Awesome You Be


Jeffrey Baumgartner speaking at TEDx event

How to Design and Deliver an Awesome Presentation in Nine Steps

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

There is a lot of information and misinformation on the web about giving presentations. This article differs from those articles, blog posts and other collections of words in that it is far better. Read it, follow my instructions and your next presentation will be awesome. And you will never have to read another article on presentations ever again.

1. Clarify what you wish to accomplish

Why the hell are you giving a presentation? Are you trying to sell a product? Are you introducing your company? Are you presenting something at a conference because your company is a sponsor of the conference thus garnering a free time slot? Have you been asked to speak at your local TEDx event? Have you decided to become a professional keynote speaker?

This is important. If you are selling a product, you may be tempted to bore your audience to tears with details about your company. Don't. Audiences do not like being bored to tears. If you are speaking as a vendor at a conference, do not be all salesy. Lots of vendors do this and, audience members use these periods to catch up on email, grab a coffee or flirt with the good looking rep from the logistics software company. What they will not do is pay attention to you. Instead, wow your audience with information, a story or an argument that surprises them and impresses them. As a rule of thumb, people prefer to do business with companies that impress them rather than aggressively sell to them or bore them.

If you've been invited to speak at a TEDx or other show-yourself-off event, think about what you want to do beyond show yourself off. At these events, you are not allowed to sell yourself or products. But, again, if you impress people, they will want to check you out and possibly buy from you.

On the other hand, you may be hoping to get funding for research, change a popular belief or just impress people of the opposite sex. That's cool. Just bear in mind what you intend to do as you design your presentation and, if you're going for the last item, dress well and wear something red.

2. Structure

It is important to give your presentation a structure. An explosion of slides with bullet points, graphs and quotes is not a structure. It is an embarrassment. A good structure makes it easy for you to remember your presentation and makes it easy for the audience to follow it. There are basically three structures for presentations.

A story is a great structure. Everyone loves a story. It is easy to remember, flows nicely and usually gets good feedback. I would argue that stories do not even need to be true provided they are realistic or so unrealistic the audience gets that your story is fiction.

An argument is when you try to convince an audience why you they really should see things your way. A typical argument structure starts with a hypothesis and then presents facts to prove or at least strengthen the argument. Arguments are often used in science and research. But they can also be used to sell a new concept or a new way of doing things.

A logical progression is following a path based on logic, for example it could be used to present present results of a test over time or the financial reports on a country by country basis. The logical progression is the hardest structure to make interesting, but sometimes it seems your only option. For example, if you need to present your business unit's financial results for the last year, a logical progression is the logical approach.

If you feel a logical progression is the obvious choice for you, try getting creative instead. Perhaps you can weave a story around a presentation on financial results. Maybe you need to report on results in your region. You could tell a story of a typical customer using your company's products and weave the results into the story.

3. Work out what you need to say and discard the rest

Once you have your structure, you need to fit your presentation to it. Often this is easy because the structure almost guides the content into it.

However, you may be tempted to try and shove too much content into your structure which is a sure way to damage the structure and bore the audience. Think about it. When was the last time you commented during a coffee break at a conference, "gosh I'm glad that guy explained in excruciating detail 17 ways to use his product?"

Work out what you really and truly need to say and dispose of the rest. You'll make your point better, you will be more interesting and there will be fewer details you'll need to remember come presentation time.

4. Knock the audience's socks off immediately

Jeffrey Baumgartner near conference centre in Mumbai, IndiaIf you can catch the audience's attention in the first few seconds of your presentation, you will have them in your pocket and it will be easy to maintain their attention. If you do not get their attention right away, you will have to fight to get it later in the speech. So, start with something to get their attention. Do not start with, "Um, hi. I am Jeffrey Paul Baumgartner, but most people call me Jeffrey. Ha ha. And I am here to talk with you about the eating habits of Belgian rabbits, sorry, I meant Australian rabbits. I live in Belgium you see. Where was I...?" This will not impress them. Instead, just dive in, grab the audience by their figurative lapels and knock their socks off.

There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to ask the audience a question that involves putting their hands up. Another involves saying something that surprises them. The third involves making them laugh. If you can do all three, that's rather good! I've done it. In my anticonventional thinking (ACT) talks, I ask the audience to put their hands up if they have ever participated in a traditional brainstorm. Nearly everyone's hand goes up. Then I ask them to put their hands up if they have ever participated in such a brainstorm where a truly creative idea was suggested, selected as best and implemented. At most, two or three hands go up. Everyone else looks around and laughs. Then I tell them why ACT is better than brainstorming.

Some fools suggest telling a joke. They are wrong. Unless you are a natural joke-teller or a professional comedian, it will probably fall flat. A short, funny story that is relevant to your talk, on the other hand, could work.

Now, you may be concerned that you should introduce yourself early on so the audience knows who you are. In response, I say two things. Firstly, everyone should have a meeting agenda or a programme (in the case of a conference) so they can find out who you are. Secondly, you are much better off if your talk is so good, people hurriedly check those programme and agendas to work out how you are and, even better, seek you out after the presentation. If you need to tell people who you are, your presentation is not good enough.

5. Then get your main point across ASAP

Apparently, people best remember the beginning of your talk, their next best recollection is of the end of your talk and the bit in the middle of your talk is least well remembered. So, your best approach is to tell your audience what you are going to say, say it and then tell them what you have said. If the audience does not get your point after that, they are either dead or do not speak your language, in which case there is not much you can do.

6. Memorise the first five minutes and the structure

Whenever I do a speech, I practice it numerous times to refine it, remember it and ensure it sticks to the schedule. But, I only really worry about the first five minutes and the structure. That's because I know I am most likely to be nervous when I step out onto stage. So, I want to be able to start the speech on autopilot. Once I get going and feel the audience's energy, my confidence returns. From that point, I only need to remember the structure in order to complete the speech. This technique also provides some room for the unexpected, for example discovering at the last minute that I have more time or less time than expected.

7. Reframe your stage fright

It is natural to be nervous before a speech. Even highly professional keynote speakers get nervous. Most actors get nervous before going on stage. In fact, being a little nervous is probably a good thing. Overconfidence often causes more problems than stage fright when it comes to presentations.

Nevertheless, stage fright can be frightening. One useful tip is to reframe the feeling. Anxiety feels a lot like excitement, doesn't it? So, instead of saying "I feel scared about this presentation," say "I feel excited about the opportunity this presentation is providing me."

No, it won't remove the anxiety entirely, but it should reduce the anxiety, especially if you can have a convincing argument with your inner voice.

8. Twenty minutes

People generally have a twenty minute attention span for listening to a talk. So, if you have any say in how long your presentation will be, aim for fifteen to twenty minutes. If you do not have a say and you are required to speak longer than 20 minutes, find ways to break your speech up into smaller chunks, each of which is no more than 20 minutes. For instance, you might pose a question to the audience and invite people to share answers. Or you might give the audience a little exercise to complete, such as a self analysis quiz that is relevant to the next part of your presentation.

You could just say, "wow, we've been sitting too long. Let's stretch a bit." Then lead the audience in a couple of simple stretch exercises. It may seem silly, but it works.

Whatever amount of time you are allotted, stick to it or even finish a couple of minutes early. It is better that the audience wishes you had spoke longer than they feel you spoke too long. Also, at a conference, going over your allotted time is unfair to people speaking later in the conference.

I was recently very annoyed at a conference where not only did most speakers go over their allotted time, the moderator allowed it and even encouraged it. As a result, my 2.5 hour workshop scheduled for 15h30 only started at 17h30, by which time participants were understandably restless from so much sitting and listening. I will never do another gig with them.

9. Presentation

Back in the very late 90s and early 00s, when I started speaking at conferences, I noticed something. The quality of the speaker was almost always directly proportional to the minimalism of her slides. The people with the slickest, most impressive slides tended to be dull speakers whereas those who had really simple, basic slides tended to be really good. Aim to do the same yourself. Focus your effort on your talk rather than on your slides − or do without slides all together. Think about the most impressive talks you have seen. Are you thinking about PowerPointless slides or are you thinking about people giving great talks?

Needless-to-say, avoid bullet points and especially avoid lots of bullet points. God kills a puppy every time you use a bullet point and you do not want to be responsible for a puppy slaughter, do you? Also, avoid lots of text. You did not go to this conference, or meeting to give people something to read. You came to present. If the audience needs detailed info, give them a handout to read later.

These days, if I use slides they are usually slides of my cartoons used to illustrate points. Sometimes, if a particular word is critical, I create a slide that includes only that word. I do this simply because if I do not someone will ask me to repeat the word or even spell it.

That said, some of my best talks have been just me, in part because I know I cannot fall back on the slide to remind of what I intend to say next.

You're ready!

That's it. Now, you know everything you need to know about preparing and giving awesome presentations. So, go out there, my friend, and impress them!


In-House Workshop: How to Design & Deliver Awesome Presentations

Would your organisation benefit if you and your colleagues could deliver better, more original and more professional presentations? If so, check out my workshops on how to design and deliver awesome presentations. Or contact me directly.




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