Consulting Consultants: Presentations

One of the things that just about every consultant is going to do at some point is give a presentation.  It could be to a client in hopes of selling them on your services, it could be to other consultants in your area, or it could be at a local geek meet up.  Point is, if you’re a consultant there is a good chance you’re going to be in front of people and presenting something, at some point anyway.

For many consultants this can pose a huge problem because consultants, especially programmers are generally geeks.  Geeks/nerds by their definition are pretty much introverts.  They like the shadows.  They are much happier sitting in a dark closet with nothing but the glow of the screen to sooth them.  So asking them to get up in front of a crowd can usually have mixed results.  You’ll find some that are actually good at giving presentations while others stumble and mumble their way through.

The key here is communication.  Usually these kinds of people have to convey very complex ideas in a way that is simple to understand and sometimes, that is just hard to do.  But it’s not impossible.  Below are some tips to giving effective presentations.

1) Write down what you want to say.  So many first time presenters don’t do this.  Not writing down what you want to say in some form is pretty much the equivalent of turning in your first draft paper in your college English Composition class.  It’s just a bad idea.  Writing down your ideas, even in an outline form can really help you piece together an effective presentation.  This is the biggest help in find the flow of what you want to say.  I usually write up an outline before I create a single slide in Powerpoint.  This helps me finalize my points and helps me find the flow i want to have in my presentation.

2) Don’t just stand behind your computer and talk through your Powerpoint slides.  This is probably one of the quickest ways to put your audience to sleep.  Standing still gives your audience a single point to focus on and can be incredibly boring.  Move around a little, put a little presence into your presentation.  You don’t have to make huge grand gestures, but just standing there can become dull to the audience.  Combine this with tip 3 and you can really engage your audience.  Exception, if you are doing demonstrations, you’re kind of tied to your  computer.  For help in this area, see tip 3.

3) Speak audibly and clearly.  Don’t mumble.  Seriously, don’t mumble.  It really detracts.  Even if you’re somewhat unsure about what you are saying make sure people can hear you in the back of the room.  You don’t have to yell, but you need to use a public speaking voice.  If you are tied to your computer for demonstrations and can’t move around too much, your voice will be how you engage your audience.  If you mumble, it doesn’t help engage your audience and encourage them to participate and ask questions.

4) Be passionate about what you are speaking on.  If you are passionate and really into what you are talking about it will get your audience fired up.  Also, when your audience can see your excitement it helps them to get excited.  If the audience is excited, chances are they aren’t going to be bored.  If you are speaking on something you just can’t get into and there is no one else to do it, find an aspect of the subject you find interesting and focus on that.  Build up to that.  Being passionate about your subject will help you be more engaging to your audience.  They’ll get into it because you’re into it.

5) Practice your presentation.  It’s really that simple.  Once you have your outline and your slides made, run through them.  Do it once a day for a week before your actual presentation.  This will help you really nail down what you want to say, how you want to phrase it, and set your pacing.  You’ll need to practice less as you give more presentations so as you get better you won’t need days of practice runs.

Giving effective presentations can help you in a lot of ways as you progress through your consulting career.  It is extremely hard to give an effective presentation and not everyone is going to give beautiful presentations.  However, with a little practice you can begin to give effective presentations.  The more of them you do, the better you’ll get at them (just like anything else).

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