Which of the following do you do when someone is giving a presentation at work?
I plead guilty to all the above at various times. Which of them I do depends on three main factors, in reverse order of importance: how stressed I am; how tired I am; and how engaging the speaker is. The topic itself plays only a minor role in attracting and maintaining my attention.
Presentations are a key part of business life - whether formal, frontal speeches to large groups at conferences, or informal presentations to smaller groups of colleagues or business partners. Yet most people receive no training in how to give a presentation in their own language. And in many cases the results are disastrous.
Foreign-language learners are sometimes luckier: presentation skills may be part of a course they are taking. And books such as Dynamic Presentations, by business English trainer and writer Mark Powell, provide many useful tips. Powell himself is an excellent presenter. He is engaging, entertaining and informative. And he often breaks the classic rules for presentations. For an example, see here.
Instead of lots of text, Mark Powell suggests using strong images or keywords that grab people's attention and then telling your story. It works. By the way, there's another useful technique: varying long and short sentences. And here's another technique: . Pauses, you see, can help to get the audience's attention. Sad but true: as soon as we stop talking, people tend to start listening.
Try not to sound like a trained robot
"But, but ," I can hear you protesting. Surely, it is sometimes necessary to present lots of information or facts and figures. Well, maybe, but this brings us to two other important points:
Germanic presentations are often full of details and organized chronologically, possibly reflecting the fact that competence is equated with thoroughness and structure. But is that what your audience wants? If so, fine. But are you sure? Often, less is more.
You might also find it helpful to use some standard phrases, such as these.
- Good morning, everyone, I'd like to get started.
- The topic of today's presentation is...
- I've divided my presentation into three parts.
- First, I'll talk about... Second, I'll look at And finally, I'll draw some conclusions.
- If you have any questions, please feel free to interrupt me.
- So, to begin, I'd like to look at...
- If there are no questions, I'll move on.
- As you can see on this slide
- And here on the next slide, we have
- I'd now like to turn to...
- I'd like to draw your attention to...
- OK, let me come back to the main point.
- Now I would like to move on to look at...
-Finally, let's consider...
It is important, however, not to overuse these phrases. Otherwise you will sound like a trained robot. And it really doesn't matter if the phrases don't come out perfectly. Your audience will normally be impressed by the fact that you are talking in a foreign language. And linguistic mistakes are often charming.
Dont' forget the "f-word": feedback
It is much more important to feel comfortable and to engage with your listeners. For example, why not start with a surprising fact from the present, rather than a complete history of your company that begins in 1765. For example:
"First the good news: we lost 20,000 customers last year."
Of course, you would then have to explain why that is indeed good news.
It is also important to finish your presentations well. The first aspect of this is finishing on time - or, even better, early (your audience will love you for this). You should also aim to finish on a high note. So, rather than finishing with a question and answer session - which can often result in irrelevant or unanswerable questions - wrap your talk up by summarizing the main points and thanking the audience. For example:
"OK, that brings me to the end of my presentation. But before I finish, I'd like to summarize the main points again. We've looked at Thank you very much."
Finally, don't forget the "f-word": feedback. If you get the opportunity, record your presentations and watch them. Do you speak too quickly or too slowly? What is your body language like? How is your intonation? A trusted colleague once told me that my voice fell away at the end of sentences, making it sound as though I wasn't convinced that what I was saying was right.
So, who is going to give you honest, helpful feedback on your presentations? Ask for it each time, for example with a simple question, such as, "What could I have done differently/better?" Because if you don't get this feedback and start to improve, you may spend your next presentation watching people writing shopping lists - or sleeping.
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