Abracadabra! How to give perfect presentations

Monday’s workshop on presentation skills with PR specialist (and member of the Magic Circle) Nick Fitzherbert was a great insight into the essentials of presenting your work and communicating your ideas. His guidance applies to many different types of presentation, and the audience included students from art, design and writing disciplines. 

Nick says there are three important, interrelated aspects of the art of presentations, whether you’re presenting to your tutors or to an audience of potential investors: preparation, focus and delivery. Here are some pointers he gave to a packed house on Monday in the Senior Common Room here at the RCA. 

Preparation

  • You have to get into the audience’s shoes and see things from their point of view. Ask yourself what this particular audience will want from you
  • Columbo or Agatha? (For those who don’t know – Columbo is a TV detective, and Agatha Christie wrote best-selling murder mystery novels.) In episodes of Columbo, we know from the beginning who did the murder; in Agatha Christie’s books, we find out right at the end. Nick says if you’re not sure, go for Columbo – get to the point as fast as possible, then expand
  • Build on what your audience already knows – the comedian Catherine Tate says that comedy is “eight parts recognition, one part shock and one part exaggeration”
  • Make adjustments to suit the audience. Some audiences will like jargon and technical details, for example, while others will find that kind of thing boring – and make it relevant to the people you’re speaking to
  • Work out in advance what you’re going to say – don’t make it up as you go along! If you want to sound natural and off-the-cuff, you need more rehearsal, not less
  • Check out the venue beforehand if you can – the main cause of stage fright is fear of the unknown
  • Specifics that cause nerves: not knowing your material, presenting to people you know, doing someone else’s presentation, not being yourself, unexpected interruptions, equipment difficulties – rehearsal and planning can reduce or eliminate all of these 

Focus 

  • Think about your objectives – what do you want your audience to go away thinking?
  • Give your main point at the beginning and end of your presentation, and everything in between should make that message stand up and bring it alive
  • Aim for one big point of focus – for example, when Steve Jobs launched the Macbook Air, he emphasised thinness most of all, in different ways, using graphics, props, and repetition
  • You should be able to distil your message to a single high-concept line – Steven Spielberg said, “I like ideas you can hold in your hand.” A giant shark terrorises a tourist resort – Jaws. Die Hard on a bus – Speed

Delivery

  • Take care to make sure slideshows etc are easy to read and reproduce well even on cheap projectors
  • Your talk doesn’t have to rise and rise to a peak, the energy can go up and down as long as you start and end well
  • Break it up into small chunks of information – people like to hear points in clusters of three
  • Whenever you say anything important, pause afterwards for it to sink in
  • Maintain eye contact – notice the colour of your audience’s eyes
  • Most of the time you should be looking forwards, not at your presentation; then, when you do turn to look, your audience will look along with you
  • In Powerpoint, the B button blanks the screen, and the W button makes it white – use this when you want the audience to focus on you, not on the image or text behind you
  • If you’re using a prop or visual aid, hold it up for longer than feels completely natural, and don’t pass it round – you want people to focus on you, not the object

For more great advice on presenting from Nick Fitzherbert, you can buy his book, Presentation Magic!, or borrow it from Fuel at the library