The 3 Pillars of Great Presentations
Advice from a professional speaker about captivating attention.
As a professional speaker, I am often asked: “How do I give a great presentation?” After doing this for 30 years, I have concluded it comes down to these three pillars:
Much of this was outlined in an interesting study of TED Talks, but let's break them down one at a time.
In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes people make is not thinking through logistics when delivering a presentation. Here are the questions you need to consider:
- What is your objective? What is the objective of your presentation? What do you want the audience to do as a result? Do you want them to take action? Make a decision? Change their approach?
- Who is the audience? Who is the group of people you will be talking to? Is it executives or frontline workers? You need to adapt your presentation to each audience.
- Where is the presentation? Is it in a conference room, a training room or a large auditorium?
- How much time do you have allotted for your presentation?
There is the content of your actual presentation, and then there is the delivery. As the old saying goes, it’s not what you say, but it's how you say it. This is even truer when giving presentations. We have all seen presentations that were dull, dry and boring. Here are the four most important physical elements that can make a significant difference:
Eye contact. Whenever you give a presentation, make eye contact with the audience. It makes you look confident and credible. It also lets you know how people are reacting to the message via their body language and facial expressions. As C. Kent Wright once said, “To sway an audience, you must watch them as you speak.”
Move. The worst invention ever was the lectern. Move around so people can see you and you can see them. Don’t stand or hide behind a block of wood.
Gestures. Gestures add meaning and interest to your topic. Just like when are talking to someone at work in their office, use natural gestures. Far too many people shut down gestures by putting their hands in their pockets or locking them behind their back.
Energy. If you are low energy, you will be boring. If you are high energy, you will be compelling and fun to watch. As Andras Baneth once said, “The energy level of the audience is the same as the speaker’s — for better or for worse.”
One big aspect of presentations is having the right mindset. Many people think about giving a presentation and get very nervous. They also think, “I hate presenting," or, “I get nervous when I present.” In those situations, I often say to people I coach: “Do you hear what you are saying to yourself?” The psychological piece of presenting is critical, because our brain and body believe what we tell it. As noted public speaker and auhtor Brian Tracy once wrote, “It is not failure itself that holds you back; it is the fear of failure that paralyzes you.” It's crucial to orient your thinking toward positive thoughts like, “I like public speaking” and, “I am excited.”
The reality is that most people watching you give a presentation want you to succeed, and if you practice these pillars, you will.