The Fine Art of Presentation

Thesaurus defines presentation as

A meeting at which something, especially a new product or idea, or piece of work, is shown to a group of people

Let’s take out the obvious from this statement. Presentations happen at the gatherings of people. Usually, a large number. And it’s usually done by a single person or a small group of people. Presentations are made to showcase new products, provide information, update on progress, describe alternatives, etc. Depending on the context of the gathering, a presentation can serve different purposes. A presentation in a board meeting about sales figures helps in formulating strategies. A presentation to a group of students helps in teaching a new skill. A presentation in a conference like TED helps in spreading an idea. So we can see that irrespective of what a presentation is, it serves different purposes. The audience is diverse, the time and place of presentation will vary. Some presentations have to be brief, and some have to be formal. Some need humour. Some have to be precise. Thus it’s safe to say that Presentations do not have a one size fits all solution. Presentations are, in fact, tailor-made for a specific audience, gathering, and purpose.

What is the primary purpose of giving a presentation?

Why can’t the intended audience simply read and understand what the subject matter is?

It certainly will save time and logistics effort. As we discussed above, a presentation is done for a wide array of purposes. Students give presentations to show their understanding of a subject. A tech CEO gives a presentation about his company’s next best product. A government official gives a presentation to the media. It’s safe to conclude that all the presenters have something to share, to tell. The art of sharing, explaining, convincing is best conveyed through a mixture of communication mediums. Like dialogue, audio/video, images. All of which are central to any effective presentation. Unlike reading and learning which do not have all them. A presentation is dynamic by nature. It can be interspersed with humour, Q & A, trivia, genuine emotions to make it more effective. The goal that a presentation strives to achieve,

Inform or show, or teach or tell, can be done with other mediums as well. Like reading, watching videos, etc. But the element of human interaction in presentations and the synergy with dynamic elements like images, videos, facts, figures makes it more appealing

Even though presentations serve different purposes, the scale of a presentation matters, the size of the audience varies. As discussed above, a presentation does have a central tenet

To educate, inform, update, or convince the audience.

Hence there are certain best practices that any presenter can incorporate into his presentation to make it impactful. These best practices are classified into Pre Presentation Practise and during presentation practice.

Pre Presentation

This is the period before the presentation. Everything a presenter does before the actual presentation is summarised here. Let’s have a look at some of the best practices.

Know the Audience

Master the Subject

Timing and amount of data

Styles and Themes

This and the next point are perhaps the most important considerations for preparing a presentation. Who are the people who will be attending the presentation? Students, CxOs, Bureaucrats, Media personality, Housewives, layman, a mixture of everyone? Knowing who will attend the presentation will help prepare a presentation that caters to their needs. Other factors that need to be considered are the audience’s cultural sensibilities, the venue, the current mood politically, culturally, if relevant. Ask yourself, if I was in the audience, would I have loved to hear a particular point? If yes, then you have a good candidate for inclusion.

An absolute no brainer this one! If you are presenting something and someone is investing their time on it, it’s your responsibility to make it worth everyone’s time. This can only be done by mastering the subject. Understanding the nuances and subtle points about the subject matter helps deliver the information better to the audience.

While preparing the presentation, it is essential to determine at the outset, how much, and what information should be conveyed in the presentation. There are various rules of thumbs for this. E.g., a popular one by renowned venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki is

A presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.

Presentations should be concise. To the point, every word should have some purpose. General facts, widely known theories, repetition is a strict no-no. Remember to keep it relevant and to the point

It is necessary to have a beautiful, clean, and minimalistic presentation to convey your ideas/data/facts better. What is the definition of beautiful? It is a very relative term. The style, theme, colours of the presentation should match the information it seeks to convey. Colour psychology is an essential aspect of human understanding. The style and the theme of your presentation should match the occasion and mood of the event as well. Leveraging the power of a beautiful themed UX helps in building an excellent presentation. However, take care that it’s not over-styled as well. The theme should boost the presentation, not overshadow it.

Presentation

Now that the prep work is done, it’s time to walk the talk! It’s presentation time.

What are the best practices for that?

Rehearsing

Body Language, Interacting

Present Facts and Fiction

This is not precisely a pre-presentation step, but rehearsing a presentation is of great help. Preferably with a mock audience like a friend. It helps to identify where more time is being spent.

Where does the pronunciation need correction?

What is the tone of the presentation?

Is the presentation speed okay?

Are there any typos?

Essentially, all such things that need a second look. By filtering or rectifying such things that we identify in a rehearsal, a presentation can be improved. Rehearsing helps in calming the nerves and helps you in identifying any unknowns in your presentation

How you present yourself and how you present the subject influences the outcome a lot. The audience is always receptive to a confident demeanour of the presenter. Make eye contact with the audience, particularly the ones who are receptive. Avoid excess gesturing with hands. Just let your natural moments come and go as you present the facts. Equally important is the tone of your voice. It should be authoritative, yet sympathetic at the same time. A stressed-out, condescending tone will elicit a negative response from the audience.

An ideal presentation should contain just the right amount of facts wrapped in a description with examples. Avoid presentations which are nothing but slides and slides of numbers. At the same time, presentations should contain enough numbers and stats to prove your point. It should not be too informal. A presentation can begin with an anecdote, story, which is an indirect reference to what is going to follow. An ideal presentation should have an objective, description of what it’s aiming to achieve and a solution.

Bad Practise

What we saw are standard practices to give an excellent presentation. Similarly, there are some standard practices to avoid while giving presentations.

Over Explanation

OverSimplification

Negative Traits, talking about self

Being Nervous about being Nervous

This is a common mistake many presenters make. Over explaining a topic. Other than sounding condescending, it leads to a waste of time and a failed presentation. While researching a topic, a presenter should make certain assumptions about shared knowledge and facts. In the rare event of this being proved wrong, a presenter can extemporaneously explain the same.

Over-explanation is a strict no-no. On the other side, we have oversimplification. Oversimplification is also a mistake. Never forget the presentation is intended to provide some information to the audience about which they have no concrete idea so far. Otherwise, there was no point in the presentation. The heart of the matter or the presentation’s crux must be conveyed in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. A vague description or passing reference to the central point will not go well with the audience, particularly the ones who are really looking forward to taking away something from the presentation. The line between oversimplification and over-explanation is relatively narrow. The presenter has to tread it carefully.

Avoid being critical of anything. If your presentation’s objective is to highlight something wrong, highlight it constructively. Avoid blaming, mocking, or offending statements. Similarly, do not use the venue as a way of soapboxing your opinion or extolling personal virtues. Remember, the objective is to educate the listener about something. The objective is not to present yourself or your presentation as better than something. Let the audience decide that!

Putting yourself in a position where it’s easy to be judged is fairly nerve-wracking for many. In all probability, the audience understands that. Moreover, it’s quite reasonable as a human trait. Please do not focus on what might go wrong; focus on the presentation matter. No matter how you see yourself, do not try to present it in someone else’s manner. Present it the way it comes to you vis a vis style, body language, tone. Practicing in front of small gatherings before the main event is always helpful.

Ending

Just like an exciting introduction that involves capturing the attention of your audience, the finale of a presentation should leave the audience asking for more. It should ignite their curiosity by making them ask questions to themselves long after the presentation is done. A fitting conclusion helps in solidifying the presentation in the minds of the audience. The ending should mark the beginning of something new in the audience’s mind. For example, something to question values, a poignant question to consider, a disturbing number/figure to spur action, a positively provoking inquiry.

Conclusion

Ultimately there is no single way of doing an activity, which is as personal as presentation. If it is a mechanical activity, it is easy to execute in a formulaic way. What will make your presentation effective is simplicity, accurate facts and figures, short and effective sections, and subsections? Plus, your own spin and style to it. Do not bother about your native accent, your tic, or any such thing you consider an impediment. They are not an impediment. It is you. Play to your strength, practice, be genuine, and consider your presentation, your story for the world, your gift to the world, and present it in the manner only you can.

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