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April 21, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Take your presentations from so-so to superb in 5 simple steps

Want to be seen as a leader, build workplace credibility and get noticed by management? Become a better presenter. Your leadership skills are being judged every time you give a presentation. Here’s how to take your presentations from so-so to superb in five simple steps:

Understand your audience. I once watched a man deliver a presentation that was obviously canned. How did I know? He was giving a “retail sales 101” speech to an audience of highly skilled and experienced medical equipment sales professionals. And — oops! — he also forgot to change the company name on several of his slides. That’s one way to quickly lose audience attention.

For every presentation, your topic and discussion points must be relevant. Ask yourself: Who is my audience? Why are they here? What do they know about my topic? What are the attendees’ goals and objectives? How many people will be there?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can tailor your presentation to your audience. If it is part of a larger meeting and other presenters are involved, don’t forget to determine how your presentation will relate to the overall meeting, the theme (if there is one) and the topics of the other presenters.

Know your objectives and your material. Is the objective of your presentation to educate or persuade your audience? For example, are you teaching project management techniques, or trying to convince the executive team to give your department additional budget money for product innovation projects next year?

Whether you’re educating or trying to persuade, make sure you can answer these questions: What do I want my audience to know at the end of my presentation? What key points do I need to communicate? What actions do I want the audience to take when they leave?

Tell your story with flair. One of your goals should be to inspire enthusiasm for your topic. To do this, be creative and think about ways you can involve the audience, such as through stories, humor, examples/statistics and eye-catching visual aids.

Many CEOs have stopped using text-heavy PowerPoint presentations and have adopted a style that includes lots of images. Notes Carmine Gallo, author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: “This style of delivering presentations is fresh, engaging, and ultimately far more effective than slide after slide of wordy bullet points.” Including stories can also be a great way to help people understand and better visualize information.

Practice. Wowing the audience (and upper management) is a great way to get yourself noticed and earn respect. Take time to ensure that you’ll do a great job by practicing. I like to rehearse out loud to see how my presentation sounds, and then practice in front of a mirror to make sure I look comfortable. It’s also helpful to ask someone to listen to you and provide feedback.

The more time you spend preparing for presentations, the better the results will be. Practice (and preparation) may not make your presentations perfect, but it will definitely get you noticed — in a good way.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: career advancement, communication, skills

Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

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