This is a fact: at some point in your creative career you will stand in front of a bunch of people and give a presentation. Perhaps you’ll give several. Does this prospect make you feel faintly terrified? Read our guide to the blunders best avoided…
Tempting though it might be to launch straight into your topic and start rambling, this is a surefire way to bore and confuse your audience. Instead, think first about the main points you need to cover and how best to structure them. Be concise. Be clear. Make sure you know how long you have to speak so you don’t run over. Time yourself practicing in front of the mirror. The more you rehearse your presentation the less likely you are to furnish it with ugly fillers, such as “um”, “er”, “like” and “kind of” which invariably make you seem unconvincing, inarticulate or both.
Don’t deliver the same old presentation whatever your audience. If you’re pitching to a potential sponsor or addressing a judging panel, then for f**k’s sake, don’t swear. If you’re presenting to a hall full of secondary school students, keep it snappy and ditch the jargon. Super-florid lingo and brain-melting conceptual theory stuff should also be left out. Unless you’re at uni, in which case, go ahead – they’ll love it.
Another fatal error is preparing your presentation word for word and learning it by heart like a script. A bit of planning goes a long way, but this is going too far. Not only will you sound unnatural, forgetting one word or line could throw you entirely off course, leaving you standing there like a doughnut as you struggle desperately to remember what comes next. Not a good look.
3. Reliance on technology
Machines are cold-hearted creatures that take great pleasure in letting you down when you need them most. The solution? Don’t bother. Everyone knows that 99.999999% of Powerpoints are utter rubbish. Too much text and they distract your audience. Not enough text and they seem pointless. Too many slides and they overwhelm people. Quirky fonts and colours make you look unprofessional. The pitfalls are many.
At their worst, slides look like little more than a bunch of blown up digital cue cards, but at their best they are a visual compliment to what you’re saying. If you are a photographer who needs to show some of your images, or a filmmaker who wants to show stills from your latest short – fair enough. But be ready to talk about your work without them, so that when the projector breaks down you don’t fall to pieces.
4. Not engaging with your audience
From afar your audience might look like a blobby mass of scary human-ness, but think of them as individuals – it will make the experience less painful for all concerned. Be entertaining. Whatever you say, say it like you mean it. Instead of staring at one spot, glance masterfully around the room, making eye contact with the most interested-looking people. Vary your pace and the tone of your voice. Don’t be afraid of pausing. Remember this trick: when people appear to be zoning out, speaking slightly more quietly will make them pay attention as they strain to hear what you’re saying.
5. Not being aware of your body language
Audiences instinctively mirror your behavior. Your nervousness puts them on edge. So don’t: fiddle with your hair, hop from one foot to the other, cross your legs, chew your fingernails or generally fidget awkwardly. Hand gestures can serve to emphasise what you’re saying, but like technology, they don’t always do what you want. You might think you are subtly driving the point home with a neat twirl of your hands when in fact you’re flailing wildly. For this reason it might be worth finding something to hold onto (not your childhood comfort blanket) or putting your arms behind your back where they won’t bother anyone. Then take a deep breath. Stand up tall. And you’re off!
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Image: Geeveston Area School by Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office on a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.
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