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5 Key Questions When Planning Your Presentation (Presentation Masterclass – Part 2)

5 Key Questions When Planning Your Presentation (Presentation Masterclass – Part 2)
Typical presentation process

    Part 1 of this series is here.

    Let’s just reiterate our starting position here:

    MOST PRESENTATIONS SUUUUUUUUUCK!

    This happens at all stages of the life-cycle of a presentation, but if your base preparation is below par, then no amount of shiny graphics and animation will save you – sucky foundation, sucky presentation.

    To rise above the background noise of a zillion average-to-bad presentations, here are a handful of key questions to ask yourself as you put your thoughts together:

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    • Do I really need to present?
    • What do I want to occur as a result?
    • What is the mindset of my audience?
    • How am I going to structure my points?
    • Do I need to use visual aids?

    There are other questions of course, but these are the cornerstones.

    1. Do I really need to Present?
    Is gathering these people in a room and talking to them, with or without visual aids, the best way of imparting this information to this group of people? When I lecture on this topic, I facetiously suggest using anything from Pony Express to Skywriting to get your message across – precisely because as McLuhan said, in many cases the medium is the message.

    Would you be better off with six people sitting around a coffee table discussing some hefty tome of a report? How about a massive brainstorming session with 200 people with Post-it notes and lots of gophers. Maybe get your whole team down on a beach and the person with the conch shell gets to speak. Take your pick, but if your audience thinks you’ve got nothing of relevance to say, or that this is yet another ego trip by a manager with a PowerPoint fetish, no tool is going to help you.

    2. What do I want to occur as a result?
    If there is no call to action, there probably shouldn’t be a presentation. Even if your talk is purely informative, what do you want your audience to do with that knowledge? People need interpretation, not narration, and that is why you are up there. Tell them the data, tell them what you think it means and then get a discussion going on what you should all do about that.

    The starting point here is to define what constitutes a good outcome. If you’re a fairytale princess, it’s all about a castle and a handsome prince on a big white horse and everyone living happily ever after. In real life, it’s rarely that defined. Does the horse actually need to be white? At a pinch, would a truck do? Do you really need to be happy ever after, or just to end of this financial reporting period?

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    Get clear. Really clear. What do you want them to do after your presentation? If you have no strong answer to that question, then you need to revisit question 1 again.

    3. What is the Mindset of my Audience?
    This is the big one, because it is only if you can catch a glimpse into your audience’s mind, that you have the possibility of changing that mind. Who are these people? Why have you been asked to talk to them? What, as a group, is their disposition? What about key individuals within that group? Are some of them more dominant or influential than others? What are their beliefs? Are they right or wrong? Are they open to hearing that they don’t possess all the facts? Do you have hard evidence to present to them or just strong opinions – and which are they more likely to respond to?

    Say you are making two presentations on the same day about equality issues and sexual harassment in the workplace. Your first audience is a bunch of late middle-aged, white, suit-wearing, male executives. You discover from your research that half of them belong to the same golf club – and that club does not admit women as full members. Your second audience are the founders and senior execs of a Web 2.0 company. Average age is late 20s, a third of the audience are women and the place has a reputation for being a meritocracy. Do you deliver the same presentation, with the same content, case studies and tone? What would happen if you tried?

    4. How am I Going to Structure my Points?
    Try telling a child a bedtime story without a beginning-middle-end structure and see how far you get. You will be interrupted every five seconds. “Who is this princess?” “What spell?” There’s a wolf? where did he come from?” “Why would a stepmother do that?”

    Bad storytelling is beginning, muddle, end. (Philip Larkin)

    From the earliest age, we learn to take information on board sequentially. The poet Philip Larkin once said that bad storytelling is “beginning, muddle, end” and so it is for far too many presentations.

    What do you want your audience to do after you sit down? What is your point? How many elements do you need to break it down into in order to ram that message home? This is rarely a question of what you know, it’s a question of what do they need to know as a result of listening to you? That requires multiple drafts. One of the hardest things to do in compiling a presentation is to let your data go …

    You: “So there you have it. 66% of respondents preferred XX and that means 1 and 2 and 3.”
    Audience: “So what? You had me at 66%” OR “So what? 2 and 3 haven’t been relevant in this sector for over five years now!”

    Identify your audience’s trigger-points and build the anchors of your presentation around those. Place them in the order that is most compelling to that audience. Provide context at the beginning as necessary. And when you think you are finished drafting, distill it just a little more …

    5. Do I Need to Use Visual Aids?
    To PowerPoint or not to PowerPoint – that is another important question. Either way, I have found that the best way to start putting your presentation together is to stay away from your computer – and in particular from your presentation software. Talk to yourself in your car as if you were addressing this audience. Jot ideas down, or Dictaphone them as they occur to you. Capture little nuggets and phrases and thoughts. When you have the bones of your talk collated, lay out your story on paper. Then you can decide if imagery, or charts, or tables, will facilitate your audience’s comprehension, acceptance and retention of this information.

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    If your ideas require graphs to explain them, or to prove their validity, then yes, you may need Slideware to put them across. But if your audience consists of lay-people, you may be better simply vocalising the result: “We ran a series of tests on this and in each case the XX was preferred by two-thirds of the audience when compared to the YY.” Do we really need to see 14 charts which do nothing more than reiterate that sentence over and over?

    Frequently presenters use Slideware because they lack confidence at some basic level – their slides are used as a roadmap, a shield or an AutoCue. If you are the expert, and you have credibility, then your audience will accept that 66% of people prefer XX over YY; you don’t need to sledgehammer the point home with your 14 colourful charts.

    Presenters who do this are usually missing the point. Okay, the data tell us that 66% of people prefer XX. So what? What do you want me to do with that information? That should be the focus of your talk, not getting mired down in p-values and confidence levels. That’s what handouts are for: “I’ve briefly summarised the data for you this morning, and you can find the age and socio-economic breakdown of the respondents in the handout. What we need to talk about now are the implications of these findings for our manufacturing facility.”

    If all you want to put on your slides are words, then it’s really time to stop and think. PowerPoint is not an AutoCue, no matter how many presenters you have seen using it that way. Nor should it be a crutch-like roadmap for you as a presenter; you either know your stuff or you don’t. So let’s assume you do know your stuff, would you be better off just talking to this audience? Because if your slides are all words, I would ask do you need to meet them at all (question 1 again!) or could you simply email them your thoughts in a Word document? Look at Ken Robinson on TED – no slides, no barriers, between him and the audience; just a beautifully thought out, beautifully expressed talk. Compelling. Memorable. Effective. Affective.

    Focus on your purpose, your message and your audience and you won’t go far wrong. Once you are clear on those, the details of tools and delivery will become apparent.

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    Part 1 of this series is here.

    Next – Shaping your presentation

    More by this author

    Rowan Manahan

    Rowan is a professional trainer with over 20 years’ experience mentoring and consulting with executives at all levels.

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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