You could say that Matt Hill is familiar with speaking in front of large groups. As owner of The Hill Group, a homebased sales training business in San Jose, California, Hill makes a living giving training courses on how to sell effectively at trade shows. Just because he's experienced doesn't mean his speaking engagements have gotten any easier, however. "It's a real challenge when all you have to sell is yourself," says Hill, 44.
While most of us don't give speeches for a living (whew!), many homebased business owners have, on occasion, been put in the same nerve-racking position Hill faces almost every day. When giving presentations for sales calls or meetings, it's often just you in front of a group of people, selling your business, your ideas and, ultimately, yourself.
For Hill, however, owning the appropriate presentation technology relieved some of his stress. A few years ago, he tossed out his overhead projector in favor of a Lightbook LCD multimedia projector from Proxima, which connects to his notebook computer to display presentations. The result, says Hill, is a more interesting, professional-looking presentation created with advanced software that is displayed in full-color and larger than the computer screen. It's jazzed up his image quite a bit as well. "Using really cool technology is what differentiates me from the competition," Hill says.
Electronic presentation technology has come a long way since the days of overhead projectors. LCD projectors have slimmed down, so they're not as bulky and heavy to carry. They also have computer and video inputs to bring true multimedia capabilities to your presentations. What's more, presentation software has become easier to use, and it's possible to produce extremely high-quality presentations in very little time.
But excellent features aren't the only reasons to consider investing in presentation technology. Another key benefit: Owning the equipment gives you more control over the presentation because you're not relying on any unknown elements (namely, your clients' equipment). "Having the right technology and knowing how to work it is a real advantage because you don't have the anxiety of arriving and not knowing how to set up and use the equipment," says Claudyne Wilder, co-author of Point, Click and Wow! A Quick Guide to Brilliant Laptop Presentations (Pfeiffer & Co.) and president of Wilder Presentations, a Boston-based presentation training company.
Furthermore, with prices for LCD projectors and notebook computers continuing to head south, these tools are now more of an option than ever for homebased businesses.
If you typically give presentations to groups of more than two or three people, consider an LCD projector. When hooked up with a notebook computer, an LCD projector displays your presentations on a wall where everyone can easily view them, eliminating the need for clients to crowd around a tiny notebook computer screen. An LCD projector also shows your presentations in brilliant, high-quality colors so they're attractive to watch.
Two of the most important considerations? The LCD projector's weight and image brightness. Many vendors offer a line of portable projectors that are smaller than standard LCD projectors and considerably lighter, typically weighing from 13 to 19 pounds. If portability is your top concern, you may find the "ultra-portables," which can weigh less than 10 pounds, an even better solution. But keep in mind that choosing a smaller, lighter model may mean compromising on certain functions.
Image brightness is most commonly measured by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) lumens. The higher the ANSI lumen rating, the brighter the picture. Models on the lower end of the scale hover around the 200 ANSI lumen range while higher-end models go up to 600 lumens. Unless you have very advanced needs, LCD projectors in the 200 to 300 ANSI lumen range will work just fine.
A very affordable, entry-level LCD projector is the LP225 ($3,899) from In Focus Systems. It weighs about 16 pounds and comes with just the basics: 250 ANSI lumens, a TFT active-matrix display, and standard SVGA (800 x 600) and VGA (640 x 480) resolution. If these features meet your criteria, then the LP225 is a sensible solution. An optional Smart Remote to control your presentation from anywhere in the room is also available.
A more advanced model--but one that's still well within most homebased budgets--is Proxima's Lightbook 20 ($4,995). This ultra-portable model's most notable features are its weight and size. The Lightbook 20 weighs a modest 11 pounds and its design is very compact (9.4 by 13.5 by 4.9 inches), so it's a viable solution if you travel a fair amount and need to take it with you. It has 200 ANSI lumens, SVGA and VGA resolution, and a TFT active-matrix display. More advanced functions include a LightBoard drawing tool for highlighting and drawing on a projected image, and Keystone automatic image correction.
If you give presentations to small groups but don't want to use an LCD projector, Sigma Data has a solution called SigmaVision ($1,595). The 10.4-inch TFT active-matrix portable screen plugs into the VGA port of your notebook computer so that up to five people can view your presentation without crowding around a single laptop display. Powered by a rechargeable Duracell NiMH battery that runs up to 21¦2 hours, the SigmaVision weighs less than 4 pounds so it's easy to bring along as a second screen for viewing presentations.
Will you be showing your presentation on-screen? And how frequently must you travel with your notebook computer? These are the two main questions you'll want to ask yourself when sizing up notebook computers for giving presentations. Although just about any of them will work, screen size and quality become very important if you'll be showing presentations on-screen. Also, if you travel frequently and have to carry your presentation materials and LCD projector, every ounce will count.
Some of the new notebook models also come with large 13-inch screens that are the best available for viewing presentations. What's more, many have built-in stereo sound, high-quality color screens, and plenty of power to show a memorable presentation packed with graphics, animation and video.
Dell Computer's Inspiron 3000 M266XT ($3,199) is one of the new models with an impressive 13.3-inch screen that's easy on the eyes. Plus, this XGA active-matrix display runs at 1,024 x 768 resolution for clear, bright colors that will add to your presentation. Additional features of the Inspiron 3000 M266XT: a 266 MHz Pentium processor with MMX technology, 32MB SDRAM, a 2.1GB hard drive, a 20X CD-ROM drive and dual speakers with 16-bit stereo sound.
Another model to consider is the Macintosh PowerBook 3400 ($3,199). Although it comes with a smaller screen (12.1-inch active matrix SVGA display), it's still good for giving media-rich presentations. The PowerBook 3400 comes with four built-in speakers and 16-bit stereo sound for rich sound quality. It also contains a 180 MHz PowerPC 603e processor, 16MB RAM, a 1.3GB hard drive, a 12X CD-ROM drive and 1MB VRAM.
Behind The Scenes
If you've never created a presentation on a computer before, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to develop high-quality presentations with today's programs. These presentation applications seamlessly incorporate multimedia elements--sound, video, animation and text--so you wind up with extremely attractive, enjoyable and memorable electronic presentations.
In addition, most programs come with pre-designed templates to help you create high-caliber presentations without a huge investment of time. Templates save you time in determining what elements to include in your presentation and how each will be presented; it's usually just a matter of pointing and clicking to add your information--the slides are automatically created. While these templates are great time-savers, however, you don't want your presentation to look canned--Wilder suggests changing a few colors and features so yours doesn't look exactly like the next guy's.
Microsoft's PowerPoint 97 ($339) is perhaps the most widely used presentation software. It comes with more than 50 pre-built content templates to give you a jump-start on creating presentations. If you're new to presentation programs, you'll particularly appreciate the extensive help features. Resources include useful tutorials and a PowerPoint Internet site to learn more about using the program. One useful feature allows you to save PowerPoint files in standard HTML format so you can post your presentation on the Web.
Similarly, Corel Presentations 8, which is packaged with Corel's WordPerfect Suite 8 ($395 for the entire suite), comes with pre-designed slide shows you can customize. It also has features that make it easy to create and navigate your presentation. These include a Custom Audiences feature which lets you save multiple versions of a slide show in the same file to show different groups, Navigation Tabs to move around your presentation quickly, and a Slide Sorter to view thumbnails of your slides to arrange them easily.
Another option is to invite clients to your home office and show them presentations on one of the impressive new PC-TV devices. These so-called convergence technologies, including the PC Theatre 9000 from Compaq Computer, are drawing considerable attention because they take the best from computer, stereo and video technology and meld them into one digital media product. One advantage of showing your presentations on such a device in your home office is that you can completely control the environment. Plus, displaying it on one of these state-of-the-art systems is sure to impress clients (and it's great for watching movies with the kids after hours, too).
One model to consider is the Destination Digital Media Computer (starting at $2,499) from Gateway 2000. As with any PC, you can use it to create presentations with popular presentation programs. The base model comes with a 166 MHz Pentium processor, 32MB RAM and a 2GB hard drive. But when it's time to give your presentation, you can roll out the red carpet and show it in style on a 31-inch VGA color monitor that resembles a big-screen television and boasts a high-resolution display (36-inch monitors are also available). The Destination Digital Media Computer also has a high-quality sound system, a DVD-ROM drive (optional), and a wireless keyboard and remote control to conduct your presentation from anywhere in the room.
Yet even when you're using such impressive technology, keep in mind that having the right technology to create and show your presentation is just one part of the process. To give successful presentations, you also need to spend a considerable amount of time on your delivery. Spend plenty of time practicing your presentation out loud, perfecting its delivery and learning how to use your presentation technology smoothly. Says Wilder, "Remember, you are still the message."
No matter how sophisticated the technology, the software or the finished presentation package, the presenter of the information--that's you--is still the star of the show. Whether you're making a formal sales pitch, giving a project update or having lunch with an important prospect, a polished delivery is critical in building and maintaining client relationships. Good presenting skills balance product knowledge and technical expertise with a style that is relaxed, energetic, expressive and focused. Here are seven ways to come across like a pro:
1. Stay loose. Tension in key areas like the jaw, shoulders and hands can quickly tie a presenter up in knots. Under the pressure of performance, many people try to control this tension by tightening up even more. Unfortunately, this only makes them appear cold and aloof or scared to death. Good speakers do their best when their muscles are relaxed and they feel comfortable. Learn to recognize where you hold tension in your body and relax those trouble spots before and during your presentation.
2. Connect with your audience. Talk to them in terms they understand and relate to. Look at them, watch for feedback and respond to their reactions. If they look puzzled or stare at you with glazed eyes, address their concerns right on the spot. It's easy to get caught up in your content--to concentrate on saying everything exactly the way you've planned it. But if you lose yourself in the content of your presentation, you'll end up losing your audience as well.
3. Stay open and take your space. The way you stand, sit and move says more about you than almost anything else. So eliminate any mannerisms that make you appear timid or look smaller than you actually are. Maintain an open posture at all times. When you stand, ground yourself solidly on both feet. When you sit, keep your elbows away from your sides and let your forearms rest easily on the table in front of you. Use your face, voice and body to express your ideas. Move with purpose. These positive actions will send the message "I'm confident, I'm comfortable and I know what I'm talking about."
4. Speak to be heard. Your voice is your vocal signature, so speak with conviction and authority. If your tone rises or your voice wobbles when you get nervous--stop! Take a deep breath, relax your muscles and start again. Above all, avoid the all-too-common tendency to let your pitch rise at the end of a phrase, giving the impression you're asking for permission to speak.
5. Tell stories. Great presenters illustrate their points with stories and examples that are personal to the speaker and relevant to the audience. Turn your personal experiences into stories that make a point. Practice them until they flow smoothly and your point is clear. Then, when the occasion calls for it, pull out one of your stories and insert it into the presentation. Storytelling makes presenting easy, and your audience will appreciate your personal touch.
6. Let your passion show. Homebased entrepreneurs are bright, knowledgeable and committed to a way of life that creates and builds energy. So share that energy with your clients--through your ideas, your words and your actions. Your clients won't realize your commitment to them unless you show them how you feel. You'll build lasting relationships when they recognize through your behavior that you're determined to help them succeed.
7. Don't forget to smile. Often, under the pressure of performance, presenters become grimly determined to get through the event. They forget they are communicating with real people who want a personal connection with the speaker. They forget to smile. A genuine smile expresses the pleasure you feel in being with your audience. When you're able to relax and let yourself shine, that magical connection is made. So smile, and let it happen.
Carolyn Dickson is a coach and consultant in speaking, business presenting, conflict management and professional presence. She is founder and CEO of Voice-Pro Inc. in Cleveland, and author of Speaking Magic: Performance Strategies for Winning Your Business Audience (Oakhill Press).
You've got the right technology. Now it's time to pull everything together into a winning presentation. Claudyne Wilder, co-author of Point, Click and Wow! A Quick Guide to Brilliant Laptop Presentations (Pfeiffer & Co.) and president of Wilder Presentations, a Boston-based presentation training company, tells how:
*Don't overdo. Use every flying bullet and unique effect that your presentation software comes with, and you'll drive your audience crazy. Keep these features to a minimum so they'll have maximum impact. That way, viewers won't get distracted from your key message by watching cute red balls float across the screen.
*Cut, cut, cut. Whittle down your presentation so that only the most relevant information is included. Try to keep topics like company background to a minimum, and be sure to address any key concerns or questions your audience might have.
*Think big. Display text in at least 24-point type so it's easily viewable. Reserve serif fonts for large titles only; stick with sans serif for the main body of your presentation.
*Be organized. Every presentation must have some kind of structure so that it's easy to follow. A very basic--yet effective--organizational structure includes an introduction/agenda, key points, a closing and recommendations.
*Spell it out. Explain the purpose of charts or tables through a clearly worded title. Also, avoid merely conveying statistics. Explain exactly what the statistics mean within the context of the chart.
Apple Computer, (800) 538-9696
Corel Corp., (800) 772-6735, http://www.corel.com
Dell Computer, (800) 388-8542
Gateway 2000, (800) 846-4875, http://www.destination.com
The Hill Group, (408) 257-7828, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Focus Systems, (800) 294-6400, http://www.infocus.com
Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, ,a href=http://www.microsoft.com/office>http://www.microsoft.com/office
Proxima, (800) 447-7692, http://www.proxima.com
Sigma Data, (800) 446-4525, http://www.sigmadata.com
Wilder Presentations, (617) 524-7172, http://www.wilderpresentation.com