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Ten Steps to Successful Presentations

So, you’ve been asked to give a presentation? Perhaps—for the first time—to senior management or even the board of directors? These steps will take you from content selection to post-delivery feedback. You’ll be able to give better presentations and get better results.

Focus your topic. You can’t say everything in one presentation. The more you try to include, the less your audience will be able to remember. Resist the temptation to include every data point. Resist the urge to incorporate everything you know about the subject. What do you most want the audience to understand? That’s what you need to put in.

Understand your audience. Are you presenting a budget to a few associates seated around a table? Addressing a large audience at a major conference? Hosting an international conference call? Consider the demographics of each audience: age range, educational backgrounds, professional goals, etc. Consider the psychology of each audience. What do they want to hear from you? What do they worry about hearing from you? Do you need to break bad news? Adjust your content, your PowerPoint and your speaking style to suit the unique personality of each group.

Target your research. Use a wide range of research: interesting statistics, personal anecdotes, powerful examples, lively quotations, clever definitions, references to the day’s news, client comments (“Yesterday I received an email from a client asking about …” ), real-life comparisons and visual illustrations all work here.

Organize your material. Make your presentation easy to follow. Give it a strong beginning, an orderly middle, and a strong ending. Don’t fade away at the end. A tip to help you improve your structure: Make sure your ending directly relates to your beginning in some way. Does your last PowerPoint screen echo your first? Do your final sentences reinforce your opening sentences? Does your concluding call to action reinforce your opening goal?

Speak in everyday language. Make it easy to understand. Avoid legalese or bureaucratese. Use plain English: short words, clear sentences. Look at your PowerPoint. If you have full sentences on the screen, you’ve got too much verbiage. No audience will read through a wordy screen. Cut ruthlessly. Read your presentation out loud several times. If you find yourself stumbling over awkward phrases or tripping over complex sentences, rewrite those lines.

Give it style. One financial professional told me, “I never paid much attention to presentation style. I’ve always thought the numbers mattered most.” Yes, the numbers matter. But any presentation can be improved significantly by using a few simple speechwriting devices:

  • Repetition: “Here’s how we benefit. Here’s how we all benefit.”
  • Rhetorical questions: “What happens if you do nothing?”
  • Triads (expressing items in groups of three): The most famous triad you’ve probably ever heard came in President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” But any financial presentation can benefit from the same triad technique: “We need to investigate, to explore, to question.”
  • Use humor with great care (if at all). You will never have the opportunity to “undo” a tasteless joke, and you will never have the opportunity to “redo” a botched punch line. So think before you use any humor. Remember: Humor should not be gratuitous. If used, humor has to blend into your remarks. Above all, understand that humor should not offend the audience in any way.

    Allow adequate time for rehearsals. Good presentations require practice. It isn’t just what you say, it’s also how you say it. Analyze the way you use your voice, body language, eye contact and audio/visual aids.

    Consider the attention your presentation might generate. What do you want your audience to remember? What do you want them to tell their colleagues? Write down your marketing goals and then make sure your presentation has the memorable lines you need to impact your listeners. A good presentation includes quotable phrases (sound-bites). The most concise and clever sound-bites get tweeted, re-tweeted, quoted, noted and repeated. This produces valuable attention for you and helps market your organization. Positive attention will multiply your message, increase your professional network, and help you build a strong reputation in the finance field.

    Seek feedback. A presentation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in conjunction with an audience. Find out: Did your audience like your presentation? Did they find it interesting? Do they see you as an authority? Do they respect your expertise? You can get valuable feedback by providing written evaluation forms at your session, offering online evaluation forms, or simply speaking informally with attendees in the days following your presentation.