Whether you're preaching a sermon, trying to sell something or wanting to nail down that presentation, delivery is everything. The best way to successfully deliver any message is to keep it fresh, keep it short, keep it simple and keep it fun.
When I started developing my first slide show years ago, I paused to reflect on what was right or wrong with most presentations. Placing one slide up on the screen and talking for an hour was something I didn't want to do. I had seen that same mistake made over and over in high school and college. The only things more boring then bad slide presentations are chalk talks and object lessons.
People new to speaking often depend on gimmicks. They often feel more comfortable using chalk board, an overhead projector, audience giveaways or something they can hold in their hand or place on a lectern for people to focus on. While these kinds of things can be useful in some cases, they can also be a distraction. A professional Speaker should never create a gap between themselves and their audience. You can steer clear of that pitfall by limiting the use of gimmicks and avoiding topic saturation.
The worst classroom nightmare that can happen to a junior or senior high school student is to end up with a teacher fresh out of college. They are easy to spot because of a misplaced passion to teach everything they have ever learned in one semester and burn up more chalk then a cheap ice cream company. Saying too much about any topic is as bad as not saying enough. An overuse of presentation graphics and technology detracts from your subject.
While tools like PowerPoint are a blessing to Speakers who were once chained to cumbersome and often unreliable slide projectors, they are not a substitute for content. Content will always be king. Editing content is an art form that must be learned through experience. Like many Speakers, most of my early gigs were for community groups, service organizations and clubs. They were, needless to say, unpaid. However, those engagements were excellent proving grounds for my material and provided good opportunities for me to sharpen my speaking skills.
The best way to understand what's right or wrong with a presentation is audience reaction. No matter how much you know about any topic or how passionately you present it, the audience will decide whether or not your presentation deserves their attention. Getting that attention means editing and presenting your content to suit them.
You can grab on to your audience by focusing in on the most interesting aspects of any topic. Let's say your topic is CORN. Most people are not going to care about how many tons of it are produced by farmers each year or what it takes to get it to market. They have already seen that on the Discovery Channel ten times over. Tell them what they don't know about the crop. Focus in on unusual uses, unique growing methods and uncommon processing procedures. Inform your audience by entertaining them.
Maintaining audience interest means speaking WITH them, not AT them. An audience will judge you by the first twenty words that come out of your mouth. This doesn't mean that you have to begin with a joke or story, it just means you have to start with sincerity. Say what you feel, not what you know and NEVER reintroduce yourself. During the first five minutes of your presentation, you will either gain or lose your audience. Begin with the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY of your topic. Those old journalistic building blocks serve professional Speakers well.
If content is king, comfort rules! You cannot successfully deliver your message to a room full of uncomfortable people. Your audience should be comfortable in every way imaginable. More then a few event planners have felt my wrath when I found horrific conditions present at various Speaking venues. I learned, early on, to verify any and all essential equipment and set-ups the day before my arrival. Arriving at least two hours before my audience on the day of a presentation was also important. That allowed time for any quick fixes.
Every member of your audience must be able to clearly see you, hear you and view any screen or monitor comfortably. If seating is portable, rows should be kept short. People like the ability to come and go as needed. Chilled water must always be available. A good listener is a comfortable listener.
You cannot get your message across if no one understands what you are talking about. Speakers often justify boring presentations by claiming that listeners will not appreciate the topic if they are not given the 'big picture.' These are Speakers who imagine an audience filled with Intellectuals or Professionals who appreciate the highbrow approach and hang on their every word. Anyone who has ever attended an average Financial Planning or Real Estate Investment seminar knows how tragic and ineffectual this kind of presentation can be.
If some Speakers put too much into a presentation, others depend on fluff and sideshows leaving their audience with nothing but a momentary high to take home. There is a big difference between a coaching session and public speaking. Coaches put on a show and depend as much on audience participation as they do on hype to get a point across. Coaches create an event and motivate participants, while professional Speakers deliver a message and enlighten their audiences.
Most Speakers I have met live on credentials. They write their own introductions and hope to impress an audience with all kinds of educational and professional accomplishments. Few live up to their resumes. That's because the focus is on them, not their message. With the possible exception of personality cults or celebrities, most people come out to hear the MESSAGE and not the Messenger. Given that, your delivery of that MESSAGE had better be good!
Let's revisit the essentials. Keep your presentation FRESH, keep it SHORT, keep it SIMPLE and make it FUN. This is a delicate balancing act. While you never want people to feel cheated because you didn't say enough, it's no better to say so much that they end up with a headache from trying to take it all in. Likewise, you do not want them to perceive you as a novice because you over-simplified things, depended on gimmicks, told too many jokes or replaced popular material with new stuff just to keep it crisp.
Every professional Speaker must balance content, technique, technology and audience satisfaction. It's a comfort zone that you reach through trial and error. You'll know you are there when audiences accept, enjoy and appreciate your message.