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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    July 01, 2014

    Seven Must-Do’s for a Stellar Presentation

    Public speaking can help you attract clients and build your reputation, and these seven tips will help make the process less daunting.

    Jenna Weber Atkinson

    public speaking nervousIn the world of professional services, the “product” you are selling is you. What wins clients are your expertise, your process, and your personality. Because of this, giving in-person presentations to targeted groups is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to build your brand and gain new clients. However, giving a poor presentation can have a large negative effect on your practice. To make sure you are taking full advantage of these extremely beneficial speaking opportunities, follow these seven tips to ensure a stellar performance that will drive prospects to your business.

    1. Know Your Audience

    Before you accept any speaking engagement, make sure you have a clear understanding of who the audience will be. Talk with the event organizer to get as much information ahead of time as possible. One factor that should help you structure your presentation is the audience: its size and expectations, and the physical setting of the presentation. If you are speaking to a large group, a more formal presentation would be a better fit. Conversely, if you are speaking to a group of 10 or fewer people, a presentation that is casual and more of a dialogue might be more appropriate.

    Make sure that you are aware of the attendees’ expectations, and then create a presentation that matches them. For example, if the audience will be filled with industry experts looking for detailed information, don’t give a high-level overview. If the group expects an hour-long presentation, don’t be too brief, and definitely don’t go over your time.

    Lastly, consider the environment you will be presenting in. Will you need a microphone to be heard clearly? Will all audience members be able to see you if you stand in one place or would it be beneficial for you to move around during the presentation? Get to the venue early so you can become familiar with the surroundings and address any venue challenges that might arise.

    2. Practice, Practice, Practice

    A common question for presenters is how much to practice. The answer varies depending on your experience and comfort level. You should rehearse as much as necessary so that when you are presenting, you can give your full attention to the audience. If you are using notes, focusing all your attention on your slides, or reading your presentation from cue cards, your presentation won’t be as effective, and the audience likely will not see you as an expert on the subject matter.

    Jenna AtkinsonJenna Atkinson is a business development professional for SVA Certified Public Accountants S.C., Madison, where she creates and implements business development strategies and awareness campaigns that drive business growth.

    The best way to practice is to rehearse exactly as you will present. Stand up, use a screen or projector if one is available, use a clicker to move between slides, and pause during times you would wait for audience interaction or input. By practicing this way, you will get a feel as to how the actual presentation will run, how long it will be, and at which points you need to make adjustments.

    Remember that speaking to a group does not come naturally to most people. Steve Jobs was known to rehearse his short presentations for days. You can never have enough practice. When you think you are ready to go, run through it one more time.

    3. Visuals Are Key

    The software (if any) you use to give your presentation is only a tool. The main focus of your speech should be you and what you have to say; any visuals are meant solely to complement the points you are making. If you are using Powerpoint, try to subscribe to the 4x4 rule: no more than four lines of text with four words each on each line on each slide. This might seem like a challenge, but you want the audience to be focused on you, not on reading lengthy text on each slide. Use fonts and colors that are easy to read and keep the points clear and concise. Use pictures and interesting visuals to bring your story to life.

    If you haven’t already done so, try using Prezi instead of Powerpoint. You can sign up for a free account at This tool allows for a more free-flowing, modern-looking presentation style. It has its limitations, as does any software, but it has many benefits that help the audience visualize your message. Incorporating personal pictures when you are telling a story can also help the audience relate to you and be more engaged in your presentation.

    4. Be the SAFEST

    When structuring a presentation, a general rule of thumb is to have the opening be about 15 percent of the content, the body 75 percent, and the closing 10 percent. When creating content, you should have main points with supporting statements. An easy way to remember how to effectively support a statement is “SAFEST”: use stories, analogies, facts, examples, statistics, and testimonials. By including a variety of these elements, you will keep the content interesting and the audience captivated. When you begin, give your audience a roadmap of where you will be going, and when you wrap up, provide a quick recap of what you discussed and what the listeners should do next. It is usually best to let the audience know in the beginning that you will address any questions at the end of the presentation. That way, you are in control of the timing and won’t be taken off topic.

    “One factor that should help you structure your presentation is the audience: its size and expectations, and the physical setting of the presentation.”

    5. Have Fun

    The audience will feed off your energy. If you are having a good time and feel comfortable and confident with the material you are presenting, the audience will have a more positive reaction. Even if you are nervous, remember that you are an expert in the field. Be confident, and let your personality shine through. Engage with your audience through making eye contact, asking questions, conveying energy and enthusiasm, and smiling. Even if the audience is large, try to pick out specific individuals in the audience and make a personal connection with them. Use humor if doing so is natural for you, but don’t feel forced to use it. Show the audience through your presentation that you are excited to be there and grateful for the opportunity.

    6. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

    Something will go wrong with your presentation. You might forget to mention a specific example you practiced with or the technology might not work exactly as you planned. With so many moving parts to an event and a presentation, it is nearly impossible to have everything go smoothly 100 percent of the time. If you know this in advance and do what is in your control to prepare, the overall presentation will go well. If you don’t treat a mishap or mistake as a big deal, the audience won’t even know it is a problem. Always bring an extra copy of your presentation on a flash drive and a hard copy to which you can refer, in case there are major technical glitches.

    7. Leave Them Wanting More

    After you deliver an engaging and informative presentation, let the audience members know where they can reach you for additional questions or comments. You want to give enough information that they find the presentation interesting and helpfulbut not so much that they won’t need your assistance. Give them “next steps,” one being to contact you if they need a resource in this area. One common pitfall is trying to cram too much information into one presentation. Consider creating an additional handout if there is more you would like to share, and send it to participants who give you their business card after the presentation. This gives you a reason to follow up and another touch point with a potential prospect.

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