It’s a problem we see over and over as presentation skills trainers – the first thing someone does when they’re told they need to make a presentation is turn on their laptop, fire up PowerPoint and begin to type.
That’s wrong in a lot of ways!
Firstly, the very idea of using a computer of any kind before you know what you want to say in your presentation is a mistake. No matter how good your software is and no matter how comfortable you are a using it, once you start to use a computer you have to think like the computer. Nine times out of ten, that stops you being creative and asking yourself what the best way to make your presentation is. Chances are, it’s not like you’re doing it.
Secondly, I used the word PowerPoint. Don’t get me wrong, you can deliver great presentations using PowerPoint – just like you can do good things with a gun – but it’s easier to do bad things with a gun than good… and it’s easier to create bad presentations with PowerPoint than good ones.
Trust me on this – I’ve sat through more bad presentations than I care to remember. If you’re intending to become a serious presenter, look into the alternatives (such as Keynote, or even Prezi).
Thirdly, typing without thinking is like writing a letter without knowing who it’s going to be sent to! Why on earth would you do that?
Answer is, you wouldn’t, so why risk blowing your credibility at work with such a daft idea!
So what to do? Well before you even turn on your computer, there are three and a half questions to ask yourself. Once you know the answers, you can think about answering them in your presentation.
Question #1: what does my audience already know?
Assume they know more than they do and you’ll lose them in the first paragraph. Nothing turns people of faster than jargon they don’t understand or implicit assumptions they don’t share!
Alternatively, if you assume they know too little you’re going to bore them and not give them anything of value.
Either way, you look like a bit of a burk!
Question #2: by the end of my presentation, what does my audience need to know?
The less you tell them the more they’ll remember, so don’t go over-board here. Most experts make the mistake of assuming the audience is as interested in the details as they are. They aren’t. Generally speaking the only people who care about the details of what you’re talking about are other people who already do what you’re talking about – and where’s the margin in preaching to the choir?!
Question #3: what’s the difference between the two answers above?
This is what your presentation should contain. This and only this. Everything else is a distraction.
Obvious, isn’t it?
Yeah? Well in that case, why are so many presentations awfully bad?!
Oh, and once you’re got the answer to question three, before you turn your computer on, think about the last half question – what’s the best way to tell them the things you need to tell them to answer question three?
It might not involve turning on the computer at all!