Presentations needn't be an ordeal. The Institute of Personnel and Development's Angela Baron offers some tips on dazzling your audience.
How do you feel when asked to make a presentation? Honoured, flattered, challenged – or sick to the stomach? Most of us get an adrenaline rush when we stand up in front of an audience but for some, speaking in public is the stuff of nightmares.

So, what can you do about it? Some would advocate deep breathing and voice exercises. These undoubtedly help calm the stage fright, but the secret of success lies in making the best presentation possible. To do this, you need to know your audience. So ask yourself a few simple questions:

What does your audience want to get out of the presentation?

Find out what your audience is expecting to hear. Do they just need information or do they want you to analyse the data? You also need to know what they are going to do with the information. This will help you structure your presentation with the right balance of facts and interpretation.

What is their level of previous knowledge?

The audience will not view your presentation favourably if you insult their intelligence by explaining simple facts in minute detail. Neither will they be pleased if you blind them with science and leave them with no real understanding of what you are saying.

Know how much you can presume your audience knows and how much you should explain. In smaller groups, you can get around this by asking if everyone understands what you have said.

What is your relationship with the audience?

If you are trying to win new business, it is helpful to know if your company has a good track record with your listeners. It can be very daunting to be grilled on delivery times or problem solving because your company has let someone down in the past. Your relationship with your audience will also dictate the style of your presentation – it can be more relaxed for colleagues.

What about presentation material?

Keep slide material simple and readable and don’t try to cram too much on to each one. Five or six lines of text or one diagram is probably enough. Also, give people hard copies of slides so they don’t have to struggle to read the screen or take notes.

Put as many facts as possible into a handout. This leaves you time to concentrate on talking about the really interesting bits in your presentation. Give out handouts at the end of the presentation – otherwise the audience will be reading the handout instead of listening.

What else can I do to ensure the presentation goes well?

Rehearse. Make sure the slides are in the right order and that your presentation does not exceed the time allowed. You also need to reinforce the message by summarising three or four key points at the end of your presentation.

Finally, be yourself. If it is your natural style to tell jokes, do so, but if it doesn’t come naturally, don’t even try. And remember, you will improve with practice. Get feedback from your audiences so you learn what you could do better next time. There is no better cure for stage fright than the applause of a satisfied audience.

The Perfect Presentation

  • Slides should be readable – don’t cram on too much information
  • Give out hard copies of the slides and tell the audience you’ll be distributing handouts afterwards
  • Rehearse, and make sure your equipment works
  • Put plenty of detail in the handouts and keep your presentation lively
  • Summarise your main points at the end
  • Be yourself – don’t crack jokes if it’s not your normal style