In order to give a memorable, effective presentation, a speaker must combine both verbal and written communication skills. Many IT professionals wrongly assume that as long as you know PowerPoint, you're a top-notch presenter. Of course, we all know this isn't true. Anyone can put together a set of slides and assume that's all they need to do to give a solid presentation. The problem is that I've seen otherwise brilliant IT professionals get in front of management, customers and others and crash and burn because of poor presentation skills.
Presenting to an audience is something that comes with experience and it pays to learn what works and what doesn't early in your career. There have been plenty of books on this subject, but here's what I've found to work best:
1. Know your audience. IT affects virtually every aspect of business and knows no boundaries. But just because you know what it takes to keep computers and applications up and running doesn't mean that the people you're speaking to know about the topic you're addressing. You must appreciate the level of knowledge and the roles of the people you're presenting to so you can tweak your message and put things in terms that your audience understands.
2. Evoke emotions and motivate. No matter what method you choose for delivering your message -- facts, graphics, anecdotes -- your ultimate goal is to evoke emotions and motivate your audience. The desire for new and valuable information will motivate people to accept your message. When preparing your presentation, it's your job to find out what that information is.
3. Don't assume you need slides. A common assumption is that when you're giving a presentation, you must use a tool like PowerPoint. That's not true. A short talk may be all you need to get your point across. My advice is to use PowerPoint as a communication tool, rather than a way to create slides.
4. Use illustrations, not bullets. It's easier to tell a story when you use pictures and graphics as opposed to bullet points. When you present information that goes beyond the bullet points, you not only provide a better way to convey your message, but you force your audience to listen, rather than just read your slides.
5. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Effective presentations have to be planned out, thought through and refined for days, if not weeks, leading up to your presentation. Preparing your material well in advance gives you time to fine-tune certain aspects and to program your subconscious regarding the flow and general message of your presentation. Doing so, you'll find that your delivery will sound more natural and uncontrived.
6. You don't need to be a showman. Don't worry about being charismatic, funny or any of those other celebrity-like traits we assume we need to live up to. Be yourself and talk about what you know. Your true character will come out over time. You'll be more comfortable with yourself, you'll be able to relax and you'll deliver a stronger presentation.
7. Make your presentation a discussion with your audience. In most situations, people would rather be part of a discussion than be talked at. Don't rely entirely on your slides and don't just read what's on the screen. Also, it's good practice to set people's expectations with an agenda at the beginning and use transitional slides when you're moving from one point to another.
8. Finish your presentation on time (or before). I think we can all agree that when we attend lectures or presentations, we like it when the speakers stick to the predetermined time allotment. Don't forget that when you've got the podium. This also opens up more time for a question and answer session or further discussion.
Kevin Beaver, is an information security consultant, keynote speaker and expert witness with Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. Kevin specializes in performing independent security assessments. Kevin has authored/co-authored seven books on information security, including Hacking For Dummies and Hacking Wireless Networks For Dummies (Wiley). He's also the creator of the Security on Wheels information security audio books and blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This was first published in April 2010