What We've Found
People’s number one stated fear is public speaking. And when a presentation is before a hostile audience, the stress can really build. Yet there is nothing like in-person performances to give projects a human touch. We find that doing presentations is an extremely good way for a group to increase visibility and gain public recognition. For citizens, it is a chance to get more information and have their questions answered, replace a nameless bureaucracy with a human face, and network with their neighbors to further discuss events and rally support.
Just the Facts
Presentations can run the range of delivering a talk without any visual aids to a multimedia demonstration and script. Images and props can certainly help a speaker, but they will not mask a poorly prepared presentation or a speaker who is extremely uncomfortable. It takes planning and practice to present a project or story in a manner that is coherent, convincing, and aesthetically pleasing.
A presentation should be designed to meet a specific need or request for information. Ideally, a speaker might offer several alternatives so that organizations can pick the most appropriate topic. Or there might be one overview presentation that can be revised to target specific audiences and different ages. Consider revising the presentation, including changing the graphics and photographs, as a project progresses so the information is always current.
Remember, in multilingual communities it is important to provide interpreters. Signers for the hearing impaired may also be necessary.
- Take courses in public speaking, group leadership, and presentation graphics.
- Watch how others present. Notice their particular styles or mannerisms. Pick up pointers and behaviors to emulate, and make note of those to avoid.
How To Do It
1. Define your message
One of the most common pitfalls of presentations is not having a simple, clear message. It is natural to want to share everything you know about a project or a subject with the audience, but too often such presentations turn into lengthy, rambling lectures. Decide what is the most important piece of information you would like everyone in the audience to understand. Develop an outline based on that message: introduce it, explain it, and conclude with it. Presentations can be factual information, personal information, or a combination of both; it all depends upon the purpose. The simpler the message, the more likely people will remember it.2. Get visual
Graphic images are not required to be part of the message, but they can be a powerful addition. If they will be used, they need to be relevant to the message. They are strongest when they reveal something words cannot yet directly correlate to what is being said.
If you are going to use a slide projector, select only visually pleasing, in-focus pictures. Do not include an image that is unclear; you do not want to have to apologize for a bad slide.
For charts and tables, remember that charts can be indecipherable from a distance and should be broken into easily viewed and understood parts. Most material that appears in a book must be reworked for a larger format presentation.
If you have a computer and a projection unit, or the meeting facility does, technology offers some exciting options for presentations. Using presentation software still requires good design and production decisions. For instance, resist the urge to have bullet points or text on the screen and then proceed to read them verbatim. It is boring and insulting to the audience’s intelligence. Most of all, nothing is gained that cannot be done through a printed handout.
No matter what format is used (slides, overhead projector, posters, or computer generated), limit the graphic images to the ones that make the biggest impact and pace how the images are changed to create an interesting and memorable impression.
3. Practice, practice, practice
There is no such thing as too much practice! Rehearsing can help alleviate nervousness; it lets you know exactly how many minutes the presentation is; and you can more clearly communicate a sense of conviction to which audiences will respond. Whether speaking from a fully written script or a bullet point outline, practice in front of a mirror, or better yet, with a video camera. Use the graphic images to get comfortable changing the images. Do it over, and over, and over. Practice makes a critical difference to the strength of any presentation.4. To hand out or not to handout
It can be very helpful to have available supplemental materials like brochures
or newsletters, or even copies of the presentation’s key points and important charts or tables. Just be sure not to distribute handouts until after the presentation. If information is given in the beginning, people will read, not listen to the speaker. If information is passed out during the presentation, there will be disruption of paper rustling and people talking. If it is at the end, but before the speaker concludes, any chance for a strong, stirring finish is lost as the audience shifts its attention to the handouts. Many professional conferences request copies of speeches for audience members ahead of time. If the purpose is for attendees to write notes, prepare an outline that highlights key points but does not steal the presentation’s thunder. However, if the remarks will be complied in a compendium, then provide a full text.5. Hit the road!
Once the message is done, begin contacting groups and organizations to make a presentation at one of their regularly scheduled meetings. Many groups are always looking for guests to have on their agendas. Before going, be sure to tailor the message and information to that group. Also look for events, upcoming conferences, workshops and seminars where your presentation could fit in.