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Making Presentations

In business, the first 30 seconds of a presentation determines whether or not an audience is going to listen. Proper preparation is the first step to winning an audience. Making a positive first impression and dressing for the part is second step. Be consistent with the introduction and conclusion, focusing on objectives, advantages, benefits and action steps. Keep the presentation short, to the point and simple. Avoid clich├ęs, complex jargon and abbreviations that could confuse audience members. Tell the truth and be direct. The ability to deliver a presentation can make or break a career, so be prepared.

An effective presentation ends with a call to action; what should the audience do? Tell the audience what the message is and how it can benefit them. Understanding the barriers you'll need to overcome to reach the audience members separates the amateurs from the professionals. Next, sell the core message to the audience and persuade them to take action. Research the audience beforehand in informal one-on-ones or in mini-presentations; what are the backgrounds, education levels and preferences? Connect using interests, expectations and goals. When an audience understands how a presentation will affect or benefit them, the members are more apt to listen.

Giving a presentation is a performance, as well as an information session. Plant both feet on the floor and avoid pacing. Give direct, approachable eye contact. Avoid looking from one side of the room to the other; instead, have a mini-conversation with one person for about five seconds and then move to the next person. Find one or two audience members who are listening and taking notes. Use those members as anchors to return to when others are distracted. During a question-and-answer session, be prepared for hostile questions.

Hostile questions are the hardest part of a presentation, and should be handled with caution and tact. When asked a hostile or inappropriate question, often from a competitor or someone with a chip on their shoulder, repeat and rephrase the question including the emotion associated with it. Then, either answer it using factual information (not emotion), or offer to meet with that person one-on-one at the end of the presentation. Most audiences do not want to sit through an argument or heated discussion, and should appreciate the diversion.

Most presentations include multimedia aids, such as a PowerPoint presentation. Take backups on Zip disks or CD-ROM, extension cords and extra connection cables. When using a Web site, store it on the hard drive instead of using a direct line to the Internet, which could be unavailable or slow. Presentation rooms might lack all necessary equipment or live connections, so plan ahead. Be sure to test everything before the presentation and allow enough time to troubleshoot any problems. Prepare, review and practice a presentation several times before giving it. Be open to scrapping a presentation that is not on target or reaching the audience, or soliciting feedback to make improvements.