How to present like a professional
Learn the key techniques for making a great presentation with Oxford university careers adviser Jonathan Black and then let FT columnist Sam Leith guide you through some rhetorical tools with the help of a few classic film characters
Directed, produced, filmed and edited by Joe Sinclair. Co-produced by Janina Conboye. Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis and James Sandy. Edited by Richard Topping
So in this section, we're going to talk about presentations. The main aim of any presentation is to entertain, to draw people in to make them relax and think, this is going to be great. My next 20 minutes of my life is going to be listening, learning something, and having a great impression. If they're enjoying it, they will engage with you. They'll ask questions, and they'll come away with a positive view of you as competent and confident.
So there are many forms of presentation-- small group, like this, one-to-one, big theatre. And often, we use PowerPoint, and that's what we're going to do here on the screen. I'm going to run through some slides to talk about how to present like a professional.
Question 1, what are the objectives of a live presentation? What do you think?
Tell a story.
To tell a story, right. Yes, everyone loves stories.
To get your key points across.
I think the emphasis is on key, not everything. So I would argue, yes, it is to entertain, number 1, to engage people, communicate the key message, demonstrate the benefit of listening-- why should I spend the next 20 minutes listening to this-- but overall, create an impression about the sort of person and the impression of your work.
How do we create that impression? I think you need to show that you are on top of the content, that you are confident but not overconfident. So you know your stuff. You're warm. You're empathic. You're connecting with the audience. You're open. You're honest. When you don't know the answer to something, you say that and that you welcome debate, and question, and challenge.
Let me just butt in here. When you're giving a presentation, what you say is important. But how you say it may be even more important.
We live in an attention economy. You need to know how to connect with your audience and connect with them fast. I've spent years studying the art of speech-making. What's clear is that there are a few simple techniques you can use to quickly forge that rapport.
What do you think I am?
A full-blooded combat soldier.
Not anymore. I don't want it.
That's too bad, because you're stuck with it. Let me tell you a story, John.
I want to tell you a story. Since we were first warming mammoth stew at the campfire, those have been compelling words. Stories are humanising, relatable, and give a narrative shape to your ideas.
Grouping things into three, what rhetoric scholars call a tricolon, is always an effective technique. It just sounds right. You can find tricolons in every political speech from Pericles to Barack Obama. But here's The Wizard of Oz.
Weren't you frightened?
Frightened? You are talking to a man who has laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, and chuckled at catastrophe.
You know what a rhetorical question is, don't you? There's a good way of mixing up your presentation and engaging the audience directly rather than monologuing.
And what have they ever given us in return?
What have the Romans ever done for us? Obviously, the point about a rhetorical question is that it's not usually supposed to invite an answer. But it still makes a point.
And my overall point is that by using the devices I've talked about, you, too, can be a great speaker. Right. Back to the classroom.
People learn in very different ways. And that means your audience will be learning in different ways. And here are four of them.
There are people in the audience who are theorists. So they want to know the theory behind what it is you're presenting. What's the evidence for what you're saying?
There'll be a group of people who are, if you like, activists. They want practical examples. Show me. Don't tell me. Show me how this works.
You talked earlier about stories. So there are pragmatists in the room. Tell me a story. Give me an example of how this worked.
And then finally, there'll be a group of people who are reflectors. Don't expect an immediate reaction from those people. They need to go away and think about things about what you've said.
So these are your four groups, which means, any presentation probably will have a mixture of those people. And you're going to want to provide different evidence for people. In a very simple example, some people like percentages. Some people like ratios. Some people like fractions.
You'll hear this all the time with politicians. One moment they're saying, one in five people and the next, they're saying, about 25%.
Some tips to make your content and slides great. Plan on no more than one slide a minute. Keep your background really simple. Use a slide to show content that would be difficult or take too long to describe, for example, photos, or maps, or graphs.
Make the text legible-- no fancy fonts, something really clear and simple. The fewer the words, the better. Avoid distracting animation, and keep only one main idea on each slide.
In terms of structure of a PowerPoint presentation, it's the classic, tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you told them. And as you go through a presentation, let people know where they are in it.
There's nothing worse than the audience thinking, is there much more of this? Where are we? Are we 10 slides into 150? Are we 10 slides into 12, and we're almost there?
You can do that with items in the top left-hand corner. Or tell them there are 12 pages coming, and this is number 4. But let people know where they are.
I'm not going to talk about what goes on the slide, especially when you have text. There are two elements of this. One is what Barbara Minto in the Pyramid Principle called horizontal logic. So this is taking you from one slide to the next. What is the story?
This is a very important element of any presentation is, if you like, the red line through the story. And here is an example, where we've done the project for a cafe, and the message is that the cafe has potential to grow.
And how do we get that message over? With a set of slides where the headlines tell the story. In fact, all you need to do is to read the headlines as you go through it.
Under this headline, we've actually got some data. And we'll come to the vertical logic on the next page. On this one, few people have heard of it. They discovered it by accident. When they do get there, it's good value, but it's limited. If it were better, they'd stay longer and spend more.
So it's one slide to the next. And the point always is, you don't know how much time the reader has got. If they've got three seconds, that's the message-- the red line. If they've got 30 seconds, they'll scan the headlines. And if they've got the full half hour of your presentation, they'll get the rest of it.
So on each slide, we then have vertical logic, where, unlike writing an essay or telling a fairy story-- this happened, then this happened, then this happened, and therefore, that was the answer-- we give them the headline at the top. Think of it like newspapers, where here's the answer-- why, why, why.
And again, for your fast reader, they just might want the headline and that's enough. Think of it. When you read a newspaper, sometimes you read the headline and you think, I don't need any more about this story. I'm not interested in it. But sometimes you want to unwrap it a bit.
So structure it like a newspaper. Again, one topic per page. Very important that it answers, so what? So don't just say, the readership of the FT is a million people. So what? So you could put it in comparison. You could talk about the growth over time. You could talk about where they're based and what's going on. So that's a very strong question. Someone else could say, well, so what?
What goes on here is evidence to support the headline. And finally, when you do write these, we all fall into the old trick of this happened, and this, and this, and here is the answer right at the bottom. And remember, when we're talking about CVs, people don't always read to the end of your lovely text. So don't put the answer at the bottom. That's why the answer goes at the top.
When you deliver slides, I would talk about clearing the news off the slides. So if it's a complex chart or it's a photograph, tell people what they're looking at before you get into explaining why it's important to look at it. So this chart shows on the x-axis so and so, on the y-axis, this and that, and it shows three lines. The red, the yellow, the green are all doing this.
Clear the news so that no one's saying, sorry, what does that acronym mean? You don't need notes. You will know your content really well. Notes just get in the way. You haven't got free arms. You drop them. They're not stapled together. They get out of order. You can't react quickly.
And this is a common fear. But if I don't have notes, I won't say everything. But that's what Q&A in for. You're trying to give an impression, not actually give them the whole text from A to Z. So don't worry about missing something out.
Talking of questions-- last slide. At the end, you might say, I am happy to take questions, and then be quiet. Someone will break the ice at that point. It's always difficult to get questions at the beginning, but someone will do it.
Usually, if someone's chairing your session, they might ask one. It's helpful to repeat and rephrase the question, especially if it's emotionally fired up. Someone saying, well, I disagree with everything you've said there. Take the emotion out of it and rephrase the question. What the questioner is asking is, have I actually collected the evidence from a big enough sample? And then explain.
When you finish the answer, end it looking at somebody else. Otherwise, it gives this person the chance to come back, thinking, oh, I'm going to have another go at them. Because they have just come back in a challenging sort of way.
So three top tips for a great presentation is to video yourself, rehearse in front of an audience, even of one, and above all, learn how to entertain for your presentation.