There’s a lot of information that’s easily accessible on the internet that will tell you how to give a professional talk. Many of those points are downright obvious, so we’ll spare you the repetition. Yes, you know you need good visuals. Yes, you know not to lose your audience by visually overwhelming them with a wall of text. We’re pretty sure you know how to dress appropriately for the occasion and remember to use the presenter tools. Instead, we’ve compiled a short list of helpful hints that we think are a little less commonly given as advice. Here’s a list of tips from a powerpoint expert that addresses concerns you might not have considered if you haven’t given many talks before:
You probably know the information in your talk better than anyone else who’s going to be exposed to it. You should be able to predict at least the first level of questions you’ll receive about it. It makes you look professional if you have a slide prepared to answer a question an audience member asks. If you’re able to predict the questions people are likely to ask, by making slides that answer these predictable questions and leaving them in the powerpoint file after the end of your talk, you can easily bring them up to give visual information answering an audience member’s question.
You might already know this one, but let’s be clear: go easy on the animations. They’re meant to be a smooth transition but if they, themselves, are getting attention, they’re not being used correctly. If you want to show an object that transitions from one state to another, perhaps an animated slide is the best way to show this. If, however, your text is fading in and spinning for no reason, leave out the animation.
No less important than preventing animation abuse, it’s worth noting that color use needs to be consistent. If you’re presenting data and using colors as either grades on a scale or representation for groups, those colors need to remain consistent throughout your entire talk. The reason for this speaks for itself.
You (as well as your slides) need to be visually engaging
Be provocative. Walk around. Use the space you’re given. Even if there’s a podium, unless you rely on the microphone attached to it, you have a chance to take up all the space allotted to the presenter’s area. You’re talking to people. By moving you keep them more engaged. Studies have shown that moving and looming stimuli capture attention. We’re more likely to pay attention to moving objects than stationary ones.
Clarify the type of audience participation you’d like at the beginning
Some people find it unnerving to get many questions during their talk, while others enjoy turning a one-sided presentation into more of a two-way conversation. Make it clear at the outset if you want questions during your talk or if you’d like to take them at the end. While questions during your talk might change the length of time you need to deliver it, it tends to engage your audience more. Sometimes audience members will forget their question if they have to wait until the end of the talk to ask it.
Unless you’re a compelling storyteller (and most of us aren’t) break your talk up into easily digestible pieces
Part of making a talk easy to understand means you should carefully select the language you use. Some people thrive on technical jargon because it makes them sound like an expert. If your goal is to convince everyone in your audience that you know your stuff, maybe this is a good option for you. However, most of us want to convince the audience of something that’s more than just how smart we are and for that, we need to communicate efficiently and clearly. There’s no need to pull out acronyms and get wordy. Blunt speech conveys messages just fine.
You’ll also want to have intermediate conclusions during your talk, especially if there are parts of it that can be difficult to follow. Use the presenter tools and watch your time limit. If necessary, you can even use an intermediate conclusion as a stopping point if you’ve run out of time.
Tell people why they’re spending their time listening to you
Tell people at the beginning why you’re presenting to them. This doesn’t mean you should read the title of your talk or remind them what your name is or who your affiliates are. It doesn’t even mean you should discuss what you’re talking about. It means you should make your goal clear from the outset and say it out loud. If people are going to invest an hour of their time, at least tell them what they’re going to get out of it.
For example, let’s say you were attending a talk and the opening began as follows.
“Hi, my name is Steven Patterson and today I’m going to talk to you about my experience investing in short-term commodities and how my perspective on those investments changed over time,”
If you heard that, you wouldn’t have any clue what Steven’s goal was. You’d know what he was going to talk to you about. Maybe that interests you, maybe it doesn’t, but he hasn’t said or done anything active or provocative.
Now imagine attending a talk by the same person that started slightly differently.
“Welcome and thanks for coming. Today I’m going to convince you that investing in short term commodities is a terrible idea. Previously, I thought it was great but in the next hour I’m going to show you why that idea is simply wrong.”
You know what his goal is. He’s going to convince you of something – or at least he’s going to try. Maybe you agree, maybe not, but certainly whatever he says in the next hour is going to be provocative. It’s going to be something you’ll want to listen to.
Leave them with something short and sweet
Many people give a talk and for the last slide they’ll insert either a list of conclusions, an acknowledgment slide, or their own contact information for more details. Consider putting acknowledgments on your second slide so you can leave people with a better final message than thanking people who have helped you or funded you. Oftentimes, people remember the last part of a talk best. If there’s one sentence that encapsulates your message and you’d be happy if everyone remembered, put it up as a final message. No one is going to care that you’re acknowledging the help of others as a final take-home message. The people who helped you will be flattered, but no more flattered than they would be if you listed them near the beginning of your talk instead. A final message is a powerful tool. Don’t waste it.