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How to make a presentation

Most business presentations are about as attention-grabbing as watching paint dry.

Successful presenters persuade their audience to listen carefully and make decisions. Their secret: you have to tell a story. If you don’t, you will lose them. Here are some well-honed techniques.

First, you need to be clear what your message is and what you want to say. Also, good presenters organise their spiel into three sections. First is the summary of key points, giving the audience an idea of where the speaker is going and allowing them to connect the details that follow to the broad overview.

This is followed by that overview, the main body making all the points. Then there is the conclusion which is the summary again.

This structure is the plot line for the story. It is important to start with an “attention-grabber” that engages the audience. This can be done in two ways and it might depend on the talk itself.

The first is to pose a question for the audience. It is totally rhetorical (e.g how many of you had this experience and how did you handle it?). Don’t expect an answer, it just sets the framework for the presentation. Another way is to start off with a joke. If you’re not a comedian, this takes practice and the timing has to be spot on. Make it short and to the point. Also, it has to be safe. Practise it many times and try it out on others. Don’t improvise.

Don’t read from notes. It looks like you don’t know the material and you won’t sound convincing. Your posture and tone of voice are completely different from standing there and speaking without notes. If you want to persuade them, you need to speak from the heart and not from notes. Memorise it.

When you are making a point, look at one person. Give them eye contact, but only for a few seconds. Then move on to the next point and the next audience member. One point, one moment of eye contact. It creates a more intimate setting.

With your slides, confine it to one idea per slide. Put little text on the slide; the less the better. If there is lots of text on the slide, people will be reading it, which means one thing; they won’t be paying attention to what you have to say. The slides should have short titles.

Don’t use small fonts, whatever text you use should have the same structure and font, and make sure everything is spelled correctly; people are more likely to remember that one spelling mistake than the content. Photos, graphic illustrations and animation look good. Pastel backgrounds work better than white backgrounds. Strong colours work well for the important stuff. Use pastels for less important points.

Finish it off with a conclusions slide that has all your main ideas. These are the points you want the audience to remember. This has to be the last slide of all. If you have any more after that, it will undermine your conclusions and the message you are trying to get across.

Listen to the questions carefully and answer them respectfully. Don’t treat your audience as if it is ignorant. They will recognise if you do that and it will put them off. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will find out and get back to them.

These are really simple rules. The best speakers follow them. The extraordinary part is that many don’t.

Leon Gettler

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