Three ways to deliver better presentations more easily

September 23, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Preparation, Presentation

dale_ludwig_hi-res_colorIf you’re a business presenter, you know that the presentations you deliver serve one purpose—they help you get business done. Your presentations aren’t big speeches. They aren’t TED talks. They’re practical, necessary, and far too often time-consuming and frustrating. If you’re like most presenters you probably spend too much time worrying that you’re over- or under-prepared, wondering if the slides you’re using will do the job, and struggling to follow the rules of delivery.

What if things could be different? What if your next presentation was a comfortable interaction between you and your audience, a kind of conversation that gets business done smoothly and efficiently? It can be if you turn away from the speechmaking strategies you’ve been taught and approach your presentation as if it were a conversation.

[Tweet “#Presentations serve one purpose—they help you get #business done.”]The problem business presenters face is fundamental. The assumption—reinforced in school and training classes—has always been that a speech and a presentation are essentially the same process, the difference between them measured in degrees of formality. Speeches are formal. Presentations less so.

This assumption encourages business presenters to bring the wrong tools to the job. It’s like using a sledgehammer to hang a picture on the wall—not only awkward but a little dangerous as well. This mismatch in approach has real-life consequences. Among them, increased nervousness for presenters, wasted preparation time, stilted delivery, and a tendency to blame PowerPoint for every presentation ill.

So let’s look at a new way to do things. If you approached your next presentation as a type of conversation, not a type of speech, what would you do differently? What adjustments would you need to make?

1. Prepare a frame, not a script
Conversations are spontaneous processes. Someone speaks as someone listens, back and forth. The same thing happens during a business presentation, the difference being there is someone in charge, someone leading the conversation. And that person, the presenter, has a goal that can only be reached through the conversation.

So how do you prepare for that? Not by scripting because that prevents the conversation from taking place. Not by ignoring preparation altogether because that leads to confusion and frustrated audience members. The solution is to build a frame for the conversation to take place within. A solid frame assures your audience of four things: you have a plan, you know what you want, you understand their perspective, and there is a reason for them to care about what you’re talking about.

The first few slides in your presentation should emphasize the frame you’ve built. Use an agenda slide, a slide that identifies your audience’s current situation, and maybe include a slide that lists the audience’s takeaways from your presentation. The number and type of slides really doesn’t matter as long as you communicate the frame. While the frame doesn’t communicate a lot of content, it does establish you as someone who has the audience’s need for clarity and efficiency in mind.

2. Bring content slides into the conversation, because they’re more than “visuals aids”
The conventional wisdom about the visual component in presentations holds that slides must be as simple as possible, images are more persuasive than bullet points, and presenters should never, ever read what’s on the slide. I might be able to make a case for each of these ideas if we were talking about speeches, but we’re not. So let’s take a closer look at how content slides should be used in a business presentation.

I’m fairly sure that many of the slides you use would not pass the scrutiny of a professional designer. There are a two reasons for this—your audience and the amount of time you have. First, your audience may want and need to see the details, the data, the spreadsheet. Information like that can’t be designed into a beautiful slide. Your job, then, is to bring that information into the conversation, and (just as important) make it understandable and useful. Second, you probably don’t have the time to create well-designed slides anyway. So there’s no point beating yourself up about it. Just be sure that when you’re talking about a complex slide you communicate the point you need to make. Don’t just talk about the details on the slide.

3. Initiate the conversation, don’t strive for perfect delivery
When your presentation begins, it’s your job to bring the people you’re talking to into the conversation. That requires focusing on conversation skills, not delivery skills. Here’s the difference. Delivery skills are about appearances. They are about how you look and sound to your audience. Delivery skills are developed through rehearsal and lead to a type of performance.

Conversation skills are used to initiate an interaction and keep it going. They do more than make you look and sound good. They help you establish a genuine connection between you and your audience. When that happens, your natural communication instincts will kick in and your nerves will be under control.

What are the most crucial conversational skills for presenters? Eye contact and pausing. Eye contact helps you connect with your audience. You can’t have a good face-to- face conversation without it. Pausing helps you think on your feet and stay in the moment. This may sound awfully simple, but it takes conscious effort to calm your mind and focus on others when you’re feeling the stress of presenting. So at the beginning of your presentation, focus on one of these skills, whichever one works better for you.

When it’s time for your next business presentation, turn away from traditional speechmaking and embrace the essential, conversational nature of presenting. When you do, you’ll get business done more easily.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Rethinking the Visual Component of Your Presentations (Part 4 of 4)

September 24, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

Part 1Part 2, Part 3

This is the final article in a series focusing on the need to take a fresh look at the visuals you use in your presentations. This article focuses on visuals intended to bring emphasis or emotion to the conversation. This type of visual might be a photograph (a completed project or happy employees, for example), a simple graphic (an arrow pointing up or down), or a trigger added to emphasize part of a more complex image (a circle around a single bar on a bar chart).

Because these visuals are used for emphasis and clarity, let’s call them punctuation slides. When used well, they make your message easier to understand and remember.

While punctuation slides can be very effective, there are two things to consider before using them.

First, will they be appropriate? As you know, it’s often hard to predict what will happen during an Orderly Conversation. The mood in the room may not be what you anticipate during preparation. A visual meant to communicate optimism might fall flat with a group of listeners feeling something else. So it’s important to anticipate how the visual may be received and interpreted by your audience.

Second, are you prepared to deliver them well?

  • Timing: If you’re using a slide to spark emotion, it needs to come into the conversation at the right moment and, once there, be allowed to do its job. For the presenter, that means knowing precisely when to advance to that slide and pausing long enough for the visual impact to be made.
  • Acknowledging: Just because the image on a punctuation slide is easy for listeners to understand, doesn’t mean you can ignore it during delivery. Often, presenters struggle to know what to say when they’re using this type of slide. But, just like any other, punctuation slides need to be acknowledged and explained. For example, “I’m really excited to show you how well this project turned out. Before we get into the details, here’s a photograph of the team at our last meeting. It’s easy to see the pride on all those smiling faces.”
  • Matching the emotion: When your slides communicate emotion, you should too. If your slide communicates optimism, happiness, or celebration, your audience needs to hear it in your voice and see it on your face. If they don’t, you’re sending a mixed and confusing message.

Like the framing and content slides discussed in the last two articles, punctuation slides serve a specific purpose during your presentations. Knowing what that purpose is and what it means for delivery will help you use them successfully.

Part 1Part 2, Part 3

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Rethinking the Visual Component of Your Presentations (Part 2 of 4)

August 27, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

This is the second in a series of four articles about the need to take a fresh look at the visuals you use in your presentations. Here’s the question I posed at the end of the last article.

As you know, we define presentations as Orderly Conversations. We need to ask how the slides you use contribute to the process. Do they bring order to or are they the subject of the conversation?

The visuals you use serve two basic functions. Some of them bring order to the conversation. Let’s call them framing slides. Other visuals are the subject of the conversation. Let’s call them content slides.

Framing Slides
These slides appear in the introduction, conclusion, and as transition slides in the body of the presentation. Slide titles are also used to reinforce the frame. The role of these slides is to make listening easier for your audience. Think of them as a road map. They tell the audience what you want to achieve, how the presentation is organized, and why it’s happening. They provide context and a sense of order.

Too often, presenters underuse these slides because they don’t contain much content. Agenda slides are flashed on the screen with a quick, “And here’s our agenda” and then they’re gone. Similar things happen with transition slides, slide titles, and conclusion slides. While you may struggle to know what to say when these slides are on the screen, just remember their function. They are there to bring order to the conversation and build the audience’s confidence in you as a presenter.

Content Slides
The slides you deliver in the body of the presentation are the subject of the conversation taking place. As such, they receive more attention than framing slides. Sometimes, when you’re delivering a lot of detail and data, the audience focuses on the visual for an extended period of time.

When this happens, the slide is much more than what we think of as “visual aids,” the simple, subordinate type of visual traditionally used by speechmakers. When content slides are delivered you and the audience need to give them the attention they deserve. That might be a lot or a little, depending on how the content fits into the presentation as a whole.

What you say about content slides will also be influenced by your audience, of course. You may need to say more than you intended or less. Just remember that your goal is to keep whatever you say within the context of the presentation’s frame.

In the next article, I’ll write about visuals that have a life outside of the presentation in which they’re being used.

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”