical reading of bullet points that kills a presentation. Use diagrams, images, illustrations or photos wherever possible. These allow you to talk about the key points, without restricting you; as is the case when you have bullet points on show.

Thirdly, make your presentation the right length. I am often asked; “How long should a presentation be?” It’s a great question.

After many years of working with companies and individuals to help them create and deliver powerful, engaging presentations, I have come to the conclusion that the presentation should last only as long as the presenter can command the attention of the audience. For some charismatic, confident presenters this might mean that they can easily present for an hour - or maybe even more. For a self-conscious, nervous presenter then the presentation should be contracted - and needs to be pretty short. Maybe as little as five minutes. With a nervous presenter, anything beyond five minutes means that both audience and presenter are going to struggle – and that’s not good for anyone.

You should be able to judge your own ability to command attention – and if it’s high, then feel free to make use of as much time as is possible. If it’s of a middling nature, then keep the presentation tight, and present for the amount of time you think is appropriate for you. If it’s a very low number, then keep the time to a minimum – but make sure to get across all of the points that you need to make.

Finally, after over twenty years of presenting I can also confirm that the more you present – the easier it gets. As such, take the opportunities to present wherever possible. Your progress may not be perfect (it never is) but, over time you will improve. And remember, we all had to start somewhere.