For many accountants, the thought of giving a presentation in front of a group is enough to bring on cold sweats and a week's bed-rest!
Even for experienced presenters such as Mercia's lecturing team, presenting can be a daunting task, but it's a vital ingredient in communicating important information, training staff and pitching for work.
Here are our top ten tips for presenting confidently and effectively.
- Have a clear message. Let's say you are planning a client seminar to tell them about the 2012 Budget. Your clients aren't interested in hearing the Budget regurgitated point-by-point; they want to know what the key changes are, how they are affected by these and what action they need to take. Always focus on the outcome - what do you want your audience to do after the presentation is finished?
- Know your audience. Your message needs to connect with them. Be as specific and relevant as you can in your examples. Try to gauge how much they already know - if possible, beforehand; if not, early on in the presentation. In examples, use their names (e.g. 'let's say that Bill here wants to sell a property to Sarah. What's the first step Bill needs to consider?')
- Do your homework. Think carefully about the topic, always with your message (see point 1) in mind. Are there details you need to include or omit for clarity? What are the audience's main questions likely to be? Research your topic as fully as you can - this will boost your confidence in dealing with impromptu questions. Just remember that you can't ever know it all, and don't be afraid to admit that you don't know the answer to a question.
- Think about the beginning and end. Your first couple of minutes are critical - you'll win or lose an audience in this time. Think how you can focus their attention and encourage them to see the benefits of your message. For example, if you want to brief your accounts team on the latest disclosure issues in company accounts, you may want to start with a statistic on how many sets of accounts are rejected by Companies House and illustrate how much a single such case could cost the firm in time, lost fees and embarrassment. That ought to get them listening with more interest! The end is equally important - restate your message and spell out the next steps, so your audience leaves with those key points.
- Prepare great supporting material - from useful handouts to visual aids such as PowerPoint slides or flip charts. Don't be afraid to go low-tech: some of the best presentations use pen and paper rather than fancy videos and soundtracks. But if you use PowerPoint, make sure you are using it effectively - see the bottom of this post for a great resource which will help.
- Make eye contact. If you are facing a large group of people, it can help to focus on a few (friendly!) faces and present largely to them. This can help you to relax and will make your presentation seem more personal. But make sure you make eye contact with the others in the room at least occasionally. Don't be put off by a few blank looks - every audience member will have brief lapses in concentration at various points. However, if they are ALL looking blank at the same time, you need to re-energise the room with an anecdote, example or question.
- Engage with the audience. Ask questions, take polls, provide examples, get them talking to you and to each other. Often more is learned in such environments from what we ourselves say than from the speaker!
- Practice. You need to do this aloud, and may find a script helpful for those vital first minutes. The more you practice, the more fluid and confident your performance will be. It will also help you judge your timing, and identify areas that you can expand or contract as needed to stay on course if you are under or over running.
- Know when to quit. The best time to finish is when you have got the message across and before the audience loses enthusiasm for a topic. If this is before your planned finish time, decide either to finish early or use the time for Q&A. Sometimes these latter sessions are more useful than the prepared topic.
- Work with your nerves. Adrenaline is likely to be pumping around your body before, and during, your presentation - and that's a good thing. The 'butterflies in the stomach' will help you stay focused and alert, and improve your performance, provided you handle the fear positively. Visualise a successful outcome; take deep breaths; smile; adopt a relaxed, open stance. These all help your body to relax. Be yourself.
These tips can transform your presentations, and you may even begin to enjoy them (at least a little!) You will gain confidence and clarity, and your audience will appreciate it.
More tips for presenting with PowerPoint
To provide more help with the visual side of your presentations, we have created a 25 minute video tutorial on presenting effectively with PowerPoint 2010. It's packed with tips for transforming your slides and getting the most from the software.
Click here to watch it on YouTube.