Presentation Skills Training: Start With the Right Questions
Many employees will eventually be in a position where they need to present information to a group of people. Whether it's a casual presentation in a small update meeting or a more formal presentation on a stage or in front of a large group of people, presentation skills training will be helpful.
According to The Chapman University Survey on American Fears, public speaking is consistently ranked as one of the most common personal fears for Americans. This illustrates the need for more organizations to provide training for the employees on presentation skills.
There are many public speaking gurus who will teach you techniques to “trick” yourself into feeling less anxious. This makes me think of the Brady Bunch episode where Jan was nervous about the school debate. Mike Brady shared his sage advice to picture the audience in their underwear!
Perhaps a better way to tackle the anxiety of presentations and public speaking is to be properly prepared and properly trained. Being prepared helps calm your nerves and gain confidence. It also ensures that your information is accurate and materials reliable. Preparation also enables you to handle mistakes if and when they occur.
Presentation Skills Training and Preparation
In addition to rehearsing or reviewing presentation materials, it also helps to ask yourself some basic questions about your presentation. The answers will help you understand your presentation in a wider context and manage a smoother process.
Who is Your Audience?
Before you begin writing your presentation, you need to understand who the audience is. (You can watch our course on this topic here.) Not every presentation is suitable for every audience. You may have to have different versions of your presentation based on the audience you are talking to.
Is your audience all from the same industry? Are they senior leaders or front-line employees?
What are the demographics? If you use a Brady Bunch reference like I did above, will they understand it? How diverse is the audience? Different nationalities understand different references so keep that in mind if you use slang.
How Many Attendees Do You Expect?
Is this a group of ten in an office meeting room or a group of 100 in an auditorium? Get a feel for the number and plan accordingly. With a small group, you can have more of a conversation, make eye contact and work the room. With an audience of 500, you need to set the pace with pre-planned remarks and slides. If you are speaking to an audience in the thousands you will have to consider your stage presence and the use of video and IMAG screens.
Why Are the Attendees There?
Why are they there? Are they required to attend or is this a voluntary session at a conference? Is your presentation required, or did the audience just sign up? Is it the only presentation that will be given or are you one among a group of speakers? Did the attendees have to pay a registration fee? Different contexts set up different expectations. So knowing the situation will help reveal those expectations, and you can prepare your remarks accordingly.
What is the Goal of the Presentation?
As Yogi Berra once quipped, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else.” When your attendees leave your presentation, what are the key takeaways you want them to remember? What action do you need them to take?
- A presentation at a trade show may have several goals. First, you want to share information or helpful tips that the attendees may be able to execute on their own at home. Second, you want to entice the attendees to learn more about your company to consider hiring you in the future.
- The goal of a company update presentation might simply be to keep employees informed on the health of the business and understand how their work contributes to the larger goals.
- In a meeting led by HR with a presentation on a new 401K provider, the goal is for employees to understand their options, risks, and costs of the plan so they can make the best choice for their family.
How Should You Structure Your Presentation?
The structure of your presentation is also referred to as the backbone. There are a variety of backbones you can use and they tie back to the goal of your presentation.
- Process backbone: follows a series of steps. This might be helpful if your presentation is about operating a new software.
- Chronological backbone: items follow a particular order. An employee onboarding presentation might use this backbone walking through the first 90 days.
- Topological backbone: follows the layout of a space. This would make sense for explaining the manufacturing plant layout: ingredients are received and quarantined here; then stored in sections of the warehouse here; then staged for production here, etc.
Our course on structuring your presentation goes into more detail on other backbones you might consider.
What is the Presentation Environment?
If your presentation is onsite in your own offices, this will be an easier question to answer. You should be familiar with the various meeting rooms in your office or on your company's campus. If you are speaking at an industry event you might be in a ballroom with more unknowns. Or will the presentation be made via a webinar or video chat platform?
- Will you use a hand-held microphone or a lavalier? This changes how you might use your hand gestures for emphasis.
- Will you be on a stage or ground level? This may limit your ability to walk around among the audience.
- Will you have professional lighting or are you at the mercy of the fluorescent overhead lighting in the room. This might affect what you wear and what graphics you include in your slides.
- Is this a "lunch and learn" presentation? Will people be eating while you speak and you have to deal with the clinking noises of silverware on the plates?
- If it is a video presentation, do you have good lighting over your webcam? What is in your background on the walls? Will your pets and family be in another room if you are presenting from home?
Is Your Presentation Time-Bound?
This may sound like a silly question but you need to consider how much time you are allowed for your presentation. Are you part of a panel with each panelist speaking or 15 minutes? Are you sharing a time slot at an industry event and only have 20-30 minutes? Is this a quarterly update to senior management and you have a full hour?
The other aspect of the time limits is whether or not you are able to allow for questions from the audience. If this is a formal presentation at an industry conference, the attendees expect to be able to ask questions. If you are speaking to a small, internal group, the meeting may be more of a conversation throughout your presentation. If you are hosting a webinar, the Q&A may be limited to the features in the technology.
Running through your script or speakers notes multiple times will help you measure the length. In the moment you may speed up because of adrenaline or you may add more color commentary on the fly. Practicing your content in front of a friendly audience of your inner circle of co-workers will help to relieve your nerves and give you confidence in your presentation skills.
Will You Be Able to Set Up Your Presentation?
We always suggest you arrive in the room early to assess the situation. You may or not be able to change things but here are some considerations:
- Hook up your computer to the projector or screen and click through your slides before people enter the room.
- View your slides from the back of the room so you can see what you might need to explain differently, for example, if your chart or data is not legible.
- Test your microphone and slide clicker.
- Test the lighting. Can you adjust it if it is too bright and people can't read your slides or if it is too dim and people can't see you?
- Can you distribute handouts in advance on their chairs or on the conference room table?
- Are you planning to use a whiteboard or flip chart? Is it in the room?
Presentation Skills Training from HSI
We offer a full series of training for your employees on presentation skills basics that includes the following courses:
- Know Your Audience
- Structuring Your Presentation
- Setting up Your Presentation
- Setting the Stage
- Punching up Your Presentation
- Creating Slides
- Designing Handouts
- Closing and Q&A
- Psyching Up, Not Out
- After the Presentation
- Handling Distractions
- Watch two of our presentation skills training courses.
- Confidence Training for Managers: How to Build Confidence in Teams
- Communication Skills Training in a World of Emojis, YOLO, and Ghosting
- Practical Nonverbal Communication Tips
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated for freshness and comprehensiveness.