It finally happened. You have been asked to provide a short training program for your company’s staff. Whether it is about electrical safety, the latest National Electrical Code or any one of an infinite number of topics, training has become more important than ever. So now that it’s your turn, here are a few key tips from almost 35 years of training experience.
Practice, practice, practice
Knowing your material is key to reducing the proverbial butterflies (or terror—it’s a fine line). Prepare, rehearse and learn the material well. Turn your fear into presentation energy. If you can harness the butterflies, use it to project loudly with enthusiasm.
Touch, turn, talk
Don’t talk to the screen. The audience may not be able to hear you because the sound will be muffled. If you want to point to something on the screen, pause, turn toward the screen and touch or point, then turn back to the audience and finish the statement. For example, “At the center of the graph [stop and turn toward the screen, touch what you want to emphasize, turn back toward the audience and talk] is the main data point.”
Don’t read slide
Very few things can turn off an audience faster than reading wordy slides. The audience can read too, and by the second or third slide, they will quickly tune you out and read it themselves without listening to you. The text should be minimal—a list of bullet or talking points. One of the few times to have a lot of text is if you are reviewing the specific text of a document for discussion. The same rules apply for graphics and spreadsheets. Use a large font and keep it simple.
On the screen
PowerPoint makes preparing slides much easier than years ago when you needed transparencies, markers and overhead projectors. But there are still many details to consider.
Make sure the projector is focused and the image is as large as it can be—hopefully filling the screen—and make it straight and square. You don’t want to be the one that has the sloppy show where the slides appear crooked, out of focus and off-center. Neatness counts!
Be wary of using too much animation and flair. The temptation is there; slide transitions that twirl, spin and bounce, sound effects, and all kinds of special effects are just waiting to be used. They may seem fun but will quickly become annoying. Also, keep the fonts and colors consistent. Don’t be tempted to be overly creative; it often backfires.
Use animation to bring up one bullet point at a time on a slide. It adds a bit of interest and is often better than having everything show up all at once.
Humor and jokes
A well-timed pun can effectively lighten up a subject. But know your audience to gauge if humor will work, and be careful not to offend anyone.
My worst case of poorly timed humor was while speaking at a large conference in Spain where they used simultaneous translators. Without thinking, I made the off-the-cuff comment about “grabbing the bull by the horns.” I immediately realized this might not have been appropriate (thinking of Spain and the running of the bulls, etc.) and stopped, looked at the translator and said, “Oops, I doubt if that will translate as I intended.” At that moment, the very large audience erupted into laughter. To this day, I’m not sure if they were laughing at my ill-timed figure of speech, my comment about the translation or simply about me, but I got a laugh. Know your audience!
Encourage questions and engage the audience. It is a good idea to repeat questions so everyone can hear, then answer as clearly and completely as you can. If you do not know the answer, say so and offer to follow up. Do not bluff your way through it, because it will catch up with you (and your reputation).
Be prepared for surprises
There is no way to plan for every unexpected situation. From fire alarms to power outages to failing projectors, it all can happen. The audience knows you are human, and when the unexpected happens, they generally are understanding. Just roll with it and adapt as best you can.
My worst experience was an extended power outage during the entire afternoon of a training program. The answer? The staff brought in a whiteboard, and I discussed each page of the book and drew diagrams for the rest of the day. Although it was not the most elegant presentation, the class was very supportive of my “show must go on!” attempt and quite impressed that we made it through all of the material.
So, when it is your turn to make a presentation, grab the bull by the horns and practice, practice, practice.