4 Texas-Sized Tips to Help Ace Your Presentations

As the saying goes, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as quick as I could.” And while Southern hospitality is a real thing, patience gets short when the sun is high and your neighbor is beating around the bush. Texans like straight shooters.

So, too, do the people who have to listen to your presentations. Whether it’s an industry conference talk or a staff training session, nothing is worse than someone who is all gurgle and no guts. Here are four tips — in the form of country song titles — for creating a presentation that doesn’t suck the life out of your audience:

A Little Less Talk

Let’s face it, presentations are most popular among presenters — not audiences. PowerPoint slides and projectors have become the knee-jerk reaction to the corporate question of “How do I train the staff?” or “How do I transfer knowledge and information?” Before you even think about double-clicking on that orange Microsoft P icon, ask yourself:

> Does the topic or situation call for a presentation? Consider if a short email, a team lunch or a group exercise would be more effective.

> Are you the right person? A request to present is flattering. Sometimes, though, there are others with more expertise. Putting together a memorable presentation requires the right person at the front of the room. Know when that person is not you.

Tip One: Presentations that aren’t needed in the first place are destined to fail. Talk less and say more.

It’s Not About You

As the presenter, though, one rule prevails: The presentation is not about you. It is about the audience. In short, what are they getting out of the deal?

“The presenter isn’t the hero; the audience is the hero of your idea,” says Nancy Duarte in her November 2011 TEDxEast presentation, “The Secret Structure of Great Talks,” which breaks down the common elements of the world’s greatest speeches.

Many of those speeches relied on classic storytelling hero structure, which involves a likeable hero in an ordinary world who is called to adventure. At first, the hero resists the call to action—until a mentor comes along to guide him or her on their journey.

Being the mentor is “the role of the presenter,” Duarte says. “You’re not Luke Skywalker. You’re Yoda.”

You can’t be a good mentor if you don’t know your audience. Who are they? What do they already know about the topic? What do they want to take away from the talk? If it’s a client, know what type of presentation they expect.

Tip Two: Conduct due diligence. Consider an online survey tool to learn more about the people in the room before you present. SurveyMonkey offers a free tool.

Tell Me Why

The main goal of any good presentation or speech is to help the audience solve a problem or issue. The hurdle might be as simple as improving office efficiency, as complex as world peace or as tactical as a new product pitch for your client.

In any case, your presentation must deliver the story of how the audience can successfully overcome their problem. That story — with a beginning, middle and end — should stand on its own, separate from any slides, props or notes. Answer the question: Why am I telling this story?

For one, this prevents the notorious “information dump” style of presenting. For another, presenters never should assume everyone in the audience can see or hear. Nor should they assume the electricity, WiFi, or projector will work that day. No amount of Keynote Magic Move or Sparkle transitions can disguise a flimsy message.

Tip Three: Create a strong core, concise story that delivers powerful information to your audience, regardless of your visual aids. This should be the hardest work you do. As they say in Texas: Don’t go in if you don’t know the way out.

I Like It. I Love It. I Want Some More Of It.

Not all presentations should have slides. “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint,” Steve Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson.

Over the last 10 years, a variety of dynamic presentation styles have popped up, thanks, in part, to global movements such as TED talks, Ignite, PopUp Magazine, PechaKucha and startup pitch contests.

Most of these new methods were invented by people who routinely, well, got bored. PechaKucha, for example, uses a 20 x 20 rule — 20 slides presented for 20 seconds each. The system was invented by architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham because “architects talk too much.”

What’s more, there’s a veritable cornucopia of unique presentation software out there: Prezi, PowToon, Haiku DeckVoiceThread, and Canva.

If slides are an option, follow best practices of large, full-bleed images and few words. And, for the love of audiences everywhere, know your design limitations and put the graphics in the hands of a professional.

Tip Four: Care enough about your presentation to experiment with the delivery. Slides, props and supporting graphics reflect your professional style. Nobody likes a talk that’s all broth and no beans.

Additional Resources

And if you feel like going offline, here are two excellent books I can recommend for you:

Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo

Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds

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Have a presentation story or resource to share? Leave a comment. The conference room world will be a better place for it.

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