A Blueprint for Effective Presentations

Presentations skills are the lifeblood of a successful consultant. No matter how good a consultant is technically, if he cannot communicate his qualifications to be hired or his findings once retained, his success will be limited.

Effective presentations start with effective preparation. As Steven Covey often states, all accomplishments are first created mentally before they are created physically. Architects and contractors understand that a good set of blueprints (the mental creation) are a prerequisite to a good building project (the physical creation). A good presentation is no exception to this rule. The following keys to good presentations will help develop the "blueprint" for a successful experience as a presenter.

1. Develop an Outline. The outline is the initial framework for a presentation. It is the equivalent to the structural design portions of a blueprint. The outline should lead logically from point to point, constructing the logic as it goes. Take the time to develop a good outline and you will see the benefits in both preparation and delivery. Directing the preparation with an outline keeps the logic of the presentation flowing; recalling the outline during the presentation will keep you focused and on track.

2. Prioritize. Clearly identify your key points in the outline and emphasize them. Often, even with good preparation, time can run short. If your points are prioritized and the most critical ones are highlighted, a presentation can be shortened without significant damage to the goal.

3. Focus on Time. Every architect must develop his design plans to fit within the owner's available resources such as money and land dimensions. To fail to so plan will result in the architect going hungry! So must presenters work within their allotted time–the audience's most precious resource. No audience appreciates a long-winded speaker. It is a sign of poor preparation and disorganization–and what consultant wants to communicate that message?

4. Prepare a "Script" for Some Points. While preparing a "word for word" script for an entire presentation generally results in a presentation that is too "stiff," you should consider a more precise presentation for the most important or complicated parts of your message. But beware of overdoing it–you want to seem natural and prepared without being perceived as being arrogant or stilted.

5. Carefully Select Audiovisual Tools. Remember that audiovisual tools are just tools; they are not the presentation itself. Prepare the presentation, and then enhance it if appropriate with audiovisual tools such as Powerpoint, Corel Presentations , or overhead transparencies. If you choose these tools, use them wisely. If you are not a graphic designer, use predefined templates so that the colors and graphics you select don't distract from your message. And make sure that the presentation venue can support your AV tools. There is nothing worse than depending on a venue's digital projector only to find out it doesn't work with your laptop!

6. Utilize Handouts. Effective handouts can be a real asset to a presenter. Well constructed handouts can help keep an audience focused and with you; not too far ahead or behind. Consider using handouts that encourage note taking by your audience members. The "fill in the blanks" model works well and is often used by the best known presenters. Avoid simply printing the slides of your electronic presentation, however. Audience members tend to jump ahead and miss much of your message.

7. Refine Your Presentation. Never, never use your first draft of a presentation. Construction design concepts are always refined multiple times before they become workable blueprints. When your preparation is done, review it carefully for clarity, content and organization.

8. Practice! Always review and rehearse the presentation. Just like builders understand that it is better to measure twice and cut once instead of measuring once and cutting twice, presenters should rehearse prior to the actual presentation. Consider recording a practice run on video or audio tape and then critiquing your own performance. Ask a trusted advisor who will be honest with you to comment candidly on your rehearsal.

If you plan well by developing a blueprint for a presentation, you can craft that product into your own masterpiece!