Sound Check: How to Avoid Presentation Dangers

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By Virgil Scudder

You’ve been invited to give a presentation at a prestigious professional gathering. So, you spend countless hours preparing — shaping what you plan to say and developing visuals to illustrate your points.

You’re on your way to success — or are you?  Some speakers find that their efforts have less impact than they should because they neglect the details.

It all comes back to one important premise: Communication is not what you know or what you say.  It’s what the audience takes away.

The most common mistakes concern pictures and sound: The audience can’t hear the speaker clearly or easily read the visuals.  As a result, you lose impact and, possibly, the audience itself.

Here are some tips to help you and your presentation garner positive reviews.

Check your sound and visuals before you start.  Insist on having access to the room at least 15 minutes before you present, preferably with a technician present.  To be sure that you can be heard in all areas of the room, test the placement of the microphones and the volume.  Also, you need to check your audio and visual aids to make sure the technical system is working properly.  AV failures have doomed many compelling presentations.

Get your technical act together.  Practice pushing the buttons you’ll need to use when it’s show time.  Don’t let a technician do it for you in rehearsal and then leave you to do it for yourself when it counts.  You need to be confident in your ability to operate the equipment.

Keep it simple.  Design your slides in such a way that they can easily be seen and understood, even in the back row.  The most common mistake in creating presentations is crowding too much onto one slide. Don’t use any font that’s smaller than 20 or 24 point.

Rehearse.  Go over your presentation several times before the day you deliver it – preferably videotaping yourself so you can see what you need to improve on.  It’s also a good idea to practice in front of family members or colleagues to get their feedback.  Just knowing your subject is not enough; you need to deliver your points in a smooth, confident and professional manner.

Start and end on time.  It shows respect for the audience and that you have your act together –you’re professional, credible and well organized.

Find an interesting opening.  Since people often come into these sessions a few minutes late, make your opening remarks interesting, entertaining or humorous (if possible), but not essential to understanding what is to follow.  Humor is a great weapon for getting people’s attention.  If people walking past the room hear the audience laughing, then they are likely to come in and take a seat.

Remember the Q-and-A.  Leave sufficient time at the end and insist questioners use the microphone so everyone can hear the question.  If they fail to do so, then politely ask them to repeat the question, speaking into the microphone – even if you heard it clearly.  If there isn’t a microphone for the audience, repeat their question before you answer it so everyone in the room can hear.

Following these steps will help ensure that your presentation receives the attention and response that your efforts deserve.