If you’ve never presented before and are looking to get started or if you’re just looking for a few tips to improve your game, this post is for you.
I’m going to share some of my biggest tips (rules I use for myself) for preparing and giving a presentation as well as a list of resources that helped me in my journey to becoming a better presenter.
It’s time to insert my disclaimer. I do not pretend to be some awesome know-it-all presenter. I just want to share what I’ve learned along the way. After attending so many conferences over the years, you do start to form an opinion of what constitutes a good presentation. I definitely have my opinions ;-). Not everything works for everyone and we all have different personalities so what works for me may not fit you and that’s OK! Disclaimer over.
But first, a pep talk.
We All Have Something to Contribute
The first national conference I presented at was the 2015 MTNA in San Antonio. A teacher approached me after the session and asked for advice on presenting, and I thought “Woah, she’s asking me? ME?”
I felt like a total newbie to the whole thing myself. It wasn’t that many years ago that I was going to conferences thinking things like:
“There’s no way I’ll ever be the one up there presenting.”
“I feel so inadequate – these teachers are so amazing.”
“What in the world could I have to say or to teach these teachers?”
Four years ago presenting wasn’t even on my radar. But voila, here I am a few years later enjoying an aspect of my profession I thought I would NEVER experience. I’m even trying to talk to you about it like I know something. 😛
The first thing I want you to know is that we all have valuable and unique things we bring to our profession. If you’re toying with the idea of putting out a proposal but are unsure or nervous let me assure you of this:
We all have something to contribute. You can do this. How will you know if it’s for you if you don’t try?
When I considered writing my first proposal, I remember asking a mentor:
“Is it best to prepare your whole session first, then write the proposal, or do you just write the proposal from an idea brewing in your head and then if you get selected, hope you have enough content to talk about it for 50 minutes?”
I feel silly now even admitting I asked someone that question as, looking back, the answer is obvious, but I really was that clueless. I wasn’t sure the best way of even getting started, and maybe you’re feeling the same way.
If it wasn’t clear, the answer was the latter. Don’t spend all that time preparing a session that may not even get accepted!
When coming up with a proposal, there are a few things to consider:
- Every organization has its own set of requirements for proposals. Double-check what they are before you begin writing.
- Start by getting all the ideas down you can. Try to form some outline for what the session might look like. You may even gather up a list of possible resources both for your reference and that you might share on a handout. This will help get your brain juices going as you forge ahead with the proposal.
- Be sure it has an attention-grabbing headline. It only takes 7 seconds for the human brain to form an impression. The title is the first thing they see.
- Write a description that accurately describes your session. There’s nothing more disappointing than attending a session that is nothing like the description.
- When writing, whether it’s a short proposal or a longer blog post, I often refer to Ray Edward’s P.A.S.T.O.R framework to help me write engagingly. The acronym will help you focus on presenting a topic in an interesting manner that speaks directly to your audience.
- Write, re-write, walk away, re-write, walk away, re-write. You get the idea. Don’t just sit down and write it and call it done. Allow yourself time to let it sink in. Go back to it a day or two later – it will read differently. My worst proposals (and they didn’t get accepted) were the ones that I wrote the day they were due. I was too stressed about the deadline to think clearly.
Putting Your Presentation Together
So you got accepted, now what? Here are my steps that I take when working on a new session.
- Read everything you can on the topic to keep your thoughts and opinions fresh.
- Start with your outline and be sure and define the objective so you focus on your topic.
- Write it out word-for-word. (This is something not everyone does, but I have to. I sometimes have trouble speaking extemporaneously and articulating my thoughts clearly on the spot, so this is very important to me).
- Clean it up, change, re-arrange, and re-organize.
- Find some great quotes to support (but not too many).
- Put together your slides. Remember the mantra “less is more” – less text that is. Don’t write too much text (if any at all) and the font should be 18-30 pt. The bigger, the better. Use images as much as possible to make your point and have one slide per point. You are your presentation; your slides are not. I often have between 40-80 slides in a 50-minute session. It keeps it moving and interesting.
- Know your material inside and out. This means practicing the session in full more than once. My recommendation is eight times. This will be very enlightening. You may have to do another few rounds of “clean it up, change, re-arrange, re-organize.” Better now, than realizing something doesn’t flow or that you’ve repeated content when you give the session. This also gives you a chance to have it timed out perfectly and if you like to write it out word for word like me, be able to present it as if you’re not reading it. Again, this is a personal preference thing. Know who you are and how you handle public speaking situations.
I would strongly suggest checking out some of my recommended resources at the bottom of this post on how to deliver a strong and engaging presentation. These are sources I’ve learned from and found very useful.
There’s nothing worse than putting endless hours into a presentation than getting to the location and having technical difficulties or in-capabilities cripple your session. To avoid location-based situations, remember the following:
- Know the screen resolution. Will it be a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio (this is the most likely size as it’s the most used today) or the old 4:3 aspect ratio? Sometimes I even create the same PowerPoint in both sizes just in case!
- Make your power-point accessible from multiple locations. I always bring it on a thumb drive plus have it uploaded onto one of my cloud drives. Have a backup plan if you can’t use your slides for any reason. If possible, try to make sure your presentation doesn’t rely too strongly on the slides.
- Ask ahead of time if audio will be available.
- Carry all the cables and adapters you may need like this lightning to VGA and HDMI cable if for any reason the session room is not set up as you would expect.
- Know where you are going and scope out your location at least an hour prior if possible. If you can do a sound/tech check prior that’s great too.
Be smart and plan for anything!
Here are my top critiques and a list of do’s and don’ts that I uphold myself to when it comes to the delivery of a presentation.
- Be prepared. Have it polished with plenty of handouts available.
- Involve your audience as much as you can.
- Keep things moving.
- Use a wireless presenter like this one to keep your slide deck moving without it distracting you. Be sure it has a built-in laser which is super useful for referring to items on your slides.
- Spend the first 5-10 minutes telling us about your credentials. It’s in your bio. Also, if you’re the person announcing the session, please don’t read their bio in full to us. We can read.
- Spend the first few minutes telling us how or why you decided to speak on the topic or why you decided not to talk to us about another topic. You’ve already lost your audience. Again, remember, it only takes 7 seconds for the human brain to form an impression – start your session strong and grab their attention.
If you were given a shorter session Time than Expected
- Don’t try to squeeze what’s normally a 50-minute session into 20-minutes. Revamp it into a comfortable 20-minute session.
- Don’t bring our attention to the fact that you were given a shorter session time by saying things like “I don’t have enough time to cover what I want to.” Well, there you just wasted 30-seconds of your 20 minutes – get to it!
- Don’t talk faster trying to compensate.
- Stick to the biggest points – state them upfront and then elaborate on your content.
All of these articles, books, podcasts, and more are resources that I have found useful in my quest to be as engaging of a presenter as I can. I hope you find them useful as well!
5 Rules for more Effective Presentations | Michael Hyatt
“Um” and “Like” and Being Heard | Seth Godin
[Podcast] 7 Rules for More Effective Slide Presentations | Michael Hyatt[Dictionary] Million Dollar Words | Seth Godin and Margery Mandell
[Slide deck] What slide Size Should I use? 4:3 or 16:9? | Slideshare.net
[Slide deck] Death by Powerpoint (what not to do) | Slideshare.net
While I haven’t used all of these tools, I wanted to be sure you had plenty of options and could see what is out there so you can decipher what’s best for you.
What’s your top presenting tip whether it’s from a presenter or an audience member’s perspective?