brown paper bag

Omatic Brown Bag Lunch Series – Tips for Effective Presentations

If you present regularly to groups (large or small), you’ll probably agree that anytime is a good time for a quick refresh on making sure that we are communicating effectively. While people retain information in different ways, there are some consistent things that presenters can do to maximize people’s time and get their information across. At Omatic, we are fortunate to have two “presentation skills” experts on our staff. They recently co-presented at our latest Brown Bag Lunch. Marc Van Baar is a former Blackbaud “Train the Trainer”, and Baird Hall has done over 300 ImportOmatic demos! Together, they taught our group about the do’s and don’ts of presenting, both online and in front of a live audience.

Surprisingly, the pair appeared uncharacteristically nervous and unprepared for who would be presenting first. They put up a horribly cluttered PowerPoint and proceeded to read each bullet word for word. It was an awkward start, to say the least. There were more than a few darted eyes and “I feel bad for them” chuckles. I thought to myself: “Wow, they’re really nervous for a peer session…did I set the correct expectations?” and “Maybe I didn’t give them enough time to prepare… was 6 weeks long enough?” As the organizer, I was squirming a little.

Fortunately for all, this was all pure theater and the painful show was stopped after about three minutes when they gave up the joke. They were cleverly demonstrating what NOT to do in a presentation. Well played, gentlemen. In retrospect, it was hilarious. In the moment, I felt their pain.

They pointed out the obvious flaws: the unpreparedness, the “ums”, the horrible PowerPoint presentation, fast-talking, ignoring eye contact… all the mistakes everyone tends to notice about a presenter. They also pointed out some not so obvious missteps:  holding your hands at your sides, playing with your hair, and ring spinning.

Then they moved on to the real presentation, where they shared their secrets! I have summarized a few of them here:

General Presentation Tips:

Poll your audience

Who are these people and how do they relate to you, as well as to each other? Explain why you want them to relate to one another. In larger sessions, it can be important to assist audience members to find common denominators. Something along the lines of “raise your hand if ___”, or if presenting online, electronically poll them and instantly show the results.

Ask them questions to keep interest

It is always good practice to ask your audience if they have any particular points on your topic they would like to cover. This would be a good time to softly brag about your experience, “When I worked with XYZ Org/Company in the past, it was helpful when they learned to…”

Don’t Talk to the Screen

As Marc put it, “I’d rather eat sandpaper” than listen to someone drone on reading from a PowerPoint. The key takeaway about using PowerPoint is that Less Is More. “PowerPoint should be supporting your voice, not the other way around,” Baird emphasized.

Preparing for the inevitable:

A/V issues

Have handouts if appropriate, be able to talk from the back of the room, and be comfortable with an off-the-cuff conversation with the PowerPoint as your talking points, not your speech. On a side note, there are some nice alternatives to PowerPoint… Prezi is a pretty cool example!

Tell Stories

To resonate with your audience, have a story to tell to each one of the groups you defined earlier in your presentation. Stress who the focus is for each story so people can put on different hats to feel the experience.

Towards the end of the lunch, we were all comfortable enough to own up to our flaws. We had the opportunity to express our fears, shortcomings and personal habits (For example, I tend to information dump when I get nervous.). What we got in return was candid feedback, and suggestions we could use to help us be both better presenters and communicators. I actually found myself using the tips last weekend while telling a story to a room full of family. All in all, this was an engaged learning session that showcased some true talent in our company. I hope it helps you too!

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