Preparing a Presentation

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify important audience considerations when preparing a presentation
  • Explain how to avoid common pitfalls of visual aids in presentations
  • Identify techniques to reduce anxiety prior to and during presentation delivery

Think about the Audience

Now that you’ve learned a bit about the various types of presentations, it’s helpful to turn to another important part of presenting: the audience. Like reading and writing, presenting is a form of communication.

Whether you’re presenting information, giving a demonstration, creating a poster, or trying to change people’s minds, your goal is to get your message across to your audience. A good strategy is to ask, what do I want my audience to know, believe, feel, or do as a result of my presentation? After you have answered this question, you can then determine what needs to be included or excluded in your presentation to achieve that goal. Start by considering the following questions:

  • What does my audience already know about my topic?
  • What does my audience need to know to understand my topic?
  • What is their general attitude about my topic?
  • What examples or reasoning will appeal to my audience?
  • What actions are they willing or capable of taking?

Since each audience is different, it is helpful to explore how your audience with interact with your presentation by considering presentation context and audience demographics.

  1. The presentation context
    1. Whether the audience will be live or asynchronous
    2. Whether audience attendance will be voluntary or mandatory
  2. The demographics
    1. Size of the audience
    2. Age, geography, socio-economic information, education-level, etc.

As much effort as you’ve put into putting together the perfect presentation for your audience, It’s important to remember that your audience may not interpret the information you are presenting exactly as you have. It’s your job as a presenter to explain your ideas using specific details, succinct and clear wording (avoid jargon), vivid descriptions, and meaningful images. As you organize your presentation, keeping this imaginary audience in mind can help you gauge how much background information and context to provide as well as shape the examples, visual aids, and content you include.

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Choosing Media and Format for Visual Aids

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint” to explain that all-too-familiar feeling of being slowly bored to death by a thoughtless presenter who’s droning on and on about boring slide after boring slide. If you’d like to know what the experience is about, and you have time for a laugh, watch the following video, starring stand-up comedian Don McMillan. McMillan pokes fun at bad presentations, but he has some very sound advice about what not to do.

You can view the transcript for “Life After Death by PowerPoint (Corporate Comedy Video)” here (opens in new window).

You may consider using PowerPoint for your presentation, and that’s perfectly fine. PowerPoint can be a very effective tool with the right organization, layout, and design. Avoiding these five common pitfalls will go a long way toward making your PowerPoint presentation successful:

  1. Choosing a font that is too small. The person in the very back of the room should be able to see the same thing as the person in the front of the room.
  2. Putting too many words on a slide. Remember it’s called PowerPoint, not PowerParagraph! Keep your bullet points clear and succinct.
  3. Having spelling errors. Have someone proofread your slides. Any typos will detract from your presentation.
  4. Choosing distracting colors that make it hard to read the information. PowerPoint gives you a lot of color choices in their design templates. The ideas in your brilliant presentation will be lost if your audience is struggling to read the content.
  5. Selecting images or visuals that do not clearly align with the content. For instance, a cute photo of your cat may look lovely up on the screen, but if it doesn’t connect to your topic, it’s just fluff that detracts from your message. Every slide counts, so make sure the visuals support your message.

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Practicing for the Presentation

Once you’ve put together your presentation and have an idea of the audience that will hear and see it, it’s time to deal with the nerves that can accompany the performance part of the presentation.

Before your presentation, prepare by standing and delivering before a live audience (even if it’s just your cat). This practice will help you anticipate issues with timing, where you might stumble, and where elements might need rewording for clarity.

Part of what can make a presentation so nerve wracking is the anxious thoughts we have in anticipation of the presentation. What if I make a mistake? What if people can tell I am nervous? To help combat those thoughts you can visualize yourself delivering your presentation well, instead of worrying about what might go wrong. Using positive visualization can help you overcome your anxious thoughts and remind you that positive outcomes are possible too.

While you’re delivering your presentation, it’s natural to feel anxious. Remember, the audience is rooting for you, they actually want you to do a good job, and they’re interested in what you have to say.

While you’re giving your presentation, don’t underestimate the positive effect that taking a deep, restorative breath can have for you. Pausing to take a mindful breath can help you slow your heartbeat and relax your body, which will help reduce the symptoms of your anxiety.

Remember, you’ve worked hard as the owner of this presentation, so have confidence in your work. It’s tough to remember confidence when you’re nervous, but you’re the person who knows the most about your presentation and your presentation is a chance for you to demonstrate what you’ve learned and share that with others.

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