Every day, someone in America is committing career suicide. But it's not with a gun or drugs, it's with a podium. Excellent employees often die a horrible death while presenting in front of an audience—usually at an industry conference, corporate meeting or workshop. You can see the results in the crowd: people nodding off to sleep, checking their e-mail on their PDAs, mumbling to themselves or finding excuses to leave early.
While most pastors have quite a bit of public speaking experience on Sundays, they can still have trouble making compelling presentations in business-type situations, such as board meetings or workshops.
The good news is that most of these mistakes can be solved with a few easy steps—keys that only take a short time to learn but could propel a pastor's speaking career to an entirely new level. So, if you are a pastor or a ministry leader preparing for an upcoming conference or workshop, look over this list carefully.
First, let's look at what goes into a good presentation title:
Make it compelling but not cute. Intrigue the audience and pique their interest. Create a desire for the subject. Just don't get cute or try too hard, or you'll end up embarrassing yourself. I especially encourage people to be cautious of using parodies (trying to play off the name of a popular song, TV show or movie).
Keep it short. The title "Directing a zany wildlife documentary on a limited financial budget with a single video camera and limited crew in the back country of Wyoming" doesn't really have an impact. Keep the main presentation title short and sweet, and use a sub-title if necessary to convey more information about the topic.
Be careful with humor, it can easily backfire. No joke.
Once you've got your title, here are the keys for making an effective and compelling presentation: P> Avoid information overload. A great presentation is 70 percent inspiration and 30 percent information. Nothing is more boring than information overload. I once had a college professor who walked into class, opened a notebook and simply read word for word for the entire hour. He never looked up, not even once. When the bell rang, he'd close the notebook and walk out the door. No questions, no conversation, no relationship. Worst professor I ever had.
Don't duplicate the written word in your presentation. At my ministry media workshops, I will often provide a handout with detailed information, reading lists or research results so we don't get bogged down in details. That allows me to use the time in front of the crowd to inspire them, motivate them and help them to enjoy the experience.
You want to create a passion for the subject in the participants, so limit the amount of heavy information. That's not to say you can't give out important facts at a conference, just remember to keep it in balance. People would rather read it later than listen to you read it for them.
Avoid the PowerPoint crutch. I rarely use PowerPoint presentations, probably because I've seen them used so badly. Too many speakers today rely on programs such as PowerPoint and Keynote to cover their poor speaking skills, and, believe me, the audience notices. First, learn to be an engaging speaker, and only use devices as a supplement to an already fascinating presentation.
If you do make the decision to use a program like PowerPoint, here are a few tips:
Keep it visual. Once again, use a pre-printed handout if you're giving out too much information. Slide content should be simple and easy to understand.
Don't forget white space. Too much text crammed into a slide is difficult to read. Keep the slides simple and easy to follow.
Find interesting art. Don't rely on the stick figures or simple illustrations that came with the program. We've seen them 100 times already. Be original, be creative and be different with your photos and illustrations.
Only create essential slides. Avoid slides that aren't absolutely critical to understanding the point. Otherwise, it just creates clutter and distracts from your message.
Keep visual continuity. Use the same or similar backgrounds, font styles and overall graphic design. Otherwise, each slide will look like it came from a different presentation. Give your talk a finished, professional look, and, if possible, create custom backgrounds that reflect your subject, your church or your ministry.
Be ready for technical problems. First, triple check before the event to make sure what you need will be provided. Next, have a backup copy of the presentation on a disk or USB drive so you can use another computer if yours crashes. Finally, show up at the room early to work out any plug, adapter or equipment issues.
Be careful about giving out copies. If you are worried about people copying your work, I would give out a handout rather than a copy of the actual PowerPoint presentation. You don't want people stealing your thunder by using the presentation you worked so hard to develop.
Know who's in the audience. If you don't know the people you're talking to, ask them who they are. Don't stab in the dark. Know your audience and direct your message to them.
Make time for questions. The best way to focus on your particular audience is to allow them time for questions. No matter how great your presentation, you can't possibly address all the particular challenges the audience is facing, so I always enjoy hearing from the crowd. I've discovered that if you handle it right, the Q-and-A time can be far more important and informative than the actual presentation. The presentation builds the foundation, and the Q-and-A customizes the home.
Keep it moving. We live in a sound-bite world with a short attention span, so don't lose your audience with a boring presentation. Keep it lively with emotion and excitement. Without going overboard, move around the stage, be dramatic with your voice, and be fun and compelling. Object lessons can help, so think about items that would help visually explain your points.
In my opinion, communicating a message effectively in a media-driven culture is one of the greatest challenges pastors have faced since the days of the early church. The clutter of media messages and the influence of movies, TV, and the Internet can be formidable competition for any pastor. At no time in the history of evangelism do we need to be more clear, easy to understand and effective as we do right now.
Don't waste everyone's time with your next presentation. Create something that will be memorable. Remember, it's not about you, it's about the audience. Give them what they need, and give it to them in a way that will make an impact.
Phil Cooke, Ph.D., is a speaker, producer and media consultant to ministries and churches worldwide and is the author of Successful Christian Television: Make Your Media Ministry a Reality. Find out more at philcooke.com.
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