Presenting to Groups of People
Very few people indeed can stand in front of a group and give a talk that appears to be spontaneous, relevant and informative. Those who appear not to have to prepare are those who have prepared the most, to the point where the preparation becomes invisible. Without any doubt, the secret is in the preparation.
Whether you are presenting information orally, in written form or through a series of pictures, the same outline structure for preparation is common. Although it varies a little form one individual to another (and how many new presentations the person may write) for every minute of presentation you need a minimum of 30 minutes of preparation. A fifteen minute talk should therefore take at least a day to prepare, especially if you want the message to be well-designed and relatively confidently delivered.
Structuring the information and the presentation are important for two reasons. It helps you to clarify the ideas and the format of what you are going to say, and it gives you the confidence of knowing that you know your material.
For most people, making a presentation is nerve-racking so if you are such a person you are by no means unusual. However, by following a few simple points the risk of failure is drastically reduced and the chances of success enhanced significantly.
Why are you doing it?
There are three basic reasons for giving oral presentations to groups of people:
- To tell – to communicate information. The content tends to be factual and the audience is likely to be other managers, superiors or team members who need some information
- To sell – an idea, a proposition or a product. The content is likely to be conceptual, with perhaps some factual supporting material and you have to give reasoned or compellingly put arguments to persuade others to your point of view
- To impel – or to develop and generate enthusiasm, inspiration and positive attitudes. It is emotionally based and needs to excite the audience and motivate them to do something.
Before any development work is carried out, you need to be clear on the purpose of your presentation – and keep it in mind as you prepare and deliver your session.
Presentation skills are about the technique adopted to deliver a particular message. This technique involves both the environment (room, atmosphere and facilities etc.) and the individual or person (style, pace, clarity etc.). This is not to say that the message of the presentation itself is not absolutely crucial to success – poor thinking about content is always inexcusable and is a natural presentation killer.
Perhaps ironically, dull or poor or insubstantial content can be well delivered, well-received and have high impact, if presented well. This is not true of substantial, well-thought through content that can be completely destroyed by poor presentation preparation and organization skills or incompetent delivery.
Preparation or planning normally commences with looking for ways in which a future event can be handled effectively and efficiently. This entails thinking about or planning for whatever it is that requires organizing and then carefully detailing all the steps that are likely to be involved.
Focusing on your objectives
Presentations of course, come in all shapes and sizes and range from being short, simple and informal, to long, complex and highly formal. While the potential combinations are enormous, the first step in preparation is to focus upon your specific objectives from the presentation. This means assessing:
- Why are you doing the presentation at all?
- What am I trying to achieve?
- Who is my audience?
- What changes would I like my presentation to create?
To begin to come close to answering the above questions, it is well worth documenting the specific outcomes that you want to achieve. Of course, this will heavily depend on individual circumstances. There is a huge difference between selling an idea or a concept, getting people to understand a topic, or for that matter, suggesting a difficult decision that you would like to see supported. Hence, specific outcomes must be explicit in their written form.
At its most fundamental, any presentation is essentially about influencing people to change in some way, however small. This means changes in the way they think about something, do something or connect the information in some way. As a result, a presentation should make a general contribution to change or progress in the wider organization, or should create a feeling in the audience members that they are further forward in the long-term journey of understanding what is going on around them and what they might do about it.