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What is the key to making a great presentation?

As soon as people learn that I am a presentation skills trainer, the question I’m most often asked is: “What is the one thing that makes for a great presentation?”

Sometimes it’s the reverse: “What is the most common mistake speakers make?” (How you pose the question is quite revealing about your attitude to public speaking!)

It’s impossible to isolate a single, most important key idea. A good presentation, after all, depends on context: your personality and experience, as well as the audience’s expectations for the event.

This week, I will focus on three key elements to remember as you craft your next presentation.

1) Have a clear objective

What do you want to achieve?

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”Lawrence J. Peter

It’s important to have a clear idea of why you are there. Consider why you’ve been invited to speak. What does the audience expect to learn from you? What is the single most important point you want to impart?

If an audience were to think back on your talk before going to bed that night, or at the end of the week, what is the key phrase or message that you would like them to remember?

Once you understand what your aim is, craft your presentation so it reinforces that goal.

2) Edit, edit, edit

As you prepare your talk, make sure your key points are clear, concise and relevant. Most audiences cannot absorb too much information at once. So don’t pad your presentation with too much information. There is a lot of research to support this claim. But you probably know this instinctively. You’ve probably sat through share of long, detailed, and overwhelming presentations.

The words that you select have a significant impact on conveying a message accurately and effectively. For example, this article highlights the psychology of language—which words are most effective when we speak:

Make sure your key points have “breathing room” around them so the audience can clearly hear the main ideas. You are much more familiar with your main ideas than your audience. So give them time to digest your first point before moving on to the next one.

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak” – Hans Hofman

3) Add stories, anecdotes, and examples

Including specific examples will ensure that your presentation connects with an audience. No one wants to hear someone spout broad claims without any data. We all relate to stories, and indeed often it’s the only thing the audience remembers.

I’ve done a lot of training with officials at the UN. And I’m always encouraging them to include vivid stories in their public presentations that the audience can latch on to.

For example, rather than just running through the statistics, representatives from the United Nations Development Programme describe how a new policy will impact the life of a young mother living in a small hut without ventilation in rural Namibia.

Likewise, when working with salespeople at Sotheby’s, my clients have learned that talking about the way a viewer reacted to the beauty of a particular painting upon first sight makes that item stand out among hundreds.

Make these stories real. Take the time to paint vivid pictures, set the scene, and add detail. That’s what makes it stick. Chip and Dan Heath describe this well in their popular book, Made to Stick.

The three tips for today are: know your objective, keep the message crisp and clear, and connect through engaging stories.

Let me help you take your presentation to the next level. I’ll share more lessons about what makes a presentation relevant, effective, and memorable.

Patricia Kantor

Key to a Great Presentation

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