I think that one of the interesting things about the professional writing industry is that it contains far more than just written documents, as I explained in my previous post about writing and computers.
Another important facet of being a professional writer is also being a professional presenter. In many companies, writers might find themselves having to make proposals for projects to company officials, or explaining difficult concepts to large audiences. And while writing is an integral part of constructing a presentation (the idea of “winging it” has no place in professional presentations), there is a lot more to consider.
I learned about these important factors in a course I took at Seneca College called “PWR 382 – Workshop in Presentation Strategies.” My professor, Burke Cullen, took a practical approach to the course; there were presentations literally every week. This gave our class a chance to both learn about how other people present and apply our own strategies to presentations.
The thing about presentations is that there are different approaches to them. For example, Burke advocated for the use of Powerpoint, whereas Duncan Koerber (who I described in an earlier post) dislikes Powerpoint, and instead supports the use of Prezi. In another way, Burke told us that our presentations had to be heavily memorized, whereas Duncan told us to take a more natural approach, remembering only key points.
In PWR 382, however, I learned about four important considerations for presentations. And although certain elements of presentations are subjective, I do feel that anyone who wants to produce a professional presentation should do the following:
- Consider Your Presentation Context: This consideration is most pertinent when putting your presentation together. One cliché we always hear in the professional writing world is that the audience is first and foremost. The reason this is a cliché, however, is that it is absolutely true. Presenters need to consider the needs of their audience: why are they listening to this presentation? Why should they care? When you have this information, you also need to consider how you’re going to do your research, and how much time you’ll have to present it. Context is everything.
- Consider Your Physical Environment: Many people discount this consideration, but a good presenter should never be caught by surprise. Presenters should investigate their presentation area beforehand to get a feel for the size and the number of people to that they will be presenting. They should also investigate what type of equipment will be available (microphones, projectors) in case they need to make changes to their presentation. Also, some companies provide lecterns for presenters; this will affect any physical gestures that you might plan to do when you present.
- Consider Your Voice: A presenter’s voice is naturally integral to his or her presentation; most presentations are live and oral, so a presenter needs to have complete control over his or her voice. This is perhaps the least subjective consideration, as there are some standard rules for maintaining a good voice for a presentation. Presenters should keep a good volume, a good pace and should enunciate every word. Presenters should also avoid things like uptalking or from an abundance of “ums” or “uhs.” A presenter’s voice should be clear for every audience member.
- Consider Your Visuals: Presentations, like many documents, often have important visual aspects. There are different types of presentation software out there, but there are a few unifying principles that presenters should consider no matter what types of visuals they use. For starters, the visuals should be readable. Factors like a small font size or an ugly colour scheme can hinder the readability of a visual, so presenters should avoid these. It is also helpful to add titles to visuals. This helps audience members know where they are in the presentation. Lastly, try to keep a consistent appearance; this helps familiarize the visuals with the audience.
Of course, there are many different types of presentations, and each calls for a different strategy. Pearson Education’s Talking Business: Strategies for Successful Presentations gives a comprehensive guide to delivering excellent professional presentations. While a lot of the work that professional writers do is often behind a computer screen, you shouldn’t discount the fact that you may have to do a few of these presentations in your lifetime.
As always, I’m happy to answer more questions about presentations. If you would like to know more, leave a comment here or send me a question on LinkedIn.