The Art of the Presentation

Written on behalf of the PlushMoney Impact program by Maree Bandrowczak

Last week, my father, the VP of Avaya Data Solutions came to speak to our community about the art of giving presentations. He has always been a very charismatic guy, and as a kid, I would always see him slap a presentation together 30 minutes or so before going on stage and presenting like a rock star. He had 20+ years’ experience; I had none, but we were related, so I should have the gift of the gab, right?

Well, you can only imagine what happened, when in the 7th grade I started researching for my presentation on the French Revolution an hour before it was due. I think the only thing I was successfully able to relay to the class was that the revolution took place in …France.  That was pretty embarrassing, but the next day a 6th grader spent the entire snack-time with toilet hanging out of her pants, so I was off the hook. But I did learn two valuable lessons that day. Lesson one: practice your presentation. Lesson two: kids are mean (but so are adults, so see lesson one)

All of the girls in our community are extremely busy.  trying to balance the weekly demands of this program with internships (at Goldman Sachs, AT&T, Merrill Lynch, Ernst & Young, Nordstrom, just to name a few), and a personal life, so we are all about stretching our valuable resources.  Work smarter, not harder is the motto that we have come to adopt.

In keeping with this motto, Steve came and spoke with us about the systematic approach he takes to giving presentations, which I will share with you here. These are his awesome tips, but the 75% of you all who are skimming will credit them to me, which I’m personally okay with.

Tip 1: Presentations have a beginning, middle, and an end, like a book. Start off by telling your audience exactly what they are in for, better yet, build a slide to go along with this, so that people will get excited about your topic and be ready for what they are about to hear. Then, detail everything that was on your agenda, and keep the story rolling, don’t diverge too much because people will get confused. When you are speaking, it’s often hard for people to make the jump from point A to point B on their own, so lay it out for them. Lastly, conclude by reiterating the point of your presentation, you want it to stick.  

Tip 2: Establish your credibility up front: why should people listen to you for the next thirty minutes, when they could be taking a refreshing afternoon nap? If you are talking about cats, and you happen to have 10 of them, the first couple of minutes are probably where you want to share this little tid- bit. Yeah, your audience will now think you’re crazy, but at least they’ll believe you, when you say that cats actually have 10 lives.

If you don’t have a ton of experience in the topic you are talking about, then you can also establish this credibility by proving yourself as an expert in the area. If your presentation is on Bill Gates, but his invitations keep getting lost in the mail, then you can start off with some unique facts about him, that hopefully no one else in the room knows. Now your audience is willing to listen to you. Please don’t start off with Bill is the founder of Microsoft, unless you are presenting to five-year olds, in which case it’s probably best to establish your credibility through candy.

Tip 3: Know your audience. If you’re asked to give a presentation on cars to a group of engineers, and then asked to give that same presentation to the sales department, you need to make some modifications. Your engineers are going to want to know what the engine looks like, but your sales people are going to want to know one thing: how fast can this go?

The same advice holds for all different demographics. Last week, my dad asked our group of 20-year-old girls what John F. Kennedy was known for. He got two responses: women and blank stares.  He probably should have kept his audience in mind and choose a more modern example.

Tip 4: Keep the energy up! A lot of people present from behind a podium. If the speaker can barely stay awake during his own presentation, I’m surely not. If you need to do a song and dance up there in order to keep your audience engaged, it must be done. I once interned for a company where the CEO would get up in front of the entire office, yell, jump up and down, and just make a fool of himself on a weekly business. Everyone loved it! and he always got his point across. Your first job, as a presenter, is to keep your audience awake.

Tip 5: Tell a story. The easiest way to relate to your audience is through a story: it keeps people interested and they will have an easier time remembering a story and then relating it to one of your point,  than simply a  list of facts.  

Tip 6: Your slides are only 30% of your presentation. No one is going to walk out of the room impressed by your slides. They came there to hear you speak, not read.

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