I met Liz Morris when she was pitching her company, Sanitation Creations, in the Carolina Challenge, which she won. Liz impressed me not only with the business idea (more about that here), but also with her presentation skills. It’s not everyone who can talk about things like port-a-potties and waste treatment in an engaging way! So I asked her to share her tips for presentations. Here they are.
6 secrets to a great presentation
A bad presentation is like a bad date. Five minutes into both, you start thinking about a fake excuse so you can leave. A great presentation, though--that’s something to remember. Just like a great date, you remember every detail, you want it to last forever, and you hope it happens again.
1. Bring your passion
If you’re not excited about what you’re saying, how can you expect your listeners to get excited? As a presenter, make sure your passion shows throughout the presentation. This doesn’t mean shouting at the audience to get your point across. It means having a sparkle in your eye and connecting with the audience. Show that you’re truly interested in not just the subject, but in communicating it to your audience.
2. Entertain them
I’ve seen many presentations where the presenter cared about their subject, but I was still falling asleep. Draw the audience into the presentation; don’t expect them to automatically be into it just because they showed up. Relate your passion/subject to someone else and get that person to care. Make eye contact. Two options: making it interactive and making it funny. Of course, not every presentation can have humor. I’ve seen serious presentations that still entertaining and engaging. [More on engaging your audience]
3. Keep it simple, stupid
This was advice I got from my 6th grade English teacher (Yes, he wrote out stupid on the board, it caused quite a bit of chatter). Besides Latin roots, this acronym stayed with me. A presentation is a chance to show-off. Sometimes when showing off, you want to throw in big words and industry specific terminology. Remember your audience; they might not know all that terminology (especially acronyms), so be sure to explain things. When I give a presentation, I don’t speak to the person who I know will understand what I am talking about. I talk to the person who somehow wandered into the room and doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Because if I can make my subject clear enough to the lost person that he/she wants to stay for the entire presentation, I’ve captured the entire audience. It is a fine line, though. You don’t want to speak so simply that you make everyone in the room feel dumb. You don’t ever want to talk down to someone. [More on word choice and the importance of plain language]
4. Be a storyteller
Every presentation, just like a story, has a beginning, middle and end, and it should flow. I noticed this when I was defending my thesis and now I apply this concept when I pitch my business. I always start with the hook, why should the audience care about what I’m talking about. If you can’t get their attention in the beginning, you’re not going to get them back at the end. For example, I talk about toilets in my pitches. I start with a personal story about why I care about sanitation, but I relate to an experience everyone in that room has had: using a port-a-potty. This technique captures the audience because they immediately start nodding that port-a-potties are the worst, so that now they want to hear what I have to say about it. Once I have their attention, I can tell them the details. Your ending should reiterate the point of the presentation, or the moral of the story. [More on how to create stories]
5. Get the questions
There's nothing worse for a presenter then asking for questions at the end of the presentation and it’s silent. Provide enough information to share a complete story, but leave enough mystery to get the audience wanting more. [How to handle a question you can't answer]
6. Rehearse, but don’t sound rehearsed
Never go into a presentation without rehearsing it. The trick isn't to memorize what you’re saying--that makes you nervous when you forget something. Instead, know the material backwards and forwards to show you’re the expert. And tell yourself that. No one in that room knows more about the subject than you do. Rehearsing helps to build that confidence.
Liz Morris is the founder and CEO of Sanitation Creations, which does environmentally-friendly toilet design for porta-potties, developing countries, and anywhere that water is not an option. Its first toilet is the patent-pending Dungaroo that is waterless, odorless, and uses specially-lined plastic bags to hold and treat the waste. Liz has an understanding of consumer product design and development, as well as sanitation experience in developing countries. In her spare time she plays the guitar, knits, and runs marathons.