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Because managers at all levels are increasingly likely to be asked to speak in public, management training often includes elements of presentation skills training. One of the biggest fears, surveys show, is speaking in public. However nervous you are when standing up in front of a large group, it is possible to develop into competent and engaging presenter given the right training support. The following article contains some key tips and techniques that if followed will make you a better presenter.

It has been said that the three golden rules of powerful presentations are preparation, preparation, and preparation. You can not afford to leave anything to chance. 80% of the total time of your presentation should be spent preparing - it really is that important.

A good starting point is to think about two things. As a starting point, who will be in the audience? To use an example, a salesperson selling a pension scheme to the company directors would deliver a different presentation when selling the same scheme to the shop floor. The subject is the same - but the different people at the presentation would not be interested in the same things. Next, think what your objective is. It could be to inform; persuade; sell; or get commitment to a particular project. The response to this question will define the whole presentation so ensure it is as specific as you can. Write it down - that forces you to think clearly.

Another factor to consider during preparation is the issue of notes to guide you through the presentation. Bluntly, scripts are out! If a presenter just reads from a script, they may as well email the presentation to the audience, and save them the time and trouble of attending.

It is more professional to use post card sized cards with your key or prompt words written on them. These cards should be numbered, and then a single hole punched in the corner. Push a treasury tag through the holes and your presentation prompts are handy to use - this will also ensure that if you drop them they are kept together - imagine the horror of having to shuffle them all back into order in front of an amused audience!

The next key point to address is the structure of the presentation. Structure - or lack of it - can make or break any presentation, even by the most accomplished among us. The audience wants to know what's coming up, so the presentation needs an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.

Contained in these main component parts should be some smaller ingredients that heighten the presenter's impact. Audience attention is at its highest at the start, and the end, of any presentation or learning event - as anyone involved in management training will tell you! Reviewing your agenda or objectives now misses a great opportunity. Instead, try a power opener: a few sentences or phrases that are deliberately designed to sound dramatic. Don't use any visual aids or props at this stage - your aim is to have the audiences total focus on you. Do not move about, talk slowly and put emphasise on your key words. Then, using the appropriate visual iads, move on to talking about your objectives or agenda. By now your audience will be sitting on the edge of their seats!

One last factor - and it's vital - to consider at this point. Nearly all presentations carry a time restriction, and it's imperative not to overrun. It's bad to finish early - you've probably not done as good a job as you could have - but it's worse to finish late. The audience will switch off and become restless if you miss the deadline, so make sure you time your sessions during practice. Remember to leave time for questions - will they be asked at the end, or as you go along?

Nowadays, presenters are faced with a wide choice of visual aids. The two most common are PowerPoint and flipchart and each has certain benefits which the other doesn't offer. We'll take PowerPoint first.

LCD projectors, needed to project your PowerPoint slides, are reasonably portable and the slides that you produce for your presentation can be used again. If you don't want people to see the whole slide, use animation - this also helps keeps people's attention. A visual aid created in PowerPoint is easier to create than a hand written flipchart page - and often easier to read (flipcharts require larger than normal handwriting so can look messy or "wobbly"). Do not forget the power cable will need to be plugged in to a power supply - maybe an extension lead as well - and have a back up plan just in case the power or the equipment fails.

The flipchart is best used for spontaneity. A flipchart is useful when you want to draw or write an answer to a question someone has asked you. The flip chart pages can be torn off the pad and put up on the wall with blutac. Be aware that if you use red and green together they will appear identical to a colour blind person. Use marker pens with a wide tip whenever possible.

Any pictures or graphics you use must support the audience in understanding the subject. It is estimated that we take in approximately 75% of all information via our eyes - a picture really does paint a thousand words. Whenever you can, use graphics, rather than words. Keep visuals uncluttered - two or three key points per slide or flipchart are sufficient.

Try and eliminate repetition of certain words like "Okay?" and "Right!" from your presentation, as the audience may start to count them. Do use effective gestures - for example a circular wave of a finger depicts the structure of a spiral staircase instantly whereas trying simply to describe the same thing could easily burn up precious minutes. However, be aware of annoying mannerisms, like jangling coins in a pocket or speaking with your hand over your mouth.

Only ever use jokes if you are totally confident that they will work, and never use them early in the presentation. Above all else, be aware of your eye contact with your audience. Keep your audience engaged by looking at each person for a few seconds, this also presents to them that you are confident and believe in what you are talking about.

Lastly, how will you finish? Many a good presentation has fallen flat because the close hasn't been planned. A simple solution is to summarise, ask for final questions and then move into a power close. Take a few well-chosen phrases, and commit them to memory. Our management training experts often suggest using the following approach: when you are ready, turn off the LCD, or ensure the flipchart is showing a blank sheet of paper, and then move towards the audience (this tells them that something important is going to happen), look them in the eye, deliver your power close, and finish with "Thank You"... then step back and enjoy the applause!

Richard Stone is a Director for Spearhead Training Limited that runs management training programmes aimed at improving business performance.



Published - August 2010

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