A Checklist for Better Presentations

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I recently attended a well-established business breakfast and networking event. There were over 100 businesses in the room and several speakers lined up. After a reviving coffee, I took my seat to listen to the speakers. By the second one I wished I was elsewhere.

The first speaker spoke off the cuff and from a great opening got lost and petered out. The second speaker tried to fit an hour’s content into 10 minutes and hadn’t reviewed their slides. Both were senior level professionals who committed amateur level presentation mistakes.

Public speaking is not easy but it gets easier the more you practice. Practice though must be deliberate and structured. My business partner Bernard gave some excellent presentation pointers in a recent article. I’d like to add my own thoughts and a plea that if you put yourself forward to talk, then sketch out a framework for your talk.

Know+Do recently sponsored and presented at the same event and we are still getting positive feedback and comments from those in the audience about our presentation. We apparently stood out and delivered a memorable and powerful presentation. So what was it that made the difference?  I believe the answer is contained in the following two factors:

Firstly, we use a checklist for all presentations. I’m going to offer a simple list that I use to help me prepare for a presentation. It goes without saying that the bigger the presentation, the more preparation is needed but this list should help set your planning whatever the opportunity.

Secondly, we are constantly learning. I think it’s worth noting that as trainers, consultants and coaches we invest heavily in our own learning and development to ensure that we can communicate clearly and succinctly at all times. There are tens of thousands of articles, books, videos and other resources out there but you have to find a way to filter and access these to add value to yourself. You won’t improve without investment and you need the right level of investment to pay dividends.

A presentation checklist.

You get a call and someone asks "can you do a 10 minute presentation to a business audience"; you agree to do it, but then what? Seemingly some people take the approach ‘I know my business so I’ll turn up and talk them through what we do’, whilst others decide to ensure they don’t miss a detail by condensing the equivalent of the bible onto PowerPoint slides. Yet others turn up and turn off the audience by droning on and on in a monotone fashion. The stand out ones however, turn up and enthuse the audience, leaving them feeling better for having attended. The following presentation checklist can help steer you to stand out.

        I.           Do your homework.

      II.            A hammer won’t solve all problems.

    III.            Sketch out a plan.

    IV.            Practice, practice, practice.

      V.           Bring some energy.

    VI.            Think start, middle and end.

  VII.            Seek feedback and keep improving.


i.                    Do your homework

As simple as this sounds, ask some basic questions such as: Who is the audience? What’s the format for the event? What’s the room layout? Where are you in the running order? What does the event organiser think you’ll add? What does success look like for them? Are there any learning needs or adaptations you need to consider? Double check by looking at the venue online if you can, if there is an event web page check it out, ask through your networks if you know anyone who has attended before – if they have what worked/didn’t work for them? A little bit of simple preparation can really help. Turn up early to any event so you can see the room layout before starting or to get a feel for how an event is shaping.

ii.                  A hammer won’t solve all problems

There’s an old adage that goes if you’ve only got a hammer in your toolbox all problems look like a nail. This part of the checklist reminds you to think through what options you have available to you. Do you choose to do a talk or a lecture or a seminar, do you use PowerPoint, should you use multimedia clips, or build in exercises via handouts? There are lots of options but your choice will be swayed by some of your answers to section 1 above. Some people make the mistake of trying to fit too much in to stand out or using technology to hide the fact that there’s no real substance to the talk. Remember less is always more.

iii.                Sketch out a plan

Sketch out the bare bones of your initial thoughts. This may require several variations sketched out on separate single sheets of paper. I prefer to mindmap these so that I get a sense of the overall structure. Each variation might only be slightly different. Separating them gives you a chance to review each one clearly. I start with a central theme in the middle and then branch out the key elements of the talk radiating out.

iv.                Practice, practice, practice

I think I’ve genuinely lost count of the amount of presentations I’ve sat through where it’s obvious that the speaker hasn’t rehearsed or checked their presentation before delivery. This shows up with glitches in slides, timing short falls or over runs, exercises not working very well and speakers looking and sounding awful as they are not confident about what they are presenting. A quick run through will not do. Try it out a good few times with different people. Tape yourself and watch or listen to it. As you run through it any issues soon become apparent.

v.                  Bring some energy

Be energised about your talk. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you’ve done the first 4 steps then you should be feeling confident about your talk. Previous speakers may have dampened the energy in the room if so you need to lift it back up. This requires you to have stage presence and project your voice. It also means that you have to engage the audience. If they are a little lack lustre raise them up let them know they are about to be wowed. It also means engaging with them in that you can involve them through various interactions. Bringing energy doesn’t mean running around like the comedian Lee Evans, it does mean that you bring passion, purpose and presence to your talk. This requires you to be present and fully engaged with your talk in that moment with that audience. Seek to fill the room with your presence. This only comes with practice.

vi.                Think start, middle and end

All presentations should have a clear start, middle and end point. When I first started teaching I was always advised to ensure that you start with telling people what you are going to take them through. Deliver it and then remind them what you’ve done together. This makes it easy for the audience to get engaged and follow what you are doing. A clear start, middle and end ensures that you have 3 clear points to your presentation as well.  The start should set the scene and lead them into the crux of the material finishing with a clear and defined end point.

Depending on the presentation you may also need a clear take home for the audience? If they have given you 10 minutes of their time, what have you given them in return? Their time is precious, once spent they can never get it back.

vii.              Seek feedback and keep improving

Ask for feedback and don’t simply rely on standard feedback forms. Most people tend to tick these without much thought. What you should be seeking is good objective feedback from someone who can talk from authority. You’ll likely know yourself the bits that worked well and not so well, although you may not know how to improve. Seek out other trainers and presenters and ask them for their specific feedback. If it’s being videoed, ask for a copy or get someone to tape you on their mobile phone. Offer to do the same for another speaker. Invest in your learning resources. Great speakers like great sales people work hard on their craft. They are not naturals – they look natural but only because they practice.

As a coach I help people perform better. If you or your business has elements that you’d like to improve then please feel free to get in touch. We’d love to see how we could help.