Do you give effective presentations?

Presentations are a form of communications such as selling, motivating, informing or training, given to groups during face-to-face settings. I give effective presentations. Where a presentation is scored, it is rare for me to obtain less than a 4.50 out of a possible 5.00 (highest rank). This is not meant as a boast; it is an opening for you to gain something from a fellow EHS pro. As your career advances you will give more presentations (either voluntarily or coerced). Take this opportunity, which should only take a few minutes of your time, to learn seven of my key strategies on how to give an effective presentation.

Strategy one: Provide minimum opening comments

Introduce as briefly as possible your topic, define the topic, link with your audience (e.g., fellow EHS pro), explain why the topic is important to them, mention a time that the presentation will cover, and define their role (e.g., learn seven key strategies).

You may feel these minimum comments are redundant because most people know beforehand why they are attending a presentation, how long it will last, and who is giving it. I’ve learned, however, that the opening not only reinforces the topic but also helps prepare the audience to listen and be engaged.

Strategy two: Measure your performance

How do I know that I give effective presentations? At the 2005 ACHMM annual conference I gave the top ranked presentation, scoring a 4.93 out of a possible 5.00. At the 2006 and 2007 annual industrial hygiene conferences (AIHce) the PDC I presented scored a 4.59 and a 4.62, respectively; just fractions of a percent in both cases from being the top ranked PDC. I gave eight people OHST training in 2008 and each of them passed the certification exam.

Performance may be measured from formal course evaluations, informal comments from participants, or based upon participant outcomes, e.g., they passed a test. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken. Measurements, preferably in the form of written evaluations, are crucial to knowing how you perform. Whenever possible obtain some measurement following each presentation you give. Welcome criticism because it will help you identify your weaknesses.

Strategy three: Continual improvement

The better we communicate the more opportunity we have to advance. Timothy Koegel, (“The Exceptional Presenter,” Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2007) cites data showing that communication skills are the highest business attribute looked for in hiring and promotion. Nick Souter (“Persuasive Presentations,” Sterling Publishing Co., 2007) illuminates this strategy. According to Souter, when a person first enters the corporate world, they spend about 25 percent of their time in a meeting room. This figure doubles when they reach middle management. And when they reach the executive ranks, they will be listening or giving presentations 75 percent of their time.

Giving presentations is a major challenge for some people. Daria Gowman (“Presentations: Proven Techniques for Creating Presentations That Get Results,” Adams Media Corporation, 1998) claims that some people are actually more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying. Gowman shows us how to overcome this fear. Steve Brown (“How to Talk So People Will Listen,” Baker Books, 1999) shows us how we can harness the power of speech. And authors such as Rosalie Maggio (“How to Say It,” Prentice Hall, 1990) help simplify our choice of words through various examples.

These are a few of the books I’ve read to improve my performance in giving presentations. Recent books are included. Nothing will give you overnight success in being a top presenter. But you can be an incrementally better presenter each time you give a presentation. In addition to reading books, closely observe other presenters. What did you find in their presentation, either good or bad, that may help you?

Strategy four: Cite authoritative sources

People buy in more easily to what you say if you often cite authoritative sources. Consider how I cited several authors above. The author’s perceived credibility gave my comments on presentations greater acceptance. It doesn’t matter if all you are doing is giving a simple presentation such as how to safely drive a forklift. Where does the authoritative source for a forklift’s center of gravity come from? If it is OSHA, say so. Build upon expert views. The more complex and unique the topic, the more citations you will need to give.

Strategy five: Relate to the group

Regardless of whom you are speaking to, let them know that you are one of them. John McCain says “my friends” in each of his political presentations. Other presidential contenders also use words and actions to link with the audience. How did I relate to a group of people preparing to take the OHST exam? Even though I already have multiple credentials, I told them I used to be where they are now: working hard to pass a certification exam. Let your association and empathy for them show through.

Strategy six: Be yourself

Should you tell a joke before a presentation? Will the audience like it better if you wear eyeglasses or contacts? If you talk a lot with your hands and move around, how do you stop these bad habits? If you accidentally use an offensive word, should you stop immediately and apologize to the group?

Questions like these can go on and on and they may drive you crazy trying to be something you are not. I learned early on just to be myself, flaws and all. You can modify your behavior slowly over time; just don’t try to change it all at once.

Rule 7: Rehearse as much as possible.

Strategy seven: Rehearse

Rehearse as much as possible for each presentation, especially if the information is very new to you. Where possible have someone critique the key sections of your presentation before you give it live. Eventually you should reach the point where you don’t have to physically practice the entire presentation; instead you will “visualize” it many times in your head. Visualize success and most likely you will achieve it.