Posted on May 01 2013

How to Deliver an Effective Presentation


“The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, then  have the two as close together as possible.”  – George Burns

Throughout my years as an executive, I’ve learned a thing or two about mastering the art of public speaking. Nicknamed “Debra Winger” by my colleagues, I was notorious for delivering impromptu speeches in a moment’s notice. Notes? Speaking points? Those were foreign concepts to me that definitely did not belong in my repertoire. I thrived on spontaneity and relied on my wit, knowledge, and instinct (along with a bit of a photographic memory) to deliver an engaging and successful presentation. Over the years, however, I began to wonder, “If I’m this good at delivering an effective presentation by winging it, how much better could I be if I actually came prepared?”

This divine enlightenment came to me after I received a standing ovation at the Annual AAFA American Image Awards. I was presenting the “Brand of the Year” award to Justin Timberlake and Trace Ayala of William Rast, and I was ill-prepared to say the least. I assumed I would be presenting in front of an audience of around 500 people. To my dismay, the audience size was more to the tune of 1,500 of the most influential people in the fashion industry. Thank God I had fabulous hair, makeup, a Donna Karan dress and Lanvin shoes on, but true to my “Debra Winger” alias – I had to wing it, once again. When I got back to my chair, it dawned on me: Being Debra Winger was not being a winner over time. I needed a new approach, stat.

Below are best practices for being prepared while retaining a level of spontaneity as a public speaker:

Step 1: Preparation

  • Do your due diligence: By researching the event first and foremost, I am able to eliminate the guesswork and devote all of my energy on developing a solid foundation to work from.
  • Idea Clarity:  I always make sure my idea or concept is understandable, sensible, and interesting.  You need to have honed it from inception to final product.
  • Know your audience: Learning from the above example, I now make sure I 100% know my audience: Who they are, where they are from, which positions they represent, and what their trigger points are.  If I intend to have a decision made, I must understand the decision maker.
  • Know your environment:  To keep your presentation seamless, it’s important to know (1) your presentation environment and (2) the logistical and technical capabilities. Find out what equipment is available, what you may need to bring (from technology to Sharpies), and the room layout.
  • Commit to memory: In order to keep that element of spontaneity alive but also be well-prepared, I make sure to practice my speech until it’s engrained in my head.
  • Plan your outfit accordingly: It’s always important to look the part, but you want to be remembered for what you said rather than for what you wore. I always air on the side of classically chic yet comfortable.

Step 2: Presentation

  • Make them laugh: I know I have 20 minutes until the majority of my audience loses interest, so I need to make those 20 minutes count. By grabbing my audience with a funny anecdote, I immediately set the tone of my presentation and can feel the engagement spark instantly.
  • Make them learn: Most people learn best through the combination of the three learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic – therefore I incorporate all three styles in my presentation. Since I’m already presenting orally, I make sure my slides are filled with colorful visuals rather than heavy text and include subtle physical gestures to emphasize my message.
  • Make them have fun:  Start strong, finish stronger. I already made my audience laugh, I already engaged them with all three learning styles, and now I need that final component to drive my message home. By providing a fun experience during the lecture, I help motivate my audience to apply my key learnings to their daily life by reinstating my call to action as my conclusion.

Step 3: Recap

  • Learn from your mistakes: Following every presentation I give, I always go back and compare my blunders vs. my victories to help identify my areas of improvement:
    • Did I make enough eye contact?
    • Was my delivery (i.e. tone, visuals, and gestures) on point?
    • Did my message resonate?
    • How many questions did I receive at the end?

Follow these steps and I guarantee your audience will be pleasantly surprised rather than snoozing in their seats.

**Featured image courtesy of Techi.com 

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Loretta Soffe - Principal