You’ve just made a presentation before a group of company employees. And maybe, despite your lovingly crafted PowerPoint presentation and your honey-voiced delivery, the group doesn’t appear to be enthusiastically receptive. If those attending are showing signs of discomfort–yawning, shifting in their chairs, weeping, forming suicide pacts–then you need to improve your presentation skills.

Let’s start with that PowerPoint thing. I would venture to say that most people misuse PowerPoint. A lot of folks put their presentations word for word on the slides, separated by heads and subheads, like those research paper outlines we used to have to do in school. Then they read the text directly from the slides. Unless they’re three years old and haven’t yet mastered the art of phonics, your audience members can read the words themselves, and they would probably prefer to do so at their desk while eating a bag of Funyuns. If they have the slides, why do they need you? So remember:

  • In the slide, just list the main points and then fill in the details in your delivery. You can read the main points, but summarize or paraphrase the rest as you go along.
  • Use slides for visuals such as charts and graphs. It drives home any statistical point you’re making. And you don’t want to find yourself verbally describing a bubble chart.

As for your speaking skills, it’s true that not everyone is a wonderfully charismatic orator. But you don’t have to be. You’re not trying to get your staff to rise up and stamp out tyranny in our lifetime; you’re just trying to pass on some business information. Here are a few pointers:

  • Stick to the point and don’t digress. Don’t ramble, as in, “I got this data last Tuesday, or was it Wednesday? No, it was Tuesday because that’s the day I went to the dentist. Or did I see the dentist Wednesday? I’m not sure. It was either Tuesday or Wednesday…” Because frankly, who cares? You keep that up and people are going to confess to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.
  • Use attendees’ names in your examples if you can. Nothing jolts someone out of a grocery list reverie than hearing their name spoken.
  • Use (but don’t overuse) anecdotes and examples from another topic area. I attended a presentation where someone compared an OS’s anti-spyware capabilities to car anti-theft features. It really clarified his topic.
  • Keep the presentation under an hour (counting questions at the end), or the approximate length of an episode of CSI. No matter how interested the audience, we’re all used to getting our information quickly. If someone has grown a beard during your presentation, it’s a bad sign.