In my brief existence in this world – brief with respect to many old buildings and the Everest for sure – I have realized that being successful has a lot to do with talent as does it depend on your presentation of your said talent. Perception matters.
That is probably why, when I came across Sarah Cooper’s book on 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings, I realized this brilliantly funny woman has managed to read everyone’s mind!
The Ex-Googler and current writer and comedian (The Cooper Review) has penned a must read on what tricks you should use to make yourself look like you know shit (pardon my language) about shit (oops! I did it again!). So, go Kindle her book!
For now, let me take you on a slight detour and get a little serious about a particular meeting skill that can help you put your opinions through, rather smoothly (Read How to improve your communication skills).
Even the thought of one has always made me nervous and twitchy. You can say I am a veteran at presentations, by now, but every time I am faced with one, I go through the five stages of grief.
It starts with denial where I simply ignore the possibility of a disaster at my presentation. This is followed by anger when my power point application bails on me. Of course there is the intermittent bargaining and depression where I try to find devious ways to get out of the presentation and get depressed when I can’t. And finally the stage of acceptance fifteen minutes before my presentation meeting.
You see it is not so much about the idea of presenting my work that makes me nervous. It is the thought of doing so in a room full of eyes, on me!
Giving presentations, at meetings, is an ordeal for most normal people. You could be like me, nervous in the presence of your own species. Or perhaps nervous about being publicly tested of your knowledge.
Whatever it may be, there are a few skills that can come in handy to calm your nerves, make a fruitful presentation and feel more confident about your material. Yes, a glass of beer can do that too but is definitely not recommended when you will most likely be surrounded by your peers and even your boss.
Here are a list of things you could do to ensure a successful presentation that not only gets your point across but also leaves your listeners with little doubt that you have done your job and you have done it well. In other words it doesn’t make you look like you just wandered in like a deer, startled by the projector light!
This is the key to kill the nervous senses. Even before you read the next few pointers, in this list, you need to understand and internalize this one simple fact.
Without sufficient practice, your efforts in doing your work and creating your presentation will seem to go pouff once you face a roomful of people.
All you need is a mirror or a group of a few friends who are willing to listen to you rehearse. If they are not willing, offer them ten bucks. Twenty if it is really long.
Get a good flow going and ask them for feedback. Smile and relax as you speak. Serious and rigid will make you look like a robot while giggly and cheeky will make you look giggly and cheeky, which is always a bad thing.
You should already have an idea of how much time you have to speak. So, don’t make your presentation too long and unbearable. Follow this simple rule. If you have T minutes to speak, have T-n slides to present where n is preferably greater than 5, assuming you spend a minute a slide.
Why? ‘Coz it leaves time for you to interact with the audience, answer their questions, drink some water when your throat dries up and even calm any anxious moment by taking a few seconds to imagine how much worse this moment could get if you had accidentally showed up without pants.
And if you really want to be smart about it, have a few reserve slides with that extra bit helpful information that you can refer to in case someone wants to know.
A good story can be made either into Ramesh Sippy’s classic, Sholay or Ram Gopal’s disaster, Aag. The secret is in the art of storytelling. You don’t have to make your podium into a mini Ramgarh but you definitely need a beginning, a middle and a final climax for your slides.
Always a good idea to start with a motivation behind your project, especially if you are presenting to a wider audience not necessarily aware of your antics. Your motivation needs a well defined goal that keeps your audience hopefully entranced till the end. Your slides need titles that have a logical progression to them.
If you wander in and out of relevance, your audience will most likely begin to wander in and out of the conference room door as well – to take a call, to pee, to eat a snack or maybe to go watch that Norwegian show on the 18 hour fishing expedition, with subtitles.
Even before you get to the meat of the matter, it is a good idea to start with something that captivates the attention of your audience. Say if you are talking about a scientific discovery, start with a trivia about the scientist who was responsible for it.
Thomas Edison proposed to his second wife over Morse Code .– — ..- .-.. -.. -.– — ..- — .- .-. .-. -.– — . She replied -.– . …
Go convert it, you mere mortals who don’t dot or dash!
Bringing in an element of entertainment makes the matter engaging and keeps people from secretly wishing you get a sneezing attack and end the drab. Of course it also makes you look confident, charming and like someone who cares enough to get to the human side of everything. The next door approachable guy like.
Talking about being engaging, it doesn’t have to be limited to just the beginning of your presentation. Oil up your humor senses and get ready to crack the funnies along the way. It keeps people hooked and laughing.
Laughing keeps them from hating you and consequently (and hopefully) from being overly and unnecessarily critical about your work. Especially in the presence of your bosses and seniors, a positive attitude is a good way to convey that you are in tune with your interpersonal skills while being good at what you do. Very would-be manager like.
Do you remember that presentation where you were asked to read slide after slide of lengthy wordy content? Of course you don’t! ‘Coz your brain has a nifty way of blocking out unremarkable boring incidents to open up space for important information. Yes, that’s what bullet points are for. To summarize, emphasize and leave your brain to process a few words with the takeaway message.
Employ them and refrain from Ctrl+C & Ctrl-V-ing your material from your reports, white-papers, journals and other records. That brings us to the next pointer.
Just think of your audience like a group of five year olds. A for apple, B for bonus types. Now think what excites little kids more, big novels or illustrated books? That’s exactly why it is good to make your slides visually informative.
You see, in the short time of presenting your work, flowcharts, pictorial representations, graphs and pie-charts are much easier to grasp as compared to the above big no-no of lengthy diatribes or multiple tables filled with numbers.
Another really nifty way to make a lasting impression is to involve your audience in your presentation. Throw in a tricky question in the middle somewhere. Vijay Mallya or Pokemon. Who are you more likely to find in the vicinity of the Income Tax office?
Interactive questions or activity makes the audience stir and sit up to pay attention. It’s also a great way to gauge their comprehension of your material. Have them ask you questions and let them get the feeling that you really care about their understanding of your work.
Word of the wise, ‘coz trust me I am, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer if you really don’t know the answer. No point throwing some BS their way. Pace the room, if you want to, but always face the audience when you speak. You don’t want them to stare at the back of your head while you mundanely read off your slides. Let them feel that you are talking to them rather than giving a speech.
Finally, don’t forget to acknowledge the information you have borrowed from somewhere else. For one thing, it is the honest and the right thing to do. And another that it gives you plausible deniability when someone decides to ask you something, you hadn’t thought about, in the data, graph or whatever you have borrowed.
So, there you are. A few tricks to know how to make a good impression when the limelight is on you and there are people there silently judging your skills both behind and in front of the projection screen.
Presentation skills require a combination of both public speaking ease as well as an obvious command of the material you are presenting. Prepare well, arrive early, and please read the hazards of using a laser pointer before you go shine it in the eyes of your manager!
There is really nothing to fear. After all it is just a silly presentation. Follow the tips and you will be able to take it. If you still feel you can’t, just fake it (Trust Sarah!).