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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Presentation Styles

Remember when I wrote the post, "If you look bad, you are bad"? Well, this post is kind of an extension of that one.

Specifically, I'm writing about presentations to others. I've heard people say that when you get up in front of others to speak, the only way you can look really put together and professional is to speak extemporaneously: no notes, no nothing. I guess they think speaking in an impromptu manner like that reflects great ability. I'm sure it does. I'm also pretty confident that very few people can pull that off. I can't. This type of communication can lead to lengthy, rambling discourses if you're not very careful. No, thanks.

Another way to seem really prepped is to memorize what you want to say before getting up before your audience...kind of like being an actor in a play. That looks really good...if you can pull that off. What happens if you get interrupted and get off track? There's a story about General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson, of Civil War fame, who used to memorize his lectures to his students at the Virginia Military Institute. When a student would ask a question or Jackson would get interrupted, his only course of action was to start his memorized lesson all over again. The memorized way of presentations is, therefore, limited because it is very inflexible. It also gives little opportunity for interaction with the audience.

People can just read out the text of their presentation word-for-word. That can get the point across, but most presentations these days have PowerPoint slides accompanying them. I absolutely hate it when someone writes thoughts or points on a PowerPoint presentation and then reads them verbatim to me. I can read. If presenters are just going to regurgitate what's on the screen, they can just email me the presentation and give me a deadline to have watched it on my own.

I'm someone who loves bullets in a presentation. Bullets give your audience some information without giving them too much. They have to listen to you to get the full picture. That's a good thing. I'm also one who believes in writing things down so I don't forget anything. My suggestion is to lay out your presentations in a bulleted format and then practice expanding on the bullets. This allows you to be and look prepared. You can have a laptop or monitor in front of you so you can look at the bullets and talk about each without having to read over your shoulder and talk to the screen. One important point is to have your notes on 3x5 cards in front of you or have a hard copy of the presentation in case something goes wrong with the AV or you have an extra point or two that you want to jot down and have in front of you for the talk.

If you look good while presenting, you may or may or may not have anything compelling to say. However, if you mess your presentation up by being too rambling or by being too stiff, you'll lose your audience. You won't appear professional and you won't have gotten your points across.

Prepare smart and you'll be great. Do you have any thoughts on the best way to make public presentations? What works best for you?

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