Four secrets for smashing your next big presentation

 
Graham Shaw

Myth: to deliver an amazing talk you need to be a “born speaker”. Reality: when you know the secrets that make the difference between a dull speech and a fascinating presentation, you can easily apply them.


Here are just a few to get you started.

Use the magic structure

Why? What? How? What if?

These are the four key questions typically on the minds of any audience. They are the basis of the “4-Mat System” created by Bernice McCarthy. Use them to create a logical, easy to follow talk.

Include: why should the audience listen? Why is this topic important? What is your key message? How will you explain your idea? How does it work? Give examples.


With “what if” questions, highlight the potential risks or problems and how to handle them, or look to the future and highlight the difference that your ideas will make.

Use fewer words, more pictures

Use fewer words and more pictures to make your slides memorable.

Research from the University of New South Wales found that we cannot read and listen to someone talking at the same time. Yet that is exactly what happens when an audience tries to read many words on a screen while attempting to listen to a speaker. People find it draining.

However, a single word or key message displayed works fine, because it can be read in seconds. Reduce words as much as you can and use more pictures, such as photos or graphs, because people find them easy to look at while listening. Moreover, people remember pictures very easily, so your message is more likely to stick.

Even a rough sketch can make your message more memorable.

Stand confidently to enhance credibility

When you move around for no reason, it makes it harder for people to listen. Shifting or swaying can diminish your credibility. Instead, stand upright with your feet hip-width apart and toes pointing slightly outwards, and stay still unless you have a good reason to move about.

This assertive stance enhances your credibility and authority. Furthermore, when you adopt a confident stance, you will automatically feel more confident.

End on a high, not a whimper

How you end a talk is critical, and yet so many end in ways that are far from uplifting. Phrases like “well, that’s all we’ve got time for, so thank you very much” are all too common. Instead, do these three things:

First, summarise your key message. You might have it on the screen and a powerful picture to go with it.

Second, make a call to action. Be specific, and increase the chances of the audience taking that action by making the first step easy.

Third, paint a picture of the positive future in their minds to bring to life the results of the audience taking the action that you suggest.

It may be worth practising these skills. You’ll know you’re on the right track when your talk is so realistic that your audience leaps at your call to action.

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