Conducting an in-person presentation

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Although there is no easy way to make your task completely effortless, this collection of tried-and-true in-person (face to face) presenting tips can make your delivery a successful experience for you and your participants.

Be clear about your format
Start by letting your participants know what you’ll cover and the format you’re using. If they know your session will be interactive or there are clear opportunities for questions, they’ll concentrate rather than impatiently waiting to have their say. Well known for his teachings on persuasive speaking, presenter Ben Richards (Aticus) offers a planning list here of questions to ask yourself when starting to prepare for a presentation (be it in-person or livestreamed).

Speak to your participants – practising your talk in advance is key!
Don’t read your written materials. Nothing is more frustrating to participants than being read to. Supplement, rather than repeat, what is in your written materials and on your slides. An imperfect speech is preferable to a perfect read.

Summarise your points into a cheat sheet of phrases
A cheat sheet of short phrases eliminates any inclination to memorise sentences and enables you to sound more like you are speaking from the heart. The trick is to keep it short. Put yourself in your participants’ shoes and imagine what you would want to know and how you would like that information to be summarised if you were short on time.

Listen and forget. See and remember. Do and understand.
Interactive learning with real and hypothetical scenarios is best as it gives your participants the opportunity to consider actions and outcomes for themselves.

Identify and break your presentation into sub-topics. Let your participants ‘nut-out’ the issues by asking questions or, if appropriate, by discussion in break-out groups. Practical tips plus some legal foundation is the ideal combination.

Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them.
No matter your participants’ experience, repetition is essential. And, aim for 1-3 key takeaway messages and plenty of food for thought. Most participants feel best about a learning experience when they have worked something out for themselves. Craft your presentation to create ‘aha’ moments. Stress the specific and always give examples of immediate application of the law in practice.

Know your participants
Gear your presentation to lawyers with some experience in your field. But note that participants will vary in experience and that there may not be a common level of competence. Ask for the participant list and know ahead of time whether you are to present at a basic, medium or advanced level so as to more precisely engage your participants.

Be enthusiastic and real
This can disguise nervousness and flaws in delivery. Don’t be afraid to show your participants the real you. Share your passions and interests, and in your examples speak of failure as well as success.

Connect with your participants
Injecting a little humour into your session early helps your participants’ attention ‘kick in’. And, if they can empathise with your hypothetical or real scenarios, they will remain engaged and more likely to learn and retain your material. Start your seminar with a question to get your participants’ mental gears turning.

Make the complex simple
Don’t speak in abstractions. Give examples or discuss scenarios. Be specific, and keep your talk focused and sharp.

Avoid long quotes
Avoid excessive citations and long quotes (particularly on slides). Participants can find these on their own time. If you reference a case, comment that the citation is included in your written materials (or will be supplied by you after the session).

Always provide reference materials
Participants generally want to pre-read your materials so they can make the most of your presentation by asking you informed questions.

Written materials can take one of two forms: a prepared paper, which may include forms, checklists, diagrams or statistics, and other supplementary material; or a detailed outline of your subject matter. Materials for later use are important as a permanent reference to your content. Materials should be of high quality and practical. Ideally, they should have instructional value when standing alone, so one- page summaries or phrase outlines won’t suffice.

Stay on time
Your timing and pace is important. If your session is scheduled for 60 minutes stick to it and ensure you split this time to allow for Q&As. Participants don’t appreciate seminars with half the content missing or when 20 minutes of content is squeezed into 5 minutes at the end. If there is more than one presenter in the program, be aware that time limits may be enforced.

Encourage questions
If you’ve ever been a participant in an in-person (face to face) setting, you’ll know that when a presenter sweeps the room and asks, ‘are there any questions?’ this can often be met with silence. So, rather than ask this closed question, we recommend the following open alternatives:

  • What questions do you have for me?
  • How else can I help you?
  • What else can I cover today?

Be clear about question time
Leave time for Q&As unless you are adopting an interactive format, in which case questions and comments can be incorporated throughout. Participants may have questions and will want to know (up front) when they can ask them. It’s also good practice for you to have 2-3 pre-prepared questions in case there are none from the participants. Always restate the question before answering as this enables those who may not have heard to understand your response.

Start with your session roadmap
Your first oral comments and/or slide should summarise what you are going to cover and where your presentation is going. Research shows that participants like lists so group your introductory points into a list of 3, 5 or 7 key topics.

Use visuals
Reinforce your key information with good and appropriate visuals. See the list of tips under ‘Use of Presentation Slides’ here.

You don’t have to be the expert
Your role is to facilitate competency and skill enhancement. Even if you know the answer, stretch your participants – let them try to work it out first (as/when appropriate). If you don’t know the answer, validate the point or question then either put it to the room or park it as worthwhile for revisiting later.