Understanding formal presentations can help your career

Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 1:00am

One of the things that people list as their greatest fear in business is making a formal presentation before a large group. It is something that many people go out of their way to avoid at all costs. But if you can pull it off, it can make a difference in your career by impressing coworkers, superiors or a targeted audience with your knowledge and ability.

The best approach is not to avoid the situation, but to deal with it as an opportunity to dazzle. And the best way to do this is to be selective and well prepared.

When the opportunity presents itself, make sure you speak on a topic you know a lot about. Trying to memorize a lot of information you are unfamiliar with can prove your undoing. If there are certain areas on a subject matter you understand well but have not completely mastered, select only the most important points and use them. However, don't overdo the new information. The flow of your presentation may be interrupted by your having to think rather than your delivering information productively.

Prepare the presentation in advance. Don't wait until the last minute, which can create stress. Outline what you want to say and then come back and fill in the details.

Use visual aids to assist your memory and delivery. These aids should reflect the final version of your outline with specific data and information you want to emphasize.

Keep everything as simple as you can. Complexity can confuse both you and the audience.

Use an introduction that gets the audience's attention. This can take many forms. Ask a question. Tell a joke. Offer a startling statistic. Any attention-grabber that is appropriate to the occasion and group can be very effective.

The content and context of the presentation should be designed for the audience. As such, a group of educators would not usually be presented in the same way as a group of business executives. This would include the tone of delivery, the type of data presented, word selection and organization.

For some audiences, the use of emotion can be quite useful in grabbing and keeping attention. An uplifting story is often helpful. A hint of anger at a situation can sometimes be effective. Humor, if tasteful, is almost always appropriate.

The use of a well-known phrase can help the audience identify with the point or points you are making. There are books available that have hundreds of these phrases to choose from.

Try not to read your presentation. Eye contact with the audience is important. Looking at your audience promotes their attention and helps develop a bond.

One mistake that many people make is to speak in a time-consuming manner. If information is not relevant, don't use it. Practice your presentation to yourself. Later, if you have friends or family that would listen, go over the delivery with them. Time yourself. Ask for constructive criticism. After you have done a few, you should gain a feel for length.

If you have the opportunity, make the presentation before a small audience before moving on to larger groups.

Get a good night's sleep before you speak.

If you are not a morning person, try to steer away from an early engagement. If there is more than one speaker, request to go on later in the day.

Don't drink coffee or caffeine right before you are to speak. These can make you nervous or anxious.

Don't eat a lot before the presentation or eat unusual food. Too much food - or the wrong food - can make you sluggish or feel bad.

Many speakers don't know how to end a presentation. Consider how you want to leave the audience. Do you want them to take action? Do you want them to feel good about the future? There are many ending to choose from.

The more presentations you make should increase your comfort level for future speaking. You may be surprised how skilled you become.

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