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Giving effective presentations – feature

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This feature was contributed by Malcolm Finney founder of Management Dynamics which specialises in training and consultancy in the areas of management, finance and taxation for the professions and financial sector.


What is an effective presentation?
For literally any type of presentation to be effective rapport with your audience is critical: without it no presentation can be effective. An effective presentation is one where you manage to get your message across to your audience, no more and no less.

Speakers are born and not made?
Now there are those who believe the old adage that "speakers are born and not made" from which it follows that you either have got what it takes to establish a rapport with an audience or you haven’t: in other words it’s genetic. Now whilst I think that it would be foolish to challenge the view that some speakers do appear to be better than others and appear to possess something "a bit special" compared to others, this does not mean that audience rapport arises because of some built-in gene that is handed out at birth only to some people!

Indeed experience and research has shown that things are not this simple. In particular, there is little doubt that delivering an effective presentation is in fact a skill and can thus be taught, as indeed can audience rapport creation.

Creating rapport
So how can this rapport be generated by a presenter?

In my experience to create this rapport requires that the presenter understands three basic rules:
Rule One: the audience must be listening
Rule Two: the audience must understand
Rule Three: the audience must be accepting

Rule One
Now it may seem that Rule One is obvious. If it is so obvious then how come that many of us have no doubt begun to switch off, or even worse, half fallen asleep within minutes or even seconds of a presenter getting up to speak? The reason, of course, is that in those vital opening seconds the presenter has failed to understand that if he/she can’t get his/her audience to listen to what is being said then as sure as eggs are eggs the audience will certainly not be in a position to understand nor accept the message, and he/she is wasting his/her breath.

So how can the presenter get an audience to listen in the first place? As the title of the article suggests the key is the need to establish a rapport. This rapport needs to be established immediately a presentation begins: once it is lost it is almost impossible to get back. Three possibilities to create this much needed rapport might be:
- to be shocking
- to be funny
- to be different

Of these three options the situation, nature and circumstances of the presentation will often tend to point to which of these three (and others) is likely to be the best option. For example, at a presentation to one’s bosses the "shock" approach may not be a good idea but adopting a different approach (eg using animated slides) to what is normal may be convincing.

Rule Two
Assuming therefore that you have caught the attention of your audience (ie they are listening) then you can then proceed to try to get them to understand what you are trying to say. In many cases the key here is to apply the so-called "KISSS" rule ie keep it short, simple and straight. One of the biggest mistakes made by presenters is to baffle the audience with too much information and/or too much complexity so that the audience has not a hope in hell of understanding what is being said even if they are listening. Remember that by the time you come to give your presentation you will (or certainly should) virtually know it backwards, but for your audience it is the first time they will have heard it> You must therefore give them time to digest what you are saying. If you feel that you need to "show off" your detailed understanding of the topic or want to blind them with science, save it for question time.

Rule Three
If you have, however, successfully navigated Rules One and Two and your audience are still with you, you are at least in principle well on the way to getting them to accept your message. In other words, the fact that you have managed to get the audience to listen and understand your presentation means, other things being equal, that they are much more likely to take your points on board, or at least are likely to be sympathetic to them in principle.

Failure to establish rapport?
A failure to establish rapport with your audience, on the other hand, will tend to alienate them and, as a consequence, will also tend to mean that they will be less sympathetic to the message. Indeed, in such circumstances the audience are prone to apply an alternative version of "I don’t like the message; shoot the messenger", namely, "I don’t like the speaker; I therefore don’t accept his/her message".

Much of the above may seem somewhat obvious. However, I’m sure that you can recall many many presentations where you can’t recall much of what was said within a couple of days after the event, or in the worst cases minutes thereafter!! How many presenters spring to mind who have had an impact? Probably not many. The principle reason for this, I believe, is that these presenters each forgot that the central issue with any presentation is to establish a strong rapport with the audience from the word go which in turn means trying to ensure that each of the above three rules are observed, obvious though they may be.

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