Ready, Set, Go…
Don’t be afraid to take some alone time 15 to 30 minutes before the presentation. You can use this time to double check materials, and review introductory and summary statements. It seems silly but don’t forget to take a last minute trip to the bathroom and check buttons, zippers, and your appearance. Grab a bottle or glass of water and keep in nearby. Take a few deep breathes while you are being introduced to calm your anxiety, but try not to sigh heavily.
You can ask your audience to turn phone to vibrate or silent. Though don’t expect them to completely turn them off. Also, it’s not uncommon to have audience members tweeting about a presentation they are listening too. So, don’t be offended if you see them typing on their phones.
A Polished Presentation
Monitor your movements and try to avoid habitual behaviors like pacing or fidgeting. Moderate yourself using hand gestures to prevent you from looking stiff, but avoid overdoing it. Remember to monitor your talking speed when speaking. Rehearsing thoroughly before hand will help you keep a natural even pace.
Respect Your Time Limit
Keep your eye on the time. Nervousness often leads one to speed up their speech. Spend a good portion of time rehearsing the presentation so you are comfortable and speak at an even pace. And try not to exceed your time. If you plan to allow questions during the presentation be sure to increase the expected completion time by about 20% when you practice the presentation. You can offer to answer questions outside the presentation if needed.
Never apologize for any aspect of your presentation; this should be your best effort. Apologizing is an admission that you haven’t done a good job in either preparation or delivery. This undermines your message! Hopefully you won’t have to apologize for tiny fonts, or poor slide design if you’ve read my previous post on the topic.
Be sure to have prepared a memorable summary to end your presentation and avoid adding any last minute words. This will be the last thing your audience hears and you want it to be well rehearsed, not sloppy. Be sure to state your conclusions clearly. It might also be advisable to have an important piece of data or information on the final slide to avoid flipping through your slides during questions.
Be sure to give credit where credit is due. Acknowledge sources of information and data, contributors, and sponsors. This shows a professional attitude. Don’t be afraid to consider a more interesting approach to acknowledgments like using a collage of colleague photos. Just be sure to keep them professional.
Question & Answer Time
The presentation is done, but how will you handle the Q&A portion? This can be just as stressful as the presentation. You may have given a brilliant presentation, but the Q&A can quickly diminish your credibility if not handled well. You can’t always predict what your audience will ask, but here are a few tips to get you through the Q&A.
- Wait – Allow the person to finish their question before responding. The only exception is when the question is rambling, this is your forum and you have a limited time to get your point across. Break in tactfully by saying, “So, the question you are asking is…” and restate the question following with your answer. Remember your ability to interact with the audience is being judged.
- Repeat – Always repeat each question so the entire audience knows what you have been asked.
- Reflect – Pause to reflect on the question and formulate a response, be sure to ask for clarification if you do not fully understand.
- Postpone – There may be many reasons to postpone answering a question, the topic may not be relevant to your presentation goals or you may be running out of time. Don’t be afraid to take questions after the presentation or during a break. If you find you can’t answer a question, don’t apologize. Instead, offer to answer after you’ve done more research the answer, suggest a resource where they might find an answer or put it to the audience to answer.
Hostile questions pose a special challenge, and they can come in a variety of forms. Not every tough question is a hostile one, but some are and you should be able to spot them. They may come as a challenge to something you’ve said, or even as an attack on you. The best way is to head them off.
During your preparation consider what parts of your presentation could lead to disagreement. You may be able to address these potential questions by embedding what amounts to a rebuttal in your presentation.
Don’t put the questioner on the defensive and certainly don’t criticize the questioner. Get right to the issues. You may find an area of agreement that you can build on in your response. That doesn’t mean you should back down when all your research tells you you’re right. Looking for common ground is not a form of compromise. You can acknowledge the other person’s point of view without agreeing with it.
Stick to the facts and what you know. Stay within the immediate discussion. Avoid offering more facts or opinions that could trigger more disagreement. And avoid getting bogged down in an adversarial exchange that seems to go on forever. Once you’ve covered a topic thoroughly, end the discussion by saying simply that you’ve explained your position and it’s time to move on. You can offer to discuss the issue further after your presentation.
Do interrupt when someone with a dissenting view wanders onto another subject or appears about to give a presentation of his own. Make it clear that time is short and you want to stay focused on the day’s agenda.
Always finish by asking the questioner if you fully answered their question. This acknowledges the questioner and helps the audience feel comfortable asking questions. If the person feels you did not answer fully ask for clarification or suggest that you two discuss later to facilitate timing.
Preparing and giving a good technical presentation is no easy task, but by utilizing these suggestions and taking time for serious preparation, you will be able to communicate effectively and clearly. The better you become at communicating scientific information to your peers, marketers, and even consumers the more you will be able to build trust and credibility.
If you have any tips for preparing and delivering presentations, please leave a comment below and let everyone else know!