present_for_successAt the Global Cleantech Meetup in Boston, Oct. 23-24, I had the chance to see 18 companies present in a single day. They were divided into groups around certain clean tech segments. Each group was scheduled for an hour, during which each company had 10 minutes to speak to the room, followed by a group Q&A for the last 20 minutes of the hour. Most of the companies were looking for investment or partnerships, and based on our conversations, they all made a significant investment of time and money to prepare for the opportunity at the Global Cleantech Meetup.

I was deeply impressed with the experience, expertise, technologies and services that each presenter brought to the occasion. In some cases, even the presentation skills were second-to-none. But in too many cases, poor presentation took away from a fantastic idea, product or service. While listening, I made the following list of do’s and don'ts for presenters. May it be helpful to someone, somewhere, someday.

DON'T:

  • Use volumes of words on your slides. When you have numerous, dense bullets of text, your audience can't figure out whether to listen to you or read the bullets. Usually, people will try to do both and retain very little.
  • Read from your slides. There's nothing worse than using your numerous, dense bullets as a teleprompter. Of 18 presentations, four – over 20 percent – did this.
  • Bury the lead. Not burying the lead is a journalism principle that calls for giving the most interesting, compelling information at the beginning in order to hook your audience. If you save the best for last or camouflage it with loads of related information, you may lose your audience before you get there.
  • Have a heavy accent. A slight accent can be exotic — sometimes even sexy — but a heavy accent can be incomprehensible. If you're presenting to an audience where English is the common language, make sure your best English speaker presents. In two presentations, I missed at least half of the content trying to figure out what the speaker said — even though I speak two languages and am used to a broad range of accents.
  • Read from your notes. If you must have notes, jot down a few bullets on a card to guide you. You will sound natural when you deliver the information. If you read from the notes, they will stand between you and your audience. For you, the notes are a necessary crutch. For your audience, they become an annoying distraction.

DO:

  • Illustrate your words with compelling images. Even if your images show your vision more than the reality, they will add color to your words and inspire your audience.
  • Let your humor shine. People love to laugh and making a joke can create an instant bond with your audience.
  • Tell stories! A quick story can crystallize your idea when it would take many more words to explain it conceptually.
  • Use statistics and numbers to quantify the challenges and solutions you're presenting. Otherwise, your audience will treat it like hearsay.
  • Move and gesture. The best speakers last week used their hands, walked about the stage, looked and sounded excited.
  • Start with a question. One compelling presenter set the stage for his company's solution by asking, “What number do any of you associate with climate change?” (Although no one answered, I kept thinking "350.")
  • Surprise your audience. Want to get people sitting on the edge of their seats? Direct a question to a specific audience member whose name you remember. If that's not possible, look at one person and say, "You look as if you might have a question..."
  • INVEST IN COACHING. Many techniques exist for keeping an audience interested, if not riveted. Given the extraordinary investment that events require, why not ensure a higher ROI by spending a couple of hours with a speaking coach? It will pay for itself many times over.

These pointers emerged from last week's meetings, but a simple web search will yield many more. What special tips have you adopted?

Photo Caption: 2012 Global Cleantech Meetup: The Honorable Deval Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with Rick Sullivan, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Mr. Sullivan is handing Governor Patrick the ACEEE Award to Massachusetts for being the most energy-efficient state in the US for the second year in a row. Photo by Massachusetts Clean Energy Center

Originally published Nov 27, 2012 12:00:03 AM, updated July 28 2017

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Presentations