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Giving presentations

How to make a great impression

"You'll never forget the first time" applies to many things in life - presentations included.

The thought of standing up in a room full of people, let alone opening your mouth to tell them how great you and your company are - is enough to strike terror into the heart of many a new - and quite a few established - business owners.

In these days of living by a 'network, network, network' mantra - it's never been more crucial to know what you are doing. You may hope that telling a few jokes or 'winging it' may get you by - it won't.

So how do you get to grips with the prospect of giving a talk? And perhaps more importantly, how exactly do you get to grips with your audience?

Questions, questions

Midlands-based presentations trainer Carmen MacDougall (right) of CMA Coaching and Training advises that you should listen to as many great speakers as you can to help prepare for your time in the limelight.

She adds that there are four key questions to ask as soon as you find out you are going to give a speech. These are:

Who will the audience be? How many, where, what is their background? Who are the most important people?

What will they expect you to say?

Why have you been asked to speak? What message will you deliver?

How will you deliver your presentation? What techniques will you use? Should you stand or sit? Should you use a microphone?

In other words, irrespective of what you'd like to say, it's what your audience wants that matters. Even experienced speakers know that the speech you gave yesterday may need to be tailored entirely differently to today's audience.

Carmen adds: "It's as important to remember the stuff you shouldn't be doing as well as all that you should. There are common, basic mistakes that you must avoid."

Her top ten 'don'ts' are starting badly, failing to understand equipment, putting too much information on slides, patronising the audience, using bad graphics, turning your back on the audience, speaking inaudibly, using jargon, running out of time and ending poorly.

If you fail to plan...

Steve Brookes, publishing manager at Public Eye Publications in Stratford, is an experienced and enthusiastic speaker. He's also a gardening expert for his local BBC radio station and an after dinner speaker.

He says: "One of the common problems I've seen is lack of forethought and planning. This can often lead to a rambling presentation which never actually gets across the key points and the audience is often lost.

"Also, going the other way, too many notes can be a problem. Constantly looking at a sheet of copious notes can be off-putting for both the presenter and the audience members.

"Bullet points are great and if you have gone over the presentation in your mind beforehand, you will instantly be able to remember what they refer to.

Steve's tips for a strong presentation are:

Be clear what you have been asked to speak on and don't deviate form the main topic.

Ensure you know exactly how long you are required to speak for - it can be irritating in a tightly scheduled meeting if a speaker overruns. People will remember the overrun and not your message.

Plan ahead. Don't leave the planning until the night before. Make notes over a number of days so you can sort out the wheat from the chaff and give a clear presentation.

Use bullet points not long notes. In the pressure of a presentation you will not be able to follow long rambling notes that seemed okay the night before.

Keep your presentations clear, concise and waffle free.

Avoid acronyms and if you are in any doubt as to whether everyone in the room knows their meaning then spell them out.

Have a glass of water available and even if you don't need a drink, have a sip occasionally. This will give you time to collect your thoughts, glance at your notes or allow a point to sink in.

Give hand outs out at the end.

No matter how long your presentation, always give a slight pause after getting across a key point. Use that pause to make eye contact with your audience.

Try to avoid any unconscious mannerisms such as rubbing your hands together or scratching one earlobe constantly.

Always have a good opening line in which you clearly state who you are, if required, and what topic you will be speaking on so people are under no misconceptions. In addition, and probably more importantly, have a really good ending, with a clear conclusion. Wrap with a summary of your key points if that's easiest.

Always thank people for listening to you.

What next?

Using PowerPoint to give your presentations? Give your slides balance and symmetry by snapping to a grid. Here is how.

Take a Small Business+ course on Making Presentations Look Consistent Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003 (free registration required).

Sign into Microsoft Small Business+ for free web-based training, online chat help and software support.

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