How many times did you check the clock the last time someone was giving presentation? If you can remember the number then that’s already a bad sign. Listening to boring content and lifelessly staring at visually unappealing slides while a painfully monotone speaker presents can easily make 30 minutes feel like eternity. I’ve had to sit through so many presentations like that in my lifetime that I make it a priority to ensure my presentations do more than encourage yawns and clock checks. In a way I think I was blessed in the fact that public speaking comes so naturally to me, especially when I hear of some people who would rather swim in a shark tank than give a presentation. Of course I get butterflies before the fact, like every other human being, but I actually enjoy being in front of people.
Being a public relations major, I believe this quality is crucial to my professional success. Being able to keep somebody interested in what you have to say is hard to do sometimes, and in PR that is at the root of everything we are trying to do. When we pitch ideas, hold events and write press releases what we are ultimately trying to do is grasp the attention of people to give them a message or idea. Public speaking is great practice for being able to write different PR materials more effectively in my opinion. Let’s say you write a story and it gets published, that’s great and everything but how do you know people actually read it? How do you know they didn’t get bored after the first sentence and flip the page? The answer is, you don’t. When giving presentations however, you can see when people are looking up at the clock, checking their phones, staring out of the window or acting just plain uninterested. When this happens it’s probably safe to assume your presentation wasn’t interesting enough to attract attention, in other words, if your presentation were in print you would probably get a page flip.
PR Daily posted a great article this week that really put the art of giving presentations into perspective for me. The article states, “When you get to that point in your career where you’re invited to speak at industry events, your reputation as an expert rests in part on capturing and holding an audience’s attention. Expertise is not enough if you can’t make yourself understood.” This quote really speaks to me because of the blunt truth it conveys, how are you going to share your business, story, program, idea or event with people if you can’t hold their attention?
The article then goes into detail on how you can avoid a disastrous presentation by implementing a few strategies. The first one went into detail on visuals, which consist of graphic or video placements on your slides or posters that break up boring blocks of text. Visuals are shown to increase audience attention because it’s appealing to the eye to look at.
The second strategy the article elaborates on is avoiding a data dump, or more simply an information overload. Your presentation isn’t to try to get your audience to memorize various statistics and figures, it’s to motivate, inspire and get them to act upon something. Focus more on why your topic is important rather than giving data/information about your topic from the last 20 years.
Incorporate anecdotes or stories into your presentation to give it life and make it more relateable for your audience. Everyone likes a good story, you just have to figure out how to tell it in a way that won’t lose sight of your presentations purpose.
The fourth strategy talks about what I believe is the one thing presenters often forget to do, research the audience. If you know about the audience’s needs, perceptions, interests, backgrounds and ages, it will make your life a whole lot easier when coming up with content that will capture their attention.
Last but not least, practice, practice, practice. The best way to ensure your presentation will be without fault is to get the kinks out with a practice run. You need to know your information backwards and forwards in case any questions/objections arise or if technology just flat out fails you. Winging it is never the best option, take the time to practice and you will be amazed at the difference.