Some time back I wrote a blog post about the most important thing in a project. To save you the trouble of reading it again, I concluded that the biggest risk that any project can run is that you might not be able to make it work.
I’ve been thinking about presentations in a similar light having seen a bunch over the last week at the Imagine Cup. So, what’s the most important thing in a presentation. Is it the script? The demos? Running to time? The jokes?
Actually I reckon it’s none of these things. The most important thing in any presentation is the audience. If you don’t build your presentation with them in mind then it will not go as well as it should.
Thinking about the audience begins at the start, when you worry about whether or not what you are going to say will make sense, has the appropriate level and the like. I reckon that the thing an audience likes the best is a story, so presentations that have some kind of narrative flow are going to go well.
During the presentation you should be watching the audience to make sure that what you say is going down well, and don’t be too afraid to change tack. Asking questions to confirm that you are going in the right direction is a good idea too. It builds your confidence and establishes a rapport.
If you are now thinking “Great, now I have to worry about watching the audience as well as everything else…” then I’m sorry about that, but I think it s something to keep in mind. For me the worst presentations are where the presenter just talks at the audience. You should try and make the presentation a conversation as much as you can. With very large numbers this can seem a bit daunting, but remember that an audience of 10,000 people is actually made up of 10,000 individual people.. If you think in terms of talking to just one of them, then that will help you manage this.
For me the best presentations I saw last week were those that engaged the audience from the start. So see if you can do the same when you stand up and start talking.