Making presentations and giving workshops can really give your business a boost, but many of us shy away from trying this. I asked Melanie Stanton for some advice on this subject.
At Red Ribbon Careers I design and implement workshops and training programmes for businesses, working with people’s strengths and passion to create successful personal and professional pathways. I love seeing people reconnect with their passion; it is so satisfying seeing someone going towards their ‘true north’.
What kinds of presentations and workshops do you give?
I have spoken to:
What’s the difference between a presentation and a workshop? Do you have a preference?
A presentation involves conveying information, with a question and answer time.
A workshop is interactive. People do stuff, have experiences and talk to their neighbours. I like workshops most because they challenge me. I am interacting on the spot, live, and I don’t know what’s coming. People could be arguing my points. If they do, I give them a high five for courage.
People are their own experts, so it’s good for them to express what they know.
How do you know when a presentation or workshop is going well?
I can sense the level of participation in the room – I can sense when I’ve lost people so I change tack.
Yawning is normally the biggest giveaway, especially when talking about legislation on a Friday afternoon!
What are some of the things people can do to give their presentation or workshop a good chance of being successful?
Know who their audience is and cater for that specific audience.
The best thing to do at the start of a workshop is to have an icebreaker, for example, ask the participants to tell you what they do, and follow up on the response.
In a presentation you need to create a relationship. In a bigger group talk about yourself a bit, and why you are speaking to this group in particular. Show you know who they are – research them so it’s sincere. And talk about the things that really light you up, genuinely.
Do you have any suggestions for someone (like me) who is more comfortable with writing than presenting?
Start small, and be generous to yourself by considering how to manage the focus being on you.
Powerpoint can be a good option because people will look at the screen. In a workshop, get the participants to do stuff. This also takes the spotlight off you, so you can have a breather. You can relax and interact with the group.
I do these tricks myself – I like being up there but it is uncomfortable, you are being seen. You can’t pause – it’s happening.
Two key things to remember:
I do lots of preparation. I think about the topic and I read books.
I occasionally go online, but I don’t do this first. There is too much information, it’s overwhelming, and you can feel like everyone’s already said everything about the topic. It is useful for filling gaps.
I think about how I want to present the topic and what I’m passionate about, while taking the audience into account.
It’s about finding your message, what you want to say and how do you want to say it –then the rest just falls into place.
Do you get nervous before a presentation? If so, how do you manage that?
I get nervous, but not anxious. The very first one I did, I put a vase on my presentation desk, with fragrant jasmine. I gave myself a whole lot of treats, to be kind to myself.
I also got there really early, to give myself time to set up, and to feel in control.
What sort of notes do you take with you?
I write a list of bullet points beforehand. But I don’t take it with me.
Notes are not helpful to me, and because it’s what I want to say, I don’t forget it. Some people do take bullet points into a presentation.
In a workshop situation, I provide workbooks, with the powerpoint slides printed out and space to write notes alongside.
Any comments about ‘death by powerpoint’? Is powerpoint a bad option or a valuable aid?
A bad powerpoint presentation is when you write everything up on that and read off it. It’s even worse if you read it, and then put the same words up for the audience to read.
Only put topics on the powerpoint, not details. For example, in my legislation presentation, I put up snippets of the legislation in a powerpoint to highlight key points, but I didn’t read them out.
Powerpoint should not be the presentation, it is an aid for you.
Any suggestions on using visuals or other techniques to make a presentation interesting?
YouTube clips are great – you can push play and walk away. They are popular.
Microbreaks are a good idea. Give people two minutes to talk to the person next to them or to write down any notes. This also provides a breather for the presenter.
Groups of three where people can talk about their experience work well. People love that because they have lots to say. Give specific times for these break out discussions. You can adjust it later if everyone is fully engaged.
You can ask other people to contribute but that’s slightly unpredictable.
Physical visuals are also useful. For example, I have used a jug of water and cups to talk about balancing what you are giving out and what you are getting back.
I enjoy listening to podcasts and webinars on the Internet … in what ways do you think these appeal to people and add more value than writing on the web?
They cater for lots of different learning styles. It sparks different parts of the brain – both visual and verbal.
It’s quicker – listening to spoken language is a lot quicker than reading. I think people write too much, and people don’t tend to say too much.
For people who are new to business, do you have any suggestions of ways to build up confidence with presenting, or ideal kinds of audiences to begin with?
Don’t try presenting to your most important audiences first (for example, significant potential clients).
Don’t present in front of friends either – they’re so unhelpful although they don’t mean to be. They’re likely to be too critical, compared to your average audience taking in your presentation for the first time.
Work out who your target audience is.
Express your passion – that’s what comes out beautifully. Talk about your real experiences. People aren’t so much wanting to hear what books say – they want to hear from you.
This type of presentation has a different quality. It’s about bringing stuff to life, and relating it specifically to them. When I’m speaking in this way I’m loving it, because it’s what I want to say.
Trying too hard to impress falls flat.
Finally, make sure the first workshop you give is to people who really want to be there (rather than people who have been required, or strongly encouraged by someone else, to attend). This makes a big difference.