Education

Five presentation rules to live by

Did your last presentation go as smoothly as you anticipated? Here are five rules you should incorporate into your routine during your training classes.

“What’s the difference between your audience and an elephant? The elephant never forgets—the audience occasionally remembers!” (Author unknown) In other words, as the instructor, everything you do is noticed by someone. You are center stage from the time you walk in the door until the last person leaves the training room. Here are five rules you should always follow to make the best impression and presentation every time.

1. Prepare and rehearse
Prepare for every presentation by including five parts:
  • Introduction
  • Objective
  • Overview
  • Presentation
  • Summary/Conclusion

Once you’ve put your presentation together, practice in front of the mirror by yourself. This will give you an idea of what you look like when you’re presenting. Begin your presentation by introducing the topic you’re covering for the day, mentioning the class objectives, and giving a short overview of your presentation. After you’ve given the meat of the presentation, summarize what was covered.

Next, test-drive the presentation with someone who will give you an honest, objective opinion. No, not your childhood imaginary friend, but a live being. You want him or her to critique the body of the presentation, so let your friend know what to take note of, including:
  • What was most interesting?
  • What was memorable?
  • What was confusing?
  • What parts were covered too fast or too slow?
  • What was most important?
  • What was the overall message of the class?

Rehearse with the tools you plan to use during the real thing. You’ll feel much more comfortable with the presentation when the time comes to strut your stuff.

2. Test your equipment and materials
If you have the opportunity, check out your equipment at least 24 hours in advance. If this isn’t possible, arrive at least 45 minutes prior to start time. I’ve experienced many training classes that started with workstations that were sick, disconnected, not directed to the correct database, or didn’t have the necessary software loaded.

Whose fault is it ultimately? Yours. As the trainer, facilitator, or presenter—whatever you wish to call yourself—you are the person responsible for making sure everything is working. You damage your credibility and waste time that people are paying for when things aren’t ready to go. Of course, there are times when it’s out of your control—for example, when the server crashes. I’ve experienced that more times than I care to recall, but the only thing that should prevent your class from flowing smoothly are the things you can’t control. I always suggest you test-drive each and every computer. Don’t just test a few, because invariably whenever you test just a few, the others won’t work.

Always double-check the training materials and manuals. My material has come back wrong from the printer more than a few times. The double-sided material wasn’t double-sided, pages were missing—you name it, it’s happened. Incorrect materials cause a delay in class when you have to stop and pair people up to share the few good copies you do have or run and make copies.

3. Have a backup plan
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to use plan B. Most often my connection to the training database several states away was not working. What did I do? Well, I didn’t let them go home early. I either had additional work ready to use as a review, or I covered the screens and material with my training manual. There was a picture of each screen in the material, so I could cover the screens and information. This allowed the class to be familiar with the screens when the database was running and made covering the screens go a lot faster. If you are using a data show or overhead projector, make copies of the slides or screens just in case they break down or you forgot to keep an extra bulb on hand.

P.S. Don’t forget to practice your Plan B, too.

4. Take note of your audience
They should stay awake for one thing. Make sure you keep the conversation interesting. Take note of your audience’s body language. If you need to take a break or throw in an activity to wake them up, do it. Just try to make it relevant and enjoyable.

Be sure to address questions asked. You can use the good old parking lot, as I call it, if you don’t know the answers or will address the topic in a later session. To use the parking lot, give your students a sticky note and tell them to write down the question. Make sure you answer all the questions before class is over.

Make sure they get your message. Be prepared to explain things in more than one way. Some adults comprehend material by only hearing it, some have to experience it, and some want to see a cute drawing on the board. Again, ask structured questions to make sure they understand the material. Let them feel comfortable with the fact that they can ask any question. They never know when other class members are asking themselves the same thing.

5. End your presentation with a bang
When you’re done, thank them. Make available materials you either mentioned or you think might be of interest as an “extra something.” Of utmost importance, make yourself available. Don’t run and hide in an office—even if it didn’t go as smoothly as you anticipated. If you need to run to the restroom, let them know you’ll be back.

Provide everyone with a method of reaching you after the training is over. This lets them know you stand behind everything you taught them and you want to make sure they understood everything covered. This creates credibility on your part and your company’s part.

Make sure you have some type of evaluation available for them to complete. Get their feedback—find out what they thought about the presentation, the material provided, what they learned, what they hoped to learn but didn’t, and what improvements could be made to the presentation or the material provided. Beware, there is always at least one person who disagrees with everything you did.

With your next presentation or training class, knock ’em dead with a smooth and well-prepared presentation by following these five presentation rules. If your last presentation didn’t go as smoothly as you would have liked, review and analyze it based on what you’ve just learned.
Do you have some additional rules you following when preparing, presenting, and concluding your training classes? Please share them with us by following this e-mail or posting a comment for your peers.
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