Delivering a great presentation is one of the most effective marketing strategies available to the solopreneur to communicate your own message to a rapt crowd.
And yet far too many solopreneurs shy away from presentation opportunities due to a fear of public speaking or putting themselves “out there” before an audience of people that may or may not receive them warmly.
Fortunately, there are effective ways of overcoming those fears so you can put a presentation to work for your business.
There are three stages of a great presentation to ensure a successful, confidence-building experience when you speak.
1. Preparing Your Presentation
• Start as early as you possibly can—months in advance, if at all possible. There’s a reason the list of tips for this section is much longer than for the two sections that follow it. That’s because when it comes to presentations, preparation is everything!
• Tailor your topic to your audience. If you’re given a specific topic, try to find out as much as possible about the people who will be in attendance and brainstorm possible angles on that subject that will speak most directly to them.
• Narrow your focus: aim for no more than three main points to be communicated. The more tightly you can narrow your presentation to the most pressing points, the better you’ll be able to capture and keep the audience’s attention.
• Create a short, 15- to 20-word summary of your main point. This isn’t necessarily something you’ll end up using verbatim in your presentation (although you can if it’s particularly effective). It’s more a way to check your focus. If you can’t state your message succinctly, keep narrowing it down further.
• Know your stuff. Audiences want to feel confident in the speaker’s expertise. That’s not to say you need academic credentials or direct experience in a particular topic in order to develop a strong presentation, but you should definitely aim to know more than you actually include in your presentation.
• When it comes to structure, think in terms of a story. Audiences have no interest in hearing a boring recitation of facts, statistics and vague generalizations. The single most effective way to entertain and communicate an important message is to tell a story. Find your storyline as soon as possible, and work it into your presentation’s structure.
• As you organize your research, keep a separate list of creative ideas for each main point. These ideas can be shorter stories or vignettes, quotes, images, works of art, movies, novels, cartoons, poems—just about anything can be a creative touchstone for your presentation. Be over-inclusive with this list. You don’t necessarily have to incorporate them all into your final presentation. You can pick the most effective ideas once your plan is more fully fleshed out.
• Choose a strong opener. What makes videos and memes go viral? The element of surprise. Pick something—a story, a statistic, etc.—that will surprise your audience, and open with it.
• Avoid jokes, but include humour. It’s almost always a bad idea to write actual jokes into your presentation. They so often fail in the heat of the moment. Humour, on the other hand, shouldn’t be shied away from, even in a “professional” setting. Aim for gentle humour—self-deprecating, when appropriate, and mild. You want the chuckle of recognition, not an audience howling with laughter.
• Use as few statistics and numbers as possible. Reinforce the important figures on your slides, and chuck the rest. Too many numbers will numb your audience to your main message.
• Keep slides visual, spare of text, and impactful. Long gone, we hope, are the days of nested bulleted lists on slides crammed with tiny text. Follow the “10-20-30” rule if you like: 10 slides, 20 minutes for presentation in total, with no text on any slide less than 30 pts in size.
• Use images where appropriate. A picture is, in fact, worth 1,000 words. In the right places, images can communicate much more effectively than even the loftiest oratory, because they communicate on an immediate, emotional level.
2. Rehearsing Your Presentation
You’ll be doing some revising and refining of your presentation’s substance as you rehearse, but once you have a solid flow of slides and talking points, it’s time to start rehearsing the presentation by putting it all together.
• There is absolutely no such thing as being over-rehearsed. Practice as often as you can. That being said, however…
• Keep connected to the emotional “through-line” of your presentation. This will help keep you from sounding “over-rehearsed” to your audience. (And never, ever read your presentation directly!)
• Practice as if you’re speaking to three people, not an auditorium crammed with people. This helps you keep your tone conversational. Why three people? If you imagine them placed individually in the left, centre and right sections respectively, you’ll develop the habit of delivering your presentation with a balanced focal point, shifting from each section to the next in a natural way. This will translate to the larger room as a confident presentation manner.
• As you practice, note the natural, logical places in your presentation for taking breaths and sips of water. Keep those in mind as you deliver your presentation for the audience.
• S-l-o-w d-o-w-n. You’ll quite naturally speed up a little on the day of the presentation due to the energy surge you’ll undoubtedly experience. If you practice in a deliberately slowed-down pace, that little bump in speed will put you at just the right pace.
• If there will be a Q&A session after your presentation, practice that, too! Enlist a few friends to listen to your rehearsal and throw questions at you so you can prepare how you’ll respond to them. By the way, it’s a good idea to hold a few ideas in reserve from your presentation; in case your audience is slow to start asking questions, you’ll have a few you can raise yourself to get them going.
• Plan your wardrobe, right down to your shoes. Avoid jewellery that jangles or clanks, which can distract you and your audience. Choose shoes with quiet soles so that you’ll be free to move around.
3. Delivering Your Presentation
The day before and the day of your presentation will undoubtedly be fairly high-stress ones. This is not the time to radically reinvent your presentation out of panic or fear that the audience “won’t get it” or will start heckling you! Now’s the time to be confident in your preparation and rehearsal process, and make sure you’re in the best shape possible for your performance, by following these tips.
• Don’t over-indulge in food or drink the night before or the day of the presentation. This is not the time to throw your digestive system into turmoil!
• Try to get adequate sleep the night before. A good night’s sleep is the single best thing you can do to optimize your chances for a successful presentation.
• If at all possible, run through your presentation at least once in the actual room with the technology you’ll be using. Nothing can prepare you for what it will really be like better than a “dress rehearsal.”
• Before you take the stage, take a few deep, cleansing breaths and mentally set your intention. This will help stabilize your heart rate and keep your breathing from becoming too fast and shallow. Speaking of breathing…
• Remember to breathe from your diaphragm during the speech. Don’t know what that means? Here’s how to do it: lie down on your bed, with your hands spread over the centre of your abdomen. Without straining or being too deliberate, take a deep breath. You should feel your hands move up and out, and your stomach area expand. Breathe this way several times so that you can fully experience what that’s like. Then stand up, and put your hands back on your abdomen in the same place. Breathe again several times, trying to keep that same dynamic—hands moving out and up, abdomen expanding. This is absolutely the most effective way to prevent excess physical stress, which can heighten nerves, make your voice thin and reedy, and even cause you to get light-headed or even pass out!
Lastly, try to truly enjoy the experience. Look for what’s good and right and fun. When you’re at ease and having a good time, that translates to the audience. Pretty soon you’ll be a sort after master at delivering a great presentation.