The Seven Rules of a Perfect Presentation
Last week Tracey from the City of Thames Centre in Ontario asked me about how I developed my public speaking skills; was there one thing that was particularly important? I had to really think about it since I’ve never taken any public speaking classes nor been part of Toastmasters. Truthfully, I learned as I went with a lot of trial and error (and there was plenty of the latter!) until I started getting it right. Thinking back on the first time I spoke at a conference, I’m pretty appalled – as the audience probably was – and I’m surprised I was ever asked to do another one. But I kept at it and to this day, I’m still working to get it right. There’s no resting on your laurels as a public speaker.
I’ve been speaking publicly for more than 20 years and every time I step in front of an audience I hope my presentation is better than the last one I did. I speak at more than 100 events a year and now, for the most part, this is how I earn a living.
We have a notebook in the office of unsolicited comments and accolades from conference organizers and attendees at workshops and keynote addresses I’ve given. It’s three inches thick and packed full of letters, cards and e-mails. It’s gratifying to know I’m finally getting it down!
In response to Tracey’s request I came up with the seven rules of a perfect presentation. Enjoy!
#1. Be enthusiastic and authentic
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” This is my life’s motto. If you are enthusiastic and have passion about your subject it rubs off on your audience and gets them pumped. It’s true: enthusiasm is contagious. And people know if it’s authentic enthusiasm. That’s a must. If it’s not authentic, pick a different subject.
#2. The non-PowerPoint PowerPoint
You NEVER want the audience to notice you’re using PowerPoint, or in my case, Apple Keynote. I make sure my Keynote files only include photographs or video clips that illustrate the stories I tell. You never want anyone saying “he had a great PowerPoint presentation.” Instead, you want them to say, “He told some great stories and the pictures were amazing.” Here are five quick rules to a good PowerPoint presentation:
- Use a plain black background, no fancy transitions, and avoid fancy templates. You don’t want to make it obvious you’re using PowerPoint.
- Never have more than 10 words on the screen at a time. Period. No one, and I mean no one, wants to see a screen full of text. And don’t just stand there and read it! Never have more than two lines of text on the screen at a time. If that!
- No fonts should be less than 48 points. Use 72 point or larger when possible. The simpler the better. The fewer words, the better. Watch an Apple keynote address. They are masters of effective presentations.
- Everything on the screen should simply be there to reinforce your story: high-resolution photography and/or video clips. You want the attention to be on YOU, not the screen.
- Never go through more than four slides in a minute (one every 15 seconds) and only include a single photo or graphic image on a slide. If you have four images, put them on four slides. Don’t cram your slides full of “stuff.” KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid. Think of every slide as if it were a billboard.
#3. Tell stories
People love stories, especially those that illustrate key points. I tell a story of St. Maries, Idaho (pronounced Saint Mary’s) and Corvettes. People come up to me ten years later and tell me they still remember the story and add that the message really resonated with them – and still does! Do you remember what the keynote speaker had to say at the last conference you attended? By the way, your stories should be your stories. Nobody can tell your stories like you can and it’s the only way to be authentic (see #1).
#4. Evoke emotion
Your stories, photographs, and/or video clips should make the audience laugh, stand up and cheer, or cry – and cry because they are touched, not because they are suffering through your presentation. Always evoke emotion. No matter what your subject is, you need think and act like a motivational speaker – the highest-paid group of all professional speakers out there. Even those who you wouldn’t think of as motivational speakers are very good motivators: Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Steve Young to name just a few. Motivation and emotion are two peas in a pod.
#5. Don’t memorize it
There is nothing more boring than a rehearsed, memorized “speech.” Don’t read your presentation and don’t memorize it. It needs to come from the heart, not a written page. Know your stories so well that you can just rattle them off as if you’re talking to friends or family. This adds spontaneity and fun to your presentation and makes it far more engaging.
#6. Timing is everything
If you ever watch comedians you’ll notice when and how they place their pauses to let jokes sink in and to give the audience time to respond. You know the punch line instantly, but your audience is hearing or seeing it for the first time. Give them a few seconds to catch the nuances of a photo, or to let the words sink in. Their reaction will always be delayed. Timing is something that comes with practice. I’m still working on that!
#7. Be yourself
Be yourself. People especially love self-deprecating humor. If you goof up, make fun of yourself. Be real. If you’re nervous, say so. They will root for you to succeed! No one likes a phony or an egomaniac. People can read you in seconds through your mannerisms, your voice inflection, your eyes and the way you dress. Drop all the pretenses. They’ll love you for who you really are. Above all – show them that you care; that you really have passion and want to change their lives for the better.
Let me know how your next presentation goes!