Occasionally the primary purpose of a presentation may be to meet and get on with the members of the audience; for example, a new manager may set up such a meeting with those he or she will be working with. Any presentation to a new audience must have this as a secondary aim, especially if you are dealing with potential clients; and if your presentation is to people whom you meet on a regular basis – students or members of your company – then you need to keep in mind your continuing relationship with them.
Much of this is fairly obvious, but it is important to be aware of all your purposes in making a presentation and not just the primary or most obvious one.
Think of your audience
The starting point should be a clear idea of 'where the audience are now', what they currently know and understand about the subject matter of the presentation: their theoretical knowledge, their level of education, the terminology they are confident about handling, their concentration span.
This information may not be easy to establish and you may have to make assumptions and deductions about it. It is also important to remember that your audience may contain a wide range of experience, education, and expectations.
Build a structure
How you structure your presentation will depend on the particular circumstances, but there are a number of general rules which apply to most situations.
How much should you try to get through? This depends on three variables:
· what you want to include
· how much time you have
· how much your audience can tackle
This may seem obvious, but people often forget that these three generally pull in conflicting directions and so try to include more material than is really possible. This may result in the audience being detained for longer than envisaged, or in the presentation only covering part of the intended ground. It is always better to err on the side of caution when deciding how much material to include, and to develop a structure that has sufficient flexibility so that you can adapt as you see how the time is going.
It is necessary to be realistic.Much of what you have to say will be forgotten soon after you have said it, and frequently the things that are remembered are not necessarily the most important.
You should have a small number of key points that you consider it is essential your listeners should take away with them at the end of the presentation. The main part of your presentation should be devoted to making sure that these key points are understood and remembered.
More detailed information that you want your audience to retain should be communicated in the presentation, preferably using what ever aids are available, but should also be distributed in the form of a handout.
A number of factors will help you decide on the order in which material is presented. First and most obviously:
• the logic of the subject
Frequently there isn't a lot of choice; the subject matter will largely dictate the ordering.
• the logic of learning and understanding
It is essential to move from the known to the unknown and from the easy to the difficult.
• the need for variety
Wherever possible the strictly logical order should from time to time be broken in order to provide variety.
Other points to bear in mind are:
· Try to start with a 'bang'—a lively and memorable statement or question to catch the listeners' attention.
· Give yourself time to size your audience up, to develop some rapport, before launching into the main substance of your presentation.
· Make the structure of your presentation clear early on. An audience feels much more comfortable if they 'know where they are' throughout a presentation.
· After the detailed presentation of each key point allow time to recap not just that point but its relationship to what has gone before. This not only helps to clarify the material but also reinforce: the listeners' sense of the structure of the whole presentation.
· End memorably, summing up what has been said and giving the audience something to take away with them.
A brilliant speaker can communicate effectively without using aids, and a disastrous one can make a bad presentation even worse by mismanaging them. Most of us fall somewhere between 'brilliant' and 'disastrous' and need to make effective use of the best aids available.
Each aid has its particular advantages and problems. We will not discuss them here, only enumerate:
· Overhead projector (OHP)
· Slide projector
· Audio and video tapes and film
· Computer display
In general, the more sophisticated the equipment, the more likely it is to go wrong at a vital moment. So it is very desirable to arrive in plenty of time so as to check that everything is working properly and to have a backup of some kind in case the worst happens.