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Seven steps to powerful presentations

SKILLS ON SHOW: A Toastmasters meeting

BEEN ASKED to deliver a presentation? Here are seven steps to help you make an impact and keep your audience engaged:


Think about the reason you're being asked to present, the size of the audience and what they may already know about the topic. Nothing induces boredom more than explaining something that someone already knows. By the same token, nothing causes more confusion than assuming they know all the acronyms and jargon that you're using. The most useful approach is to build a 'persona' to help you think about people in the audience, or more than one if it's a diverse group. Give your persona a name and think about what they're like, why they're here, their hopes and fears and how you might solve their problem.  


Your presentation should have one message. It could be to solve their problem by buying your product, investing in your project or changing a policy. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey said, "Begin with the end in mind" - and this is true when it comes to presentations. If you're not sure what the audience should think, feel and believe by the end of your presentation, then grab a few PostIt notes and start doodling. For instance, you could turn "Buy my market research service" into "Hear how XYZ improved results by delighting their customers". Remember to focus on the benefit to the audience.


Step away from the keyboard...instead, use moveable bits of paper to plan out the key points, then add a story or anecdote for each. Rather than saying that your taxi company has more drivers than anyone else, share a story of how a client had been able to get to the airport after a last-minute flight change. Although most business presentations need to contain facts and figures, it's the stories and emotional connection that we remember. If you’re thinking of adding charts and graphs – ask yourself; "Will this chart make it easier for this audience to understand this message?". If not, try something different. If you do need to provide the detailed data, then make it available through a handout or a follow-up email.


You can find plenty of free-to-use photos by searching online for 'Creative Commons'. There are also low-cost photo libraries. Photos, quotes and videos from your current customers can help. However, avoid using a video at the start of your presentation – it’s a great way to send the audience to sleep.  If you are presenting at an event, make sure that your first and last slides have your name and contact details, and the event hashtag if there is one. Consider your use of text carefully; use it sparingly and use a large, clear font. Remember, your audience can't read and listen to you at the same time, so always pause after revealing something on the screen.


Practice makes perfect. You're not aiming for perfect, but practice will make you better. Rehearse what you're going to say and how you're going to use your slides. Go back to your persona(s) and imagine their reaction as you make each point. Make any notes that you need, but don't make the mistake of reading to the audience. The rehearsal process builds confidence and allows you to practise your timing. If you’ve been given 20 minutes to present, then an hour-long presentation is no good. Instead, be prepared to do it in 15 minutes if necessary.  


Always check what equipment you'll need to use and pay particular attention to connectors for screens and projectors. Bring spares of everything including a power extension cable. Having your presentation on a USB stick can get you out of trouble in an emergency. Remember that things can change at the last minute, so be prepared to adapt, and try to arrive early so that you can test that everything is working.


Take a deep breath.  Smile at the audience.  Then enjoy the experience of delivering your powerful presentation to an audience that will be enthralled, delighted and convinced by your message.

Most importantly...

Being asked to deliver a talk is a great experience. Whether it's a sales pitch to a client or an update in a team huddle, the most important thing is to focus on the needs of the audience and make sure your message is useful to them. These seven steps will help you deliver the most powerful presentation possible, and produce an experience that is enjoyable for both you and your audience.

Steve Campion is from Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. To find your local club, visit: or Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.

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