Many years ago, as I prepared for one of my first presentations as a leader, I remember filling each PowerPoint slide with information, ready to “wow” my audience. I don’t remember the outcome of that presentation, but I’m pretty sure my audience was glazed over as I went through and read each slide in detail. Although I have learned to be more concise and persuasive over the years, one of my biggest challenges as a speaker is to keep it simple and not overload my audience with too much information. I want to share so much value, that I often have to reel myself in when preparing a speech.
If part of your job as a leader is giving presentations, here are six strategies for becoming a more persuasive speaker:
1. Determine the type of presentation you are giving. Are you giving a motivational speech to your employees? Sharing the vision for the next year with the entire staff? Or are you providing a project update to the Board of Directors? Each of these presentations requires a different approach. If you are painting a vision or giving a motivational speech, you may want to rethink the PowerPoint (unless you use only one word per slide or use pictures to illustrate your points). If you are giving a more formal presentation, you can probably get away with using PowerPoint, but don’t overload your slides with too much data. Your audience might decide to take a nap.
2. Begin with the end in mind. What do you want your audience to walk away with? What is the goal of your presentation? Start with that in mind and work backwards. Most people start with a topic and then pull up PowerPoint and begin filling in the slides. By doing this, you usually get bogged down in the details and lose the overall “frame” for the presentation. Think about the result or outcome you want from the presentation, and then write out the main points you want to cover to get there.
3. Prepare your outline. Giving an effective speech or presentation typically takes a lot of preparation. For your presentation to be truly persuasive, you should develop an outline of the main points you want to cover in your presentation. You want to make sure your speech or presentation has a clear structure. A structure is most important for you, the speaker, to make sure you are not going off on tangents or missing your points. You want your presentation to have a clear format and flow. After developing your main outline, flush out each of the points by using stories, statistics or examples.
4. Prepare your visuals. If you are using PowerPoint, try to keep the words on each slide to a minimum. Too much information on your slides distracts your audience from you as you are delivering the message and puts the focus on your slides. The minute you put up a slide, your audience will direct their attention to your PowerPoint, read your slides, and not hear anything you are saying. Try using cartoons, illustrations or even just one word to illustrate your point. Then elaborate your message through words so the audience can actually absorb your message.
In most cases, your slides should not be the main focus; they should supplement your message. For example, having a graph on your slide to illustrate your point is usually fine, but having paragraphs of text is a distraction. And don’t read your slides. This is a sign of lack of preparation. Having one word on your slide can help you keep your place as your work through your main points. If you need to have some data on your slides, then try breaking each point up into one slide each instead of crowding them all on one slide.
If you want your audience to walk away with some written information, consider preparing a report or one page sheet of your main points to hand out after your presentation is completed.
5. Practice, practice, practice. People are often surprised when I tell them I spend an average of 20 hours preparing for a one hour speech (between creating the topic, outline, visuals, and practicing). I’m not suggesting you need to prepare that many hours for a presentation to the executive team, yet most people spend no time practicing their presentation and “wing it”. Taking time to practice will only make you a more confident, persuasive, and polished speaker. It also gives you a chance to work out any kinks and ensure the presentation flows properly.
When I prepare for a one hour speech, I do a full run through of the talk every day for a week before the presentation. I don’t memorize the speech–that will make it less authentic and often has the opposite effect–you get so caught up in remembering your lines that you lose your place. Instead, I make sure I am comfortable with the main points and the examples and stories I am using. Practicing the entire presentation allows me to get very comfortable with the material so I can engage with the audience and not be “in my head”.
6. Engage your audience. Most people don’t love sitting in a room while someone talks to them for an hour. It’s a surefire way for your audience to pull out their Smart phones. Whenever possible, engage the audience in your presentation. Ask a question, ask for examples, and check in with them occasionally by asking for their thoughts or feedback. If your presentation is a project update, ask one or two of your team members to elaborate on one of the points to keep the presentation interesting.
Another way to engage your audience is by appearing approachable. Make eye contact, smile, and walk around a bit so you don’t seem too rigid.
The more presentations you give, the more comfortable and confident you will be speaking in front of an audience. Now I’d love to hear your tips for being a persuasive speaker. What is your top tip for a successful presentation?