Six Keys to a Great Presentation

Beverly FlaxingtonBeverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Whoever best communicates their thoughts is the person who gets heard! But it isn’t enough to be competent; you have to show that competence in the way you express yourself.

When we think of presenting, we usually think of getting in front of a room of people to talk about something. But that's not the full story. Presenting is about communicating who we are and “selling” others our objectives or ideas. Whether you're trying to motivate a single employee, ask the boss for a raise, tell your spouse something important or pitch a multimillion dollar sales deal, there are six keys to confident presenting. These crucial keys will make your presentation concise and powerful.

1. Know why: Have a reason beforehand

Presentations have to be appropriate for the material being presented and the timing has to be right. Unfortunately that's not always the case. The problem usually arises in cases when there's a disconnect between you and your audience – for example this can happen when a third party arranges the presentation for you and you're uncertain of the goal. You're being asked to present to someone but you aren’t sure why you're presenting or what the desired outcome should be. Or in cases where your company or boss might feel some information needs to be presented, but you are not sure what the point of the material really is!

Fortunately this problem is easily solved with a little foresight. Before any presentation, identify the “Why?” and the desired outcome. Any of the following could be desired outcomes: inform. sell. persuade. motivate. get commitment. There are many possible outcomes – figure out what your desired outcome is for this particular presentation with this particular audience before you finalize your presentation. Then ask about the timing – why is this presentation happening now – why not six months ago, or three weeks from now? What's significant about this timing? Knowing these two factors will help you hone your presentation in the desired direction.

2. Know who: Connect with your audience

It’s common to find presenters who work very hard on their message and know their presentation inside and out, but then neglect to tailor it to the right audience. Before presenting, it's important to figure out what you know about the person or people you will present to, what you want them to get out of your presentation, and what their level of topic knowledge is. It’s called the "know your audience" (KYA) approach to delivering information. While you might have the same general information to present to your boss, or your staff, or your customer, knowing your audience will dictate exactly what pieces of information are important and how you want to share them. Once you know your audience, you'll be able to decide which area(s) to focus on in order to address what the audience cares about. Consider collecting data in advance through interviews or an assessment of their needs.

In one-to-one presentations, don’t make the common mistake of just throwing all of your information at someone and hoping that some of it will stick. Let the person know that you understand their time is valuable so before you begin you’d like to ask them some questions to focus your presentation. Most people appreciate it when you ask, “What would you most like to get out of this interaction? What’s most important to you?”