Living in Honduras and Guatemala is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ten Golden Rules to Give a Kick-Ass Presentation at Conferences

This post is a bit different from my usual wandering thoughts on living in Honduras, but the Conference on Honduras is coming up (Sept 26-28) and I thought this might be helpful...

There wouldn’t be any conferences if networking and personal presentations weren’t as powerful as they are. It’s one thing to get a brochure in the mail asking for donations for an orphanage in a faraway country, a whole different story to have someone in front of you telling passionately about his or her own experience. A good presentation is more powerful than the fanciest business card or website. However, a bad presentation can also ruin any interest people might initially have for your topic.
Here a few tips to make your presentation funky, interesting and entertaining!

1. Know what you’re talking about
Duh… you might say. But seriously, you need to know a whole lot more about your topic than the essence you’re going to present. Most people who present are professionals in their field, and for a reason. If it was that easy to give a presentation, we could just hire somebody, anybody, hand over a Power Point Presentation and a list of things to say, and that would be it. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s impossible to present all the details of years of experience, but only someone with that experience can resume it to the bare core.  Your audience will know whether you’re knowledgeable or not, so have all you facts ready and be prepared.

2. Know your audience
Design your presentation towards your audience. If you talk about a water project in Kenya to a group of preschoolers, you might want to start pointing out Kenya on the map and use metaphors the children can relate to. Talking to a group engineers requires of course a totally different talk. This might sound as yet another point to take for granted, but speakers often come over as unprofessional or patronizing by providing their audience with too much or too little information. To play it on the safe side, give a very short general introduction (you can say for example: “As we all know, Honduras is a very poor country in Central America”) and then get into the specifics. Walking that fine line between giving too much or too little information isn’t easy, so the more you know about your audience before hand, the better. In the case of Conference in Honduras, we’re all pretty much in the same boat. However, keep in mind that the audience exists of both foreigners and Hondurans, and that certain statements might be offending for one group or the other. “Nobody ever helps Honduras” stated by a local might be a bit insulting to all those gringos trying to help out, whereas remarks from outsiders about how corrupt the country is, might offend Hondurans whom not all are corrupt.

3. Keep it personal
The reason you’re giving a presentation instead of handing out an information sheet, is because it is your presentation. Even if the topic is serious and formal, keep it personal. Start your presentation with a personal experience or anecdote. It will spark the interest but also give people an insight in your topic. The bare facts can be taken off the website of brochure. What you personally have to add to it, can’t.
If the topic calls for it, use humor in your presentation. It keeps people alert and it opens up your audience for the information you have to share. However, if you’re not a natural joker, then don’t play the clown. Nothing is worse than a joke nobody laughs at!

4. Tell your story, don’t read it out loud!
Even if you decide to write out the whole text of your presentation, don’t read it out loud! When you read, your voice is more monotone and the information sounds not half as interesting. If necessary, write out your text and start practicing by retelling each paragraph in your own words until you feel comfortable enough to do it without a the text. But keep your text nearby, even if you won’t need it. It will give you confidence and something to fall back on.

5. Use visuals
The more senses you stimulate, the more likely it is for the information to come across. Photos or illustrations are great and a Power Point Presentation can be of great help, as long as it is a good one (see: Ten Golden Rules to Make a Kick-Ass Power Point Presentation). Also consider sound (the rumble of a horrifying earthquake?) or video (kids playing and laughing?). Or smell! When talking about coffee producing, why not brining some freshly ground beans?

6. Don’t hide behind the lectern
If there’s a lectern or reading desk, avoid it! Instead, step in front of it and use the whole space available. If you walk from one side to the other, people are forced to look at you and will pay more attention. It makes the whole presentation livelier and more interesting.

7. Make eye contact
You are a human being, talking to other human beings, so make sure people won’t forget that! Make eye contact, so people feel involved. It also works miraculously if someone isn’t paying attention or twittering. Just look at that person, make eye contact, give a sly smile and you’ll have his or her attention for the rest of your presentation.

If you start speaking, open your chest, slightly raise your chin, and focus the reach of your voice at a point in the very back of the room.  Speak from your belly while keeping your shoulders back. Speak out loud, but without forcing your voice. Let your whole body transmit confidence and it will give you yourself more confidence.
 If there’s a lot of noise and people keep on talking, don’t raise your voice, but instead lower it. People will be trying to hear what you’re saying and even hush the others. Success guaranteed.

9. Make sure you’re ready

Make sure you’re on time, if not early for your presentation, so you won’t have to rush. Make sure you have all you need: microphone, pointer, Power Point Presentation, remote control and a glass of water. Even if you’re not thirsty, a glass of water is a great object to use to stall an answer or thought.

10. Be prepared for Q&A
Be as prepared as possible for the questions. If you don’t know an answer, don’t lie, but say that the question is really interesting and you’ll get back to that person shortly. Make sure you really answer the questions instead of starting another mini-speech. 

Break a leg!!!

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