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For a presenter, visual slides are a powerful tool to get your message across to the audience. But we know that without the safety net of bullet points, presenting visual content can be daunting. Not only do you have to create these visual slides, but now you can no longer rely on reading off the screen to remind yourself of what you’re talking about.
While you will have to do some extra work, the payoff is enormous because your audience will be inclined to listen to what you’re saying, as the visual information on your slides comes together with the auditory information from your narrative. So how do you prepare adequately? Let me take you through some important areas of consideration to get you stage-ready.
Once you’ve got your visuals sorted out, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the content. Presenters are very often tempted to write and memorize a script, especially when presenting visual slides, because they are not confident they can remember the structure otherwise. I always tell my clients that memorizing a script is just about the worst thing you can do for yourself when presenting any kind of slides.
One concern is that you will end up losing the conversational elements of your speech, such as the natural rise and fall of your voice. Additionally, it’s very likely that you’ll end up getting tripped up on something very minor. Maybe you’re supposed to say “it was an enormous success” and instead you say “it was a huge success”; your audience won’t know the difference but you will, and you might react to your own mistake in a way that affects your presentation.
Instead of wasting hours trying to memorize a script word-for-word, spend your time with your slides. Get to know the sequences and the builds within each slide: if you’ve built the slides well, the visuals should remind you of what you should be talking about. Get familiar with this, but also think about what you want you want your audience to take away from each slide.
I remember things better when I write them down, so usually I make notes of what I want the punchline to be for each slide, and go through the deck once or twice looking at the notes. Once I’m somewhat comfortable I put away my notes and try to go from memory. Your goal should be to have a conversational tone, so each time you rehearse the presentation specific wording may change, but the messages are the same. You want your audience to feel like you’re talking to them, not listening to a pre-recorded message.
The way you interact with both your audience and your slides will determine not only how effective you are at communicating your ideas, but also how well they are retained in the future.
It may seem trivial, but where you stand in relation to your presentation can have an effect on an audience’s ability to follow the flow of information. You want to stand close enough to the screen that the audience can see both you and the slides without having to bob their heads back and forth.
You’ll also want to stand on the left side of the screen, from the audience’s perspective. Western cultures read from left to right, so it will feel most natural for your audience to start off by focusing on you on the left side, and then looking at what’s happening on the screen. If you are really clever you can also develop your slides so they build out from left to right, or roughly so. This way if someone tunes out for a second they can quickly figure out what’s going on.
Another thing that people often think is important when giving a presentation is making eye contact with your audience. While it is important to pay attention to your audience, maintaining eye contact can be distracting not only for you, but for your audience. As humans, if someone is making eye contact with us we are naturally programmed to look back at them.
The problem is, if your audience is just looking at you, they are not paying attention to the beautiful slides you’ve spent so much time creating!
Switch back and forth between looking at your audience and looking at your slides. This way you can rely on your visuals as triggers to remind you what you should be talking about, and when your audience sees you engaging with your slides they’ll be inclined to do so as well.
Looking at your slides is good, but touching them is even better. By interacting with your slides you have the ability to manipulate the audience’s gaze not just at your slides, but to specific points on your slides. One of my colleagues likes to call his hand the “audience control device” because you can use it to grab the audience’s attention, and place it exactly where you like.
If you know that a bar on a graph is going to grow, point to the bar and move your hand up with it. You should be comfortable enough with the builds and animations on your slides that you know what’s coming. If you know your slides really well, you can make it look like your hands are actually causing the changes on the screen: try making it look like an object exits the slide because your hand has pushed it away.
And just remember- if you really want your audience to look at something, tell them! With all the resources you have- your words, your gaze, and your hands.
Now you may be thinking that it’s quite difficult to be running around pointing at the screen if you’ve got to keep running back to your laptop to hit the next arrow- and you would be right! This is why I always suggest using clickers.
A clicker is a small device you carry around with you which allows you to control your presentation while you are walking around a room or a stage. They have varying levels of functionality- some are very basic but some, like air mice and smart TV remotes, allow you to move a mouse around the screen and click on things.
Which one you’ll want to use will depend on your needs. My personal favorite is a basic clicker with USB connection. However if you’ve got a slide deck with lots of hyperlinks and interactivity within the slides, you’ll probably want to invest in either an air mouse or a smart TV remote. Find something you like and get used to the controls. If you are going to be an effective presenter you can’t be stuck in one spot, or running back to your keyboard every time you need to change slides.
When thinking about the equipment you’ll need, you’ll also want to think about the size of the screen. Even if you are very familiar with the slides and know how to interact with them, this isn’t going to do you a lot of good if most of the presentation screen is out of your reach. If you know you are going to be presenting in a ballroom, I would suggesting getting yourself a pointer.
While many clickers come with built-in laser pointers I highly discourage using these. The whole reason you would be using a pointer is if your screen is very large, and laser pointers tend to be very tiny, red dots, that never want to hold still. This can be more distracting for both you and your audience as you struggle to hit the right spot on your screen.
You’re better off trying to find something that acts as an extension of you; this could be as simple as a broom handle, or a selfie stick. My colleague Richard has a collapsible pointer that he uses, and he puts a foam finger with the local sports team logo on the end. Now while this may be initially distracting, it will also re-engage audience members whose attention might have strayed away to their email inbox. You’ll get a laugh, and very quickly the initial shock will wear away and your audience will stop paying attention to what you’re pointing with, and be completely focused on what you’re pointing to.
Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by visual slides. While it takes a different kind of preparation, presenting visual slides is a valuable set of skills that will become useful to you time and time again. With practice you will find yourself wondering why you ever prepared any other way.
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