Thursday, 2 November 2017

Natalie Lamb and Being Better Than Boring Bullet Points

I went to a training course recently by Dr Steve Hutchinson (www.hutchinsontraining.com) about producing and delivering better presentations, ran by Think Ahead at The University of Sheffield. The below are some of the things/skills I learnt about.

Steve Hutchinson (2017), Be Better Than Boring Bullet Points
A Long Time Before the Presentation
  • Plan
  • Practice
  • Prepare
Firstly, you have to make the presentation. The first thing to think about when trying to produce a good presentation is what is the one point you are trying to make. The one lasting impression. You want everyone leaving the audience to be able to summarise your presentation with the same sentence. So, for example, that wasting water is a bad thing to do because a lot of effort goes into treating drinking water. Bear in mind that the audience is most likely to remember the first and last thing a speaker says. So take that into account when designing your presentation around the point you wanted to make.

Next, you have to work out what you are trying to achieve by giving the presentation. Are you trying to engage the audience, entertain them, shock them?

Once you have figured out the message and the purpose of your presentation i.e. the content, you have to work out a structure for this content. A good way to do this to to start with why this work is important, then how you arrived at the data (i.e. the methodology) and then, finally, what the work is.

The introduction is key. Have a go at following this format:

  • A- Attention
    • Why is this work important and relevant?
  • B- Benefits
    • What is the audience going to get from this? Why should they listen?
  • C- Credentials
    • Why are you the right person to be speaking to them? Who are you?
  • D- Direction
    • What is your aim? What are your three key questions?

A presentation should be based around three questions, timed with the likely attention span of the audience and pitched at the right level. This could consist of: a five minute introduction that everyone should be able to understand, your first question pitched at graduate level in five minutes, your second question pitched at PhD level (show off!) in five minutes, your third and final question pitched at graduate level in five minutes and then a two minute conclusion that everyone should be able to understand.

At this point, your presentation should almost be done! But have a look at your slides. There might be a few things for you to still do.

  • Less is more. Is there anything you can cut out? 
  • Your PowerPoint should be an aid for you, not the audience. If the technology crashes and breaks, you should be able to give your presentation regardless. Is there too much text? Do you know the words?
  • Only use animation if you want to reveal, enhance or build up to something in your presentation. Don't use it all the time. 

When you have produced your presentation, it is time to practice giving it. Try to get constructive feedback on your practice, preferably from someone who isn't interested in the topic of your presentation (e.g. not your supervisor). You could always film yourself, so you are able to give yourself feedback on any weird presenting habitats you may have. One thing to assess is what is stylistically appropriate for the presentation, audience and you. If you are not a funny person, don't try and be funny. Just act natural and be yourself or it can look a bit disingenuous. It is said that 7% of our communication is verbal, 38% is vocal and 55% is visual so it is important to incorporate all of these into your practicing and feedback sessions.


Just Before the Presentation

Warm up in private. This could involve giving yourself a shake, doing some vocal warm up exercises, whatever will make you feel ready for the presentation ahead.

Sit quietly, breathe deeply and relax while you wait for your name to be called. When your name is called, walk slowly and purposely to the front. Pause to look at the audience before you begin and ensure you have a good stance, shoulders back and breathing from your diaphragm.


During the Presentation

At the very start of your presentation, welcome your audience. Say good morning, for instance, and at least one person will nod or reply. Use them as your "safe spot". This person is your anchor, the friendliest person in the audience. If anything unnerves you during the presentation, look towards them to feel a little better and get yourself back on track.

The start is the most important part. Get that right and the rest should follow. 50% of the impression you make about a person comes before they speak and this rises to 90% in the first four minutes of them speaking. To make sure you make a good impression during this very short amount of time, ensure you use "you" in the first two sentences to make the audience feel involved with what you are saying. You should be aiming to talk with the audience, not at them. So, for example use "Today I would like us to focus on x", rather than "Today I will be talking about x".

Finally, some extra tips for delivering your presentation:

  • Hold the laser pointer in the hand next to the screen to prevent a barrier being present
  • Stand on the left side of the screen because you read text left to right
  • If you don't know the answer to a question, be honest! You can always throw the question out to the whole audience
  • Keep answers to questions brief
  • The audience remember the last thing they hear. Try to get this to be a summary for after the questions

Good luck in your coming presentation!


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