February 29, 2012

A couple of events are underway, prompting me to talk about this next topic:  Effective Presentations.  In particular, the TED2012 conference kicked off yesterday with its star-studded line up of incredible speakers sharing insights on their interests, passions, research, ideas.  Additionally, tonight, I was treated to 15 pitches from a group of FastTrac TechVenture graduates in Kansas City who shared their business ideas before a panel of about eight judges comprised of investors, attorneys, entrepreneurs and business coaches.  The highlights… and lowlights… of the various presentations at both TED and at the FastTrac TechVenture event lead me to these master-of-the-obvious conclusions:  Though there can be a variety of ways to convey an idea to others, good presentations get you noticed and remembered and influence outcomes; poor presentations are just painful. 

By no means will this be an exhaustive list, but whether you are meeting someone for the first time and they ask you to tell them about yourself… or, you are pitching a potential investor about your startup idea… or, you are trying to convince your manager to consider you for a promotion, or, whatever… take heed of these tips:

1)      Be succinct.  Shakespeare was right, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  In just a few sentences, be ready to share the kernel of your idea, tell the audience what your solution is, why they should care, what benefit they will derive from supporting you and what you need from them.

2)      Be the expert.  Your audience wants you to be the expert.  They need you to be the expert.  They will never be experts themselves.  Share the relevant information with them in bite-sized chunks that they can understand and digest.  Eighth grade grammar is best if you want to hit the broadest swath of your listeners.  But remember – you are the expert – they want you to be.  They are only interested in knowing things like:  Does this solve my problem?  Will this make me money?  Will it make me look good?  Can it save me time?  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.

3)      Do not restate the obvious.  Understand which facts are simply universal truths and skip them!  You know that you are only going to get a few minutes with your new networking contact or prospective employer or potential investor, so don’t waste them on things like, “the market for mobile applications is growing,” or “the population is aging and healthcare is becoming an important issue.”  Assume that your audience has these basic facts down pat.  Spend whatever time you have on those items listed in point #1 – tell them what your solution is, why they should care, what benefit they will derive and what you need from them.  Oops.  Just restated the obvious.  It bore repeating, I think.

4)      Tell a story.  Your audience is much more likely to engage with you if you wrap up your message in a story.  Your story will be much more compelling than say a tired ol’ PowerPoint presentation.  If you must use slides, use them as a visual aid only – to help tell the story better – not as a mere crutch for the presentation.  And, by all means, please do not read the slides to your audience.

5)      Know how much time you have.  Be ready to share everything you need to share in the time allotted whether that is 30-seconds, two minutes, eight minutes, half-an-hour or an entire weekend.  Don’t say, “I would tell you more, but I don’t have time.”  If they want more than the time allotted, they will ask for it.  That will be a gift to you.  In the meantime, cherish every second you are given and make haste!  And, don’t be surprised or taken aback if you think you are going to get an hour only to discover that your time has been cut to 15 minutes.  Just be ready to regroup and share what you need to in order to get them to want more.

6)      Practice… Practice… Practice!  The best way to prepare yourself for these situations is to practice.  Practice in front of a mirror.  Practice in front of a video camera.  Practice in front of a group of five friends for whom you have purchased pizza and Cokes in exchange for their serving as your test audience and promising to give you unadulterated feedback on your performance.

Ah, the list could go on and on, but those are the nuggets of wisdom that I gleaned from watching TEDtalks and startup idea presentations today.  Hope you find them useful.  Let me hear from you if you have other hot presentation tips to share with our readers.