07 Jul Presenting Technical Information
Are you a technical expert? Do you find yourself presenting at work to gain acceptance of your proposal, gather support for your project or endorsement for your ideas and recommendations? Unfortunately, many technical experts believe that if they create lots of slides full of tiny words, numbers, diagrams, charts and graphs they will be a first class presenter. They think that if their information is rock solid that’s all that matters.
Let’s be honest, one hundred slides with eight point font and diagrams that nobody can read in two hours (let alone 10 seconds) isn’t going to make any message engaging or persuasive from the audiences’ point of view.
It doesn’t matter how good your message is if no one’s listening!
I’ve been a presentation skills trainer for much of the past two decades and I’ve seen thousands of technical presentations that you’d be lucky to stay awake for even with Red Bull or a No Dose at the ready. No wonder it’s called ‘Death by PowerPoint’! You know what’s sad? In the majority of cases, the presenter was a true subject matter expert and no one will ever know or care because the person didn’t know how to showcase their professional expertise in a way that was exciting for their audience. They made the classic mistake of thinking that credibility = too much data.
Anyone can be an exceptional presenter. It’s just a matter of knowing what to do and doing it.
Here are my top tips for presenting technical information in an interesting way:
1. Know your audience. Just because you are a technical subject matter expert doesn’t mean that the people you’re speaking to know much about the topic you’re addressing. It’s important that you appreciate the level of knowledge and the roles of the people you are presenting to so you can tweak your message and put things in terms that your audience understands.
2. Build rapport. People like people who are like themselves. So find a way of using your dress, body language, voice and language patterns to be as similar to as many people in the audience as possible and that way you’ll be in rapport from the start.
3. Motivate your audience. Most people go to way too many meetings that are a complete waste of time. Remember the presenter’s job is to motivate your audience to listen – otherwise they may not!
4. Evoke emotions. People are more likely to change their thinking or behaviour if you tell stories, give example or use analogies that evoke emotion. Ensure your use your voice, body and facial expressions to captivate. Ask yourself: What do I want my audience to feel at the various points in my presentation? Then make sure you feel those exact emotions at the right times yourself. The saying goes: Emotions are contagious – are yours worth catching?
5. Manage any objections. Spend some time thinking about all the objections your audience may have to your content. What questions will they ask and what are the different answers you could give. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
6. Set the guidelines. Make sure your audience knows the boundaries for your presentation. What will be covered and what won’t? How long will it go for and when should they ask questions. Setting the boundaries can help you avoid chaos.
7. Rehearse. Exceptional presenters rehearse the opening and close of their presentations many, many times.
8. Use a whiteboard as well as, or instead of slides. Audiences love the organic nature of a whiteboard or flipchart. If you’re worried about your handwriting pre-draw some of the model and fill in the gaps when you are ready. This is called Response Potential and it’s a clever engagement strategy. Alternatively, use a led pencil to draw the model lightly of flipchart paper and draw over the top of the pencil to reveal the model. You’ll look like a born artist as long as the pencil marks don’t show up on the paper!
9. Love your content. People often say to me that they don’t know how to make their topic interesting because it’s so boring or dry. Well if you think it’s boring and dry what is your audience going to think about it? You need to find the parts you are passionate about and make sure you convey your passion.
10. Be yourself. You don’t need to be a performer. Don’t worry about being charismatic, charming or comedic. Be yourself because everyone else is taken. Just talk about what you know. Your authenticity will be evident to your audience and then they’ll be better placed to connect with you and buy your concept or idea. You’ll also be more comfortable with yourself, you’ll be able to relax and you’ll deliver a stronger presentation.
11. The slides are only an aid. Slides are an aid and not THE presentation. Keep them simple with large fonts (minimum 30pt) and more pictures/graphs and charts than words. Take out agenda slides. You don’t have to send your slides in advance if you don’t want to. If the conference organiser wants your slides suggest you’ll write them a comprehensive article in MS Word for their delegate pack instead.
12. Don’t assume you even need slides. A common assumption is that when you’re giving a presentation, you must use PowerPoint. That’s not true. A short talk with some drawing on a whiteboard or flipchart, or reference to a handout may be the best way to get your point across. My advice is to use PowerPoint as an aid for your audience to remind them of your key points.
13. Use illustrations, not bullets. It’s easier to tell a story when you use pictures and graphics as opposed to bullet points. Pictures and graphics, pie charts and tables provide a better way to convey your message, and they help your audience to listen, rather than just read your slides.
14. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Effective presentations have to be planned out, thought through and refined for days, if not weeks, leading up to your presentation. Preparing your material well in advance gives you time to fine-tune certain aspects and to program your subconscious regarding the flow and general message of your presentation. Doing so, you’ll find that your delivery will sound more natural and uncontrived.
15. You don’t need to be a performer. Don’t worry about being charismatic or a comedian. Be yourself and talk about what you know. Your authenticity will be evident to your audience and then they’ll be better placed to connect with you and buy your concept or idea. You’ll also be more comfortable with yourself, you’ll be able to relax and you’ll deliver a stronger presentation.
16. Make your presentation a discussion with your audience. In most situations, people would rather be part of a discussion than be talked at. Don’t rely entirely on your slides and don’t just read what’s on the screen. Interact, ask questions, suggest ideas they can debate. Remember you are a real live human being and your role is to connect with the other real live human beings in your audience.