Most of us, regardless of our chosen career path, have to present from time-to-time. Depending on your line of work, a presentation or pitch could be a daily event or a once in a blue moon occurrence but never the less it’s something we all have to do.
Of course we’re presenting all the time but in this instance I’m talking about formal presentations or pitches that involve standing up in front of a room of people with slides and talking. As a marketing agency we’re presenting and pitching all the time and it’s something I personally enjoy doing. This hasn’t always been the case though and it took me a while to develop the skills and confidence to stand up in front of peers, colleagues, clients and potential clients and talk with ease.
Over the years I’ve been provided with little nuggets of advice about presenting that have really helped shape my style and build my confidence. I want to share these top 5 bits of advice with you today. I’ll start from 5 and work my way to number 1 (like a shortened version of the UK Top 40…):
5. Break it up
Remember this simple fact: people lose attention after 10-minutes
The only effective way to combat this and keep your audience engaged is to mix-up your presentations. This doesn’t mean you should change topic and start talking about something new every 10-minutes (more on why you shouldn’t do that in point 2), it’s actually about using a mix of different methods and mediums to get your point across. For instance, I try not to talk for any longer than 10-minutes at a time – I break up spells of ‘pure presenting’ by throwing a question out to the audience for discussion, running a demonstration of what I’m talking about or even watching small 2-3 minute video clips that illustrate my points. It all helps keep your audience engaged for your whole presentation.
4. Less jargon, more swearing…
I’m not actually telling you to swear in your presentations (that was just a ploy to grab your attention but more on that in point 1!). What I’m actually saying here is that filling your presentations full of industry jargon can be just as damaging filling your presentation with the most offensive expletives you can think of. And that’s no over exaggeration – it’s a well researched fact that not only do people switch off when jargon is used but it’s also a huge pet hate for many. Keep your use of language simple and straight to the point – regardless of your audience. In Apple’s World Developer Conference’s Steve Jobs still uses simple language and explanations even though he’s talking to an audience full of technical wizards (not actual wizards). In fact, when you compare presentations by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Jobs is found to use much less technical jargon than Gates, which is why he is so good at engaging the millions with his presentations. To use that classic clichéd acronym, Keep It Simple Stupid!
3. Put numbers in context
This point is particularly important if your presentation is a pitch for a new piece of work, but it is still relevant to all presentations that involve the use of numbers or prices.
Without going too deep into the highly complex field of price psychology, remember this simple fact: numbers or prices mean nothing to people – it’s all about context. In other words, people’s perception of price value and numbers in general are based only on comparison to something else – on it’s own a number is nothing but a number.
I’ve been to many pitches and presentations where the presenter displays a figure or figures designed to really impress the audience:
“We saved 12,000 tonnes of carbon emissions this year’
‘All this will cost you £14,000’,
‘9,290 people returned this product after purchase’.
What do all of these numbers actually mean?
Is 9,290 a lot of returns?
Is £14,000 good value?
Is 12,000 tonnes of carbon emissions impressive?
Equally though, if you put numbers in to some kind of context they can be extremely powerful and persuasive. Show people what 12,000 tonnes of carbon emissions looks like or tell us how many planes could fly around the world on that number of emissions and quickly you have a much more compelling argument. The same can be said when it comes to pricing – if we’re building a website and delivering an online marketing campaign for a client we often compare the price of doing this to other forms of marketing activity, which are often very expensive and offer no real guarantees or way of tracking effectiveness. This makes a really powerful argument towards opting for our low-risk pricing model.
2. Tell a Story (and make sure it’s only one story)
What’s the overall point of your presentation? Make sure you set this out first before you start. The best presentations have a clear overall point that they want to get across and keep referring back to it throughout the presentation. Of course, there is always lots of information to get across and many points to be made, but try and wrap all of this up into one overriding theme.
For instance, I recently gave a presentation/marketing workshop called ‘why marketing doesn’t work’. Ok, so the title might sound a bit negative, but it got the attention of the audience and it gave me a really strong theme for the presentation, which focused on the 5 core reasons why marketing can fail and an overall strategy for creating more effective marketing campaigns. I won’t give away any more right now so you’ll need to attend one of my marketing workshops if you want to know all my industry tips and secrets!
1. Less text, more images
And in at number 1 is the simplest but best of all the bits of advice I’ve been given on presenting:
Remove almost all text from your slides and make it much, much more graphic.
You’ve probably heard before that too much text on presentation slides is bad but I’m going one step further than that; I think almost all text from presentation slides should be removed. There is no reason to have more than 30 words on a presentation slide and often even that is too much.
Words on a slide are usually used to help the presenter more than engage the audience – it gives the presenter anchor points to remember what they’re talking about. However, from the audience’s point of view, the text just distracts them from what you’re saying.
Removing words from your slides will force the audience to actually listen to what you’re saying and using interesting graphics and imagery really improves how engaged they are by what you’re saying. If you are worried about losing where you are without the text cues then print out your slides, take notes and use these as your cue cards.
Although you are removing text, spend more time on the text you have kept on your slides. Use Twitter as inspiration and try to make each statement less than 140 characters and really memorable and engaging. Removing the amount of text gives you a real opportunity to be short, snappy and much more interesting.
Well that’s it, I hope you found this helpful and, as always, any further comments and insight are more than welcome.