Recently I was asked to help a department head at one of the government institutes in Daejeon prepare for her 20-minute talk in China at an international conference for leaders in her field. We worked together for three hours and I was excited about the improvements in her presentation's content, organization, and visuals. When she returned we met for a cup of coffee and she told me that the president of the organization referenced her talk during the closing ceremony, drawing praise from her institute's president and resulting in immense satisfaction for her and the desire to present again in the near future. It wasn't rocket science that we used to help craft a talk that was both clear and useful to the conference attendees and resonated strongly enough that the organization's president referred to it during his closing remarks.
Here are some of the tips I suggested:
1. Connect your topic to the audience
The department head was talking about better communication with the public but the audience was mainly engineers. She needed to find a way to convince them that communication with people outside the institute was not only the job of the public relations department. She used the example of having a drink in a bar and someone asking where they worked. Whether you are a scientist in the field of satellite technology, nuclear safety, or automotive design people will have questions about your industry and it is to your advantage to know how to answer them.
2. Have a clear, unified message
Twenty minutes isn't a lot of time when you have a lot to say. You won't finish in time if you try to go into too much detail or give too many examples. We cut a lot out of her presentation and were able to focus on the best examples and most relevant information. Attendees left her talk with her key takeaways clearly in the front of their minds. Mission accomplished.
3. Show, don't tell
Pictures, charts, and graphs work better than sentences on your slides. Pictures quickly and easily impart your message. She used a photo of people inside an airplane to connect the audience to her message since most attendees flew to the conference and then a picture of the cockpit controls to demonstrate that it is possible to enjoy the flight without understanding the technology actually used to fly the plane. Even the attendees with weaker English skills understand her message clearly.
4. Keep your text slides simple
Slides are free. Each slide needs to have a purpose but should not contain all the information you wish to convey. If all of the content is on the slide then why are you there. The audience can read the slide faster than you can read it aloud and will be reading ahead if the slide is particularly wordy and, thus, not listening to you. Animate slides with multiple sections or use more than one slide and add a heading.
5. Finish a little early
If your talk is 20 minutes, it's better to finish in 16 minutes than 24 minutes. I don't know any conference attendees who complain that they had too much time to talk to a colleague, grab a cup of coffee, or run to the restroom. Finishing early leaves time for Q&A or an extended break time. Finishing late throws the entire day's schedule into disarray and makes you look both selfish and unprofessional.
6. Finish strong
A good presentation includes an action step at the end whether the goal is informative or persuasive. If you presentation truly offered valuable information for your audience's needs your action step can suggest ways for them to use it or directions for learning more about it now that their interest has been piqued. Don't forget to add a slide at the end that includes your contact information or links to the resources that you mentioned in your action step. You can also go back to an image that you used at the beginning of the talk to bring the message full circle. The black screen at the end of a PowerPoint slide show tells the audience that you thought there might be something else and forget that there wasn't. That demonstrates poor preparation on your part and can damage your reputation.
By keeping your audience and their needs firmly in your mind, you can turn a below-average speech into a winning presentation. Remember that when you speak in public you are not only representing yourself in a professional capacity but your organization and often your country as well. Leave your audience better equipped to succeed in their field at the end of your presentation and they will thank you for it.