Presentation Hints and Tips

1. How to construct a presentation
2. How long should a presentation be?
3. How to use an audience response system with your presentation
4. Using graphics and video in your presentation

1. How to construct a presentation

The usual starting point for a presenter is to ask “How long have I got?” and “What would you like me to talk about?” Both quite reasonable questions, but just the starting point in preparing a presentation. Probably the most important questions to ask are as follows:

  • Who is in the audience – they could be work colleagues, customers, prospects, etc?
  • Why are they listening to you – how is what you have to say relevant to their work?
  • What interests them - how will what you have to say be of interest to them? How will it benefit them, or their organisation?
  • Do you have real life examples to support what you’re saying?
  • What do you want them to do as a result of hearing your presentation?

If your presentation is not relevant to your audience, they probably won’t listen – they are wasting their time and you are wasting yours. Your presentation needs to be relevant, interesting and memorable. A useful technique is to use relevant, everyday examples – the kind of examples that the audience can relate to – and remember. Your closing remarks should include some kind of a ‘call to action’ for the audience, something you would like them to do. If you have an audience composed of different categories of people you may need more than one ‘call to action’, making clear which action applies to whom.

Finally, whatever you do make sure that your presentation finishes on time. There is nothing worse than a presentation that over-runs – it causes problems for everyone. It’s worth having a timer so you know where you are, how much time is left and what’s on your next slide just to help you.

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2. How long should a presentation be?

The answer depends on the setting for the presentation and any guidelines you have been given by the organisers. The shortest possible time would be for the fabled ‘elevator pitch’ where, following a chance meeting, you have only the duration of a ride in the lift to make a pitch – let’s say 30 seconds. This is not a bad place to start because it should make you concentrate on what the really important points are that you want to convey in your presentation.

Elevator pitch – 30 seconds

This may seem difficult, and it is, but this is the length of time that advertisers have to convey their message in a radio or TV commercial. It is quite a good way to open a presentation and worth spending time on. If you have longer than 30 seconds you can expand on and reinforce points made in your opening 30 seconds.

Radio or TV interview

If you are interviewed for radio or TV, you will be expected to be brief, concise and engaging. Look at the news bulletins and see how long people are given to make their point. Even very important people rarely have more than 30 or 40 seconds to speak. If they talk for longer, the editor will decide on what is most important, or interesting, and cut the rest.

Social engagement e.g a wedding

Opinions vary on how long a presentation/speech should be at a social occasion such as, a wedding. Most people think that 5 to 10 minutes is probably about right, depending on how much content you have. It is just as important to think about the audience at these events, their knowledge and their interests. This is particularly important if you are the Best Man, who is likely to know the bride and groom quite well, but may have little knowledge of the other guests. Some research is vital.

Work-related presentation

You will normally be given a time-slot for your presentation and, typically, you may be given 30 minutes to present. Although this is much longer than the previous examples, the same rules apply. The difference with a work-related presentation is that you will be expected to present a coherent and reasoned proposition to the audience as a result of which you will expect them to be better informed and to do something differently. For these reasons you will need to consider including real-life examples to underpin your assertions, possibly to include video support such as testimonials, and think about the use of visual aids to convey your messages.

In any of the examples, the key to success is hard work and practice; hard work in getting the content right, practice in delivering the content and keeping to time.

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3. How to use an audience response system with your presentation

Audience response (AR) systems are widely-used to test the knowledge of the audience, to gather opinions from the audience to generate and guide debate, or to introduce fun-elements to an event through a quiz format. They can also be used to convey a lot of information quickly in an engaging way to create a more even level of understanding of a particular topic. AR systems consist of a computer running the voting system software, a host receiver and handsets. AR systems can be expensive to hire and set up and so are probably not cost effective for just one session in a day. If you would like to use an AR system, see how many of your fellow presenters could incorporate use of a system into their presentations.

A quiz to lighten the day

This is the most frequently used format for AR system sessions. If delegates are seated in table groups, the handsets are allocated to each table. The quiz is usually played in rounds of 4 or 5 questions each and a leader board is shown at the end of each round. The quiz can contain some questions relating to the organisation as well as more general questions. Video clips, still images and music can be built into the quiz questions to add more variety. There is the opportunity to present the winning team with prizes at the end, adding more enjoyment to the contest. A good quizmaster is an important element in the success of the quiz where they are not just reading out the right answer (which everyone can see), but adding to the content.

Imparting knowledge quickly

On occasions, you will be asked to present on a topic for which the audience has a basic level of understanding to appreciate your presentation. Rather than presenting ‘20 things you need to know’ before moving to the main content, using an AR system is a good way to share information quickly in a fun-way. For example, let’s say you wanted to share knowledge on a project in Ghana you have been involved in. A series of questions about key features of Ghana (population, exports, industries, size) with multiple-choice answers for each question quickly conveys a basic understanding of Ghana much faster and in a more involving (and memorable) way than a 5 minute preamble.

Gathering audience opinions

If you are interested in the views of the audience in general, you can simply distribute a handset to each delegate for them to respond to your opinion statements. Within the voting software you construct the questions, or statements, to which you want the audience to respond. An example of this could be the statement: ‘Recycling is a complete waste of time and energy’. The options for the audience would range from ‘Very strongly agree’ through to ‘Very strongly disagree’. You might then present some of the salient facts about recycling and have a group discussion allowing debate of some of the issues. You then might ask the audience to vote again to see if opinions had changed following the debate. The use of an AR system in this way requires the skill of a facilitator and the ability to manage an audience, but it can be very useful in finding out what everyone thinks, as opposed to the ones with the loudest voices.

Testing how much people know

If you want to know how individuals perform, a necessary requirement is to enter the delegate details into the voting system database and allocate a voting handset to each delegate. This can usually be automated by importing a delegate list from an Excel spreadsheet. All votes cast by each delegate will be automatically tracked in the database and reports produced to show how each delegate scored in the test. This can be used at intervals during the day to quickly understand where knowledge is good (or weak) about the next topic, thus enabling the presenter(s) to focus their presentation for the session. The test questions can be re-run at the end of the course to see how each delegate’s knowledge has improved. To add a competitive element, there is also an option to show leader boards from time to time, either by individuals, or by teams if individuals have been assigned to teams.

If you do decide to use an AR system in your presentation you need to put in sufficient planning time and practice to ensure that the session works as well as you intended. Most suppliers of AR systems can provide valuable help and advice on how to achieve your objectives and how to get the most from your chosen system.

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4. Using graphics and video in your presentation

The key to effective graphics is to keep them as simple as possible. Bullet points should be 2 or 3 words and diagrams should be easy to understand. Even if you have a very complex situation, or plan, you should attempt to get to the heart of the complexity and make it simple and easy to understand. It can be very effective to show a complex diagram, but move swiftly to highlight the key area or components of the diagram which you want to explain.

Moving pictures

Using images in presentations adds interest, provided that the images are relevant to what you are saying. However, great care must be taken to ensure that any images you choose are of sufficiently high resolution to be clearly seen when projected. For example, if you use an image which has been taken from a web site, the image is likely to be low resolution and will nor project well. You also need to ensure that you have the copyright owner’s permission to use images. This permission is usually included for images purchased from digital image web sites e.g., but do check the terms of the license agreement before using.

The comments apply to the use of video in a presentation with one additional point: if the video contains a soundtrack which is relevant, ensure that the computer being used for your presentation is equipped with an audio output capability, particularly for presentations to larger audiences.

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