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Getting to "Wow!" — 10 Presentation Tips for Effective Meetings

Does this scenario sound familiar? You're the meeting planner for your company or organization. Your current task is to find value-packed presenters who will lend real excitement and appeal to your meetings for next year. (To understand how great speakers engage their listeners, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")

But you have a much more immediate concern: Your own upcoming presentation to management on the continuing value of meetings in the age of shrinking travel budgets. As a meeting planner, in other words, you're continually faced with the twin challenge of knowing what to look for in the speakers you'll hire for upcoming programs, while maximizing your own effectiveness as a presenter. Do you know, for instance, the secrets of broadcasting a positive image through your body language?

Here are 10 presentation tips for effective meetings that will help you navigate this difficult terrain:

1. Know Your Audience. This piece of advice may seem obvious, but you'll never hear better. Doing this well requires employing a before-during-and-after strategy: Prepare before the event to understand audience needs; make sure that during your presentation your listeners are following what you're saying; and anticipate the questions you'll be asked in the Q & A. Here are 6 key questions to ask yourself when analyzing your audience. And when you're hiring a speaker, gain a sense of that person through a bio, web site, testimonials, reputation, and references.

2. Have a Message. How many times have you sat through a meandering presentation with no discernible point? Knowing what the message should be at the start of your planning phase greatly increases your chances of success. Talk to speakers you're considering hiring to see if their message fits your organization's philosophy and the theme of the meeting.

3. Don't Educate—Inspire! Set your sights high, aiming to stimulate as well as to inform your listeners. Understand the 4 characteristics that will make you an influential speaker! Ask rhetorical questions. Use audience participation if possible. As you talk to speaker prospects beforehand, try to get a sense of how well they understand the needs of your organization. Always look for someone who will give an upbeat mood to your event.

4. Build Value. Good salespeople don't mention price until they sense the customer understands the value of their product or service. You can do the same in your presentations to mangement. Set the stage for your listeners, speaking in terms of strategy and benefits. Once you've covered your company's needs, you can show how the meeting you're proposing satisfies every one of those needs. You should always get the sense that your speaking prospect is doing the same thing.

5. Perform, But Credibly. "Be brisk, be splendid, and be public," the English essayist Samuel Johnson once said. It's still terrific advice for meeting and conference presenters. Do you carry yourself with confidence and authority? Here are 3 key factors that will help you establish your credibility. Persuasion depends upon credibility, and credibility arises when audience members sense competence and confidence. Along this line, always be wary of booking presenters solely because of their entertainment value. Pizazz is the cart that needs to follow the horse of experience.

6. Be Honest. Being a good performer always means giving the audience what they want, and what the audience always wants is the real you. If you've done your homework, you'll already have the audience and the company's needs as your primary goal to couple with your own style. This applies also for the speaker you hire. Satisfy yourself that what you're seeing is an original approach to a worthwhile subject, not a gimmick.

7. Converse, Don't Lecture. A good presentation should be a back-and-forth between speaker and audience, with verbal and nonverbal communication as the respective tools. Speech becomes more accessible when you think in terms of having a conversation rather than giving a speech to your listeners. This is how to get your audience to truly listen. Do you know the 4 key techniques for becoming a dynamic speaker? Find them here. In terms of who you hire: Unless your event is being held in the Roman Coliseum, be wary of speakers who pace endlessly back and forth across the stage, gesticulating like an octopus under attack. An exaggeration? I know of one speaker who does exactly this, virtually without pause.

8. Be Prepared. Nothing mysterious here. You know this drill: Do your research, understand your audience, organize your content, prepare for Q & A, and practice in front of a mirror or video camera. Now add the nuts-and-bolts stuff. Time yourself. Write your speaking notes (key words only, please!) in large letters or 14-point type. And be completely familiar with the equipment you'll be using. Double- and triple-check your handouts, travel and accommodation plans, key liaison personnel, and the room you'll be presenting in.

9. Get the Right Stuff. When it comes to hiring a speaker, always be sure to request and receive as much material as you can lay your hands on. Bio, photos, audio- or video tapes showing the speaker in actual performance, and the technical requirements of their presentation are all necessary ingredients. It's also important to call other meeting planners who may have used this particular speaker. And if you've asked for references, contact them! None of these tasks is exciting, but all are necessary.

10. Stop, Look, and Most Important, Listen. It's not only the audience's job to listen at a presentation--it's yours as well. As a presenter, pay attention to the nonverbal communication listeners are sending your way. You may gain invaluable clues that will help you modify your presentation in subtle ways to keep audience members with you. Where your speaker is concerned, it's still your job to do the stopping, looking, and listening. Look from your presenter to the audience from time to time. You'll gain knowledge about this presenter's effectiveness, along with the needs of these attendees for future meetings.

By following these 10 tips as a corporate meeting planner and presenter, you'll educate yourself concerning the right person to hire, and get a leg up on great presentations yourself. You might also guarantee future meeting attendees some great performances.

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Need some inspiration for an upcoming talk? Reach for Dr. Gary Genard's groundbreaking book on better presentations: How to Give a Speech. This concise guide features 75 quick lessons for more dynamic and influential performances. Whether you present weekly or occasionally, this 158-page paperback is your portable speech coach. Use it to "charge your battery" and hone your skills for more dynamic appearances!

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