In general, we model ourselves and our behaviors based on what we have seen in past presenters. Our teachers are forever a go-to on how to deliver. Some bad. Some good. Either way, you have seen an example of presentation etiquette which works, as well as an example which doesn’t work.
In helping write and design presentations, I also help coach people in their delivery. These 10 aspects of etiquette remain true in every manner of presenting, some of which apply to both in-person and online presentations. They are simplistic, but crucial to the impression you send.
1. Arrive Early and Prepared
You should arrive about an hour before you deliver your presentation. I know this may seem like an extreme amount of time, but it’s not. There is parking to consider, finding the presentation location, equipment set-up and testing, etc. – the list is actually enough for another article. You also need to be prepared. Showing up early can ensure your preparedness. You have the time to triple check that everything works and you have what you need. If all this becomes unnecessary, at least you are there early enough to improvise.
2. Dress Properly and Eat Well
The way you dress will reflect not only you, but everything you are representing. Dress for the event, but don’t over do it. Consider your audience and the purpose of the presentation to best select your dress code. Eating well is two-sided. Firstly, you need to maintain your energy supply and I advise that you include foods high in complete protein. On the other side, have you ever heard a speaker’s stomach growl? It can be off-putting and distracting.
3. Be Respectful and Thoughtful
Being an expert does not give room for being conceited. Know your manners: ‘Please.’ ‘Thank You.’ Wait for other’s to complete a thought. You also need to understand that their time is valuable. Some members of your audience may feel you’re wasting their time before you get started. Respect their time and make sure that in exchange for the time they give you, that you are providing constant value throughout your presentation.
4. Don’t Be Too Quick To React
Fast reaction seems like you are on the defensive side. Allow a brief second for questions or reactions from the audience to set in. There is magic in a pause. A brief 3 second pause is never noticed by your audience and it gives you time to breathe, think, and react. Reacting too fast can cause fillers, like ums and ahs, or make you seem rash.
5. Be Aware of Your Word Emphasis
The way you add emphasis to your words convey meaning. Excitement in your voice is great, but emphasising certain words changes the whole meaning of your sentence. Like “Does SHE have to come with us” versus “Does she have to come with us” sends a different message. In the first example it seems like the speaker has some dislike for the person in question. The second one is a simply stated question. You can’t really tell if there is added meaning to the statement. Be aware of how you emphasize words.
6. Own Your Stage and Watch Your Body Language
Sticking to one spot makes you look stiff. If you look stiff, everything you are representing is stiff. Own your stage. This goes back to arriving early and having time to know the space you have to work with. Move around it so you can address every part of the room. The body language you use on the stage also aids in conveying your message. Keep it precise and simple. Every movement should have a specific purpose. Don’t just move for the sake of moving.
7. Be Prepared for the Unexpected
Unless you have psychic abilities and can see into the future, you don’t know when the unexpected is coming. You can, however, be prepared for the worst case scenarios. Know your material in case there is a problem where you can’t use your visual aid. Maybe you were going to present to a small group and now it is an entire auditorium, what do you do? Relax and present to the individuals. Make sure you can work without your primary presentation file if required – even your backup files should have backup files.
8. Never Turn Your Back on the Audience
This is seen as disrespectful by many. It should be a general “best practice” rule to always keep your shoulders forward. Reading from your visual aid can kill your authority with the audience. Besides, the audience is investing their time into your presentation, so don’t turn your back on them. In the case of an online presentation when you’re broadcasting yourself across the web, stay in front of your camera. If you’re not using your camera but instead just screen sharing to present your presentation content, never step away from the mic. It is the equivalent of turning your back.
9. Speak with an Educative Tone
The purpose of delivering your presentation is to educate the audience on your topic. They don’t know what you know. They don’t want to know everything you know either. Keep it concise but explain any jargon you use. When delivering your presentation you should do so with the assumption that this is the first time they have heard any of your material. The result is better engagement with your audience.
10. Visual Aids Should Be Used With Care
This last point alone has a lot to be said about it. Throwing up paragraphs and terrible images will destroy your visual aid. You need to understand the basics of Human Spatial Cognition and Cognitive Load Theory. They will help you understand how humans encode information into their memory as well as the optimal amount of visuals for memory input. Less is always so much more. Use visual metaphors in place of long-winded paragraphs. For example, you can actually replace the physical bullet point with a graphic metaphor. This helps the audience easily recall that information. It’s magic, really.
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