This is a big meaty post with 15 ways to improve your presentations.  These ideas are designed to challenge you to stretch yourself. With each idea I’ve pointed you to further resources from fellow presentation bloggers or from my own archives.

Choose one or two to work on at a time. Bookmark this post, so that once you’ve implemented those, you can come back and work on some more during the year.

1. Customise your presentations for each audience

personalizationDon’t be satisfied with rolling out the same presentation time and time again. Customising your presentation makes a difference. It gets noticed by your audience – and you go up in their estimation. Christophe Harrer from the Empower Your Point blog says:

The real gain comes from your audience’s reciprocity. If they can feel and recognize all the hard-work and extra attention you have put in the presentation for them, they will feel the need to reciprocate. They will listen carefully, ask more questions and probably agree more.

2. Brand your Key Message

mental-velcroYour key message is what you want your audience to do or remember from your presentation. Your key message can be a branding statement for your presentation. Doug Stevenson has a great podcast on how to do this – he calls it mental Velcro. Here’s a quote from Doug:

Branding is about having one consistent message, one consistent imprint that is repeated so often and so consistently that it sticks to the brain of the intended audience like mental Velcro.

3. Switch the focus from yourself to your audience

In a pitching or selling presentation, it’s easy to get caught up in telling your audience about you and your organisation – rather then focusing on them and their needs. John Windsor tells of a construction executive who wanted to show off his firm’s safety award. John coached him to switch his focus to his prospective client:

“We share your concerns about safety on this project and here is how we’re going to manage it.” [then detail three specific aspects] “And as evidence of our commitment and results, we were recently recognized for having the best safety record in the nation for a firm of our size.”

Do you have a section on the credentials of your company – before you get to what your prospective client is really interested in – their own problems and how you can solve them? Leave the credentials out. Once the prospect is interested in what you have to offer they’ll ask questions to ensure that you have the ability to effectively deliver.

4. Delete or explain the jargon in your presentations

Have you been guilty of using jargon without explaining it. M J Plebon of the Presenting Your Point blog talks of the dangers of jargon. He relates his experience with presenting on the topic of “oil/water emulsions”:

Claiming your technology treated an oily water emulsion could have two completely different meanings based on the audience’s background.  Not knowing the difference in the meaning could damage your professional credibility and communicate a confusing message.  One way to remain safe was to define the term oil/water emulsion every time the presentation was made.  This would put everyone on the same page and reference point.

So if you use jargon – assess whether it’s the only way to express your concept succinctly. If it is (and I accept that there are times when it’s the best way) the first time you use it take a few seconds to explain it so that every person in your audience understands you.

5. Increase the percentage of evidence in your presentations

I define evidence as anything that backs-up your points. It includes examples, anecdotes, case studies, statistics, endorsements, testimonials and quotes. I’ve done an analysis of   presentations by Seth Godin, Al Gore, and Malcolm Gladwellpercentage-evidence

Using evidence in your presentations enhances both your credibility and audience engagement. Analyse the percentage of evidence in your presentations – do you reach the level of Gore, Godin and Gladwell?

6. Incorporate dialogue into your stories

Incorporating dialogue into your stories draws the audience in and invites them to identify with the characters in your story. Anytime a story has more than one person you have an opportunity to add dialogue. Steve Boyd has a couple of posts on using dialogue Conversations in Presentations and Add Spice to your Speech with Dialogue. He tells a couple of traditional dialogue-based stories, but then explains how you can add dialogue to spice up any story:

The dialogue could even be a way of giving information, such as relating a case study that involved two or three people. You simply report on what they say. For example, a new employee was part of a question and answer session with the CEO of the company. He asked, “What is the skill you have that has meant the most in getting to be president of this company. His answer was, “I have learned to listen.”

7. Pay attention to staging

Andrew Dlugan says this about staging:

Staging your speech means utilizing the 3-dimensional space around you in the most effective way possible.

  • Novice speakers will chain themselves to the lectern or stand in one spot on the middle of the stage.
  • Intermediate speakers will meander randomly around the speaking area. Body movement appeals to the audience and keeps attention.
  • Great speakers move around the speaking area with purpose. Every time they take a few steps, they are doing so with a distinct purpose in mind.

Are you ready to move to the level of great speakers? Check out my post 9 ways to use space in your presentation.

8. Take questions throughout your presentation

When you’re just starting out presenting, it makes sense to take questions near the end of your presentation. It’s more manageable and there’s less risk that you’ll go off track. But from the audience’s point of view, being able to ask a question at the time that it occurs to them is ideal. So challenge yourself to take questions throughout. A half-way place is to break your presentation into modules – and take questions at the end of each module. Check out my post 8 tips for encouraging questions in your presentation.

9. Refresh your attitude to hostile questioners

It’s easy to get on the defensive when somebody questions you aggressively. Terry Gault of Speak Fearlessly has a great post on dealing calmly with provocative people.

10. Give your slides a facelift

Have you been using the same slides for some time? Chances are they’re looking a bit dated. Give them a face-lift. This will be much easier if you’ve updated to PowerPoint 2007 (see below). Here are some things to do:

11. Upgrade to PowerPoint 2007

The drop-shadows in PowerPoint 2003 are so bad, I would be embarrassed to use them. Powerpoint 2007 enables you to go another level in terms of your Powerpoint slide design.  Check out this post from Robert Lane of Aspire Communications reviewing PowerPoint 2007.

12. Add a flipchart to your visual aids

Providing variety is a simple way of keeping an audience engaged. Mixing up your powerPoint with a flipchart does just that.

Hand-drawing on a flipchart is dynamic and real. As I describe in my post The Power of the Flipchart it provides an energy that PowerPoint can’t match.

13. Improve your drawing skills

Yes, I did this and you can too. I can now draw a better stick figure. Check out Dave Gray’s How to draw a Stick Figure to get you started.

14. Think like a designer

You may think that you’re not a designer. But design is no longer just for designers. If you’re presenting with Powerpoint, you need to develop your sensitivity to good and bad designs and what makes them so. Check out Garr Reynolds’ post on design books and listen to his webinar on How to think like a designer (you have to enter your name and e-mail address to listen – but it’s worth it).

15. Rehearse before each presentation

I’ve blogged before on the benefits of rehearsal. So has just about every other public speaking/presentation blogger (see my post on rehearsal for links). It’s probably the single most powerful thing you can do to improve the quality of your presentation.

Hey, that’s it. 15 ways to improve your presentations. What would you add to this list? What do you plan to do to improve your presentations in 2009? Tell us in the Comments.

And don’t forget to bookmark this post so that you can come back to it through the year and choose another aspect of your presenting skills to work on.

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