August 1, 2016

Professional Presentations

Over the course of four years at Clarkson, students are called upon (hopefully!) to give presentations. This prepares students for presenting as part of their careers, and it helps them develop essential communication skills when dealing with colleagues, team members and a variety of publics.

Presenting is a skill, one that takes the three Ps — planning, practice (and more practice) and presenting (delivery). Clarkson offers courses on Public Speaking (Com 217) through the department of Communication and Media, and the Writing Center is also available to assist students in both developing and executing their presentations.

Here at the CUwrite hub, we have a number of links to resources that we have found to be excellent sources of preparation of professional presentations. Essentially, like writing, preparing presentations has a number of phases in order to connect with the audience. These include:

Goal-Setting

As is the case with writing, presentations require of the presenter an identification of the key communication goals. These goals are often determined by the audience, the occasion itself, and the content.  Presenters should identify the goals based on these. Make sure you set SMART goals for your presentations, meaning Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.

Audience Analysis

Audiences should be researched and understood prior to the presentation. We could write a book about audience analysis (many have!) Essentially, there are two broad categories of analysis that should be conduced prior to developing a presentation: Demographics (factors like age, gender, racial, cultural and ethinic background, sexual orientation, occupation, educational attainment, socio-economics, etc.) as well as Psychographics (attitudes, beliefs, values, lifestyle, knowledge of topic, personality, loyalties/affiliations, biases (toward you, the topic, etc., and group dynamics/power structures, among others). Examining these factors ahead of time will help you better understand how to ideally prepare your presentation in light of communication goals and audience understanding.

BEST PRACTICE: Close the Knowledge Gap!

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles a presenter faces is the Knowledge Gap. According to Heath & Heath (2009), the knowledge gap occurs when the presenter, perhaps an expert in the field, fails to tailor the content and presentation in such a way that those with far less experience or familiarity with the topic can grasp the key points made and key concepts. For example, if a computer guru starts talking about how to build his own computer with those who can barely turn a personal computer on, the audience might be lost at Ram.

Environmental Factors

With an understanding of goals and the audience, presenters should also consider environmental factors in their presentation. How many will be attending? How big is the room (will I need a mic for those in the back to hear me?)? What time am I presenting? Are other speakers covering the same topic? Will there be technology and a projection screen? How is the audience seated? What is the lighting?  These factors should be considered when you are moving beyond the conceptual development and writing to actually preparing the presentation.

BEST PRACTICE: Consider slide color or they may fade and be unreadable! 

Did you know that there are two universal color combos that work in nearly every lighting situation? If you are using slides, but have never presented in a particular forum, use Business Blue as a background color, or black and white with spot color.

Presentation Development

Once you have an understanding of your goals, audience and environmental factors, you should begin preparing the speech by writing the key points and considering the ways in which you can ideally convey these key points. You want to use concrete (as opposed to abstract) language, stay clear and concise, and use techniques that will help your audience better remember your information.

BEST PRACTICE: Use elements from Heath & Heath’s (2009) SUCCES(s) model in their book, Made to Stick, to help ideas and concepts stick with your audience: These include:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotion
  • Story

Practice

Once you have developed your presentation, you should practice (and practice some more). You may be asked to give a 40-minute presentation, only to find out you are delivering only a 20-minute presentation. Without a dry run, you might be unaware of this challenge and may overlook the possible reasons. Is there not enough content? Do you not elaborate enough? Is it a delivery problem and you are rushing your speech? Practicing in advance will help you not only become more at ease with your presentation (and more than likely a better delivery), but it will help you make revisions for improvement.


RESOURCES

Here are some great resources for Public Speaking and Presentations:

Six Minutes: Public Speaking 

11 Design Tips for Beautiful Presentations

CubicleNinja’s Top 20 Best PowerPoint Presentations

Toastmaters International Presentation and Speaking Tips