How to improve presentation skills
An important part of most jobs, and particularly if you’re running your own business, is standing up and presenting in front of large groups of people. Whether it’s for a pitch, a conference, or even an internal meeting, it’s vital that you can communicate in a clear and engaging way.
While some people love to get up there to promote their business and share their ideas with the world, for others the thought of presenting can be about as appealing as a case of food poisoning! Feeling comfortable presenting in front of a crowd is an essential business skill to develop, so we’ve put together a few tips, based on our experiences, to get you presenting like a pro!
1. Be confident:
If you’ve been asked to present on a certain subject, it probably means you’re a bit of an expert in the field, so be confident you have something to say that people want to hear. It also helps if it’s something you’re passionate about.
2. Know your content:
The best way to combat nerves? Know your content and subject inside out. It sounds simple but if you’re worried about whether you’ll be ‘caught out’ by audience questions, you need to invest time in studying your subject. If you know what you’re talking about, it shows, and people will be more likely to trust you and your business.
3. Ditch the cue cards:
When nervous, people tend to reach for notes or cue cards. But generally this is distracting for both you and the audience. If you do need a written prompt, keep it for facts and figures only. You won’t be able to make sense of long sentences when you’re standing on stage in front of an audience.
4. Remember you’re in charge:
Don’t forget that only you know how your speech should go. If you mess up or leave something out, the audience will be none the wiser — so there’s no need to get wound up about missing something.
5. Keep it succinct:
People tend to waffle when nervous and that’s an easy way to lose the audience’s attention. The average person can’t concentrate for more than 20 minutes at a time, so try to use that as your time limit where possible. If not, try having some sort of break at the 20 minute mark— such as a poll — otherwise try to make a clear shift in topic or theme.
6. Focus on your key messages:
Pick out and emphasise the best bits. People don’t need to know all of the details or your life story — just focus on the key, memorable points you want them to take away.
7. Make use of images:
Don’t have hundreds of words on a slide. Instead, use words sparingly so they don’t distract from what you’re saying. Otherwise, the audience will be reading the slide instead of listening to you: slides should serve to complement your words rather than overshadowing them.
8. Use humour:
A bit of humour goes a long way when you’re faced with the daunting prospect of an audience. Try to drop in a topical joke at the beginning of your presentation to loosen everyone up. Even getting a small chirp of laughter can be a great motivation, especially if you don’t know the group. You don’t need to be a stand up comic to try this, so give it a go.
9. Practice, practice, practice:
Try your speech in front of a mirror, record yourself, or ask a friend to give you feedback on your presentation style — you might be surprised how this improves your delivery. Being aware that you fidget or say ‘um’ too much, will improve your technique when it comes to the real thing. Smiling is a great way to appear relaxed, and it also improves the quality of your voice (believe it or not).
10. Face your audience:
There’s no point talking to the wall where your presentation is being projected! You should also try to make brief eye contact with individual members of the audience during your talk to create a bond and make people feel like you’re communicating to them directly.
11. Check your formatting:
There’s nothing more distracting than wonky formatting! Keep font size/ style/ colour and alignment consistent, otherwise it looks like you couldn’t be bothered, and ultimately this will damage the credibility of your message. This also goes for distracting spelling mistakes; if that’s not your strong point, ask someone else to look over it for you.
Above all, remember that you don’t need to have all the answers — if you don’t know the answer to a question, just say you’ll follow up later.
This can be a great way to start a conversation about your business with a potential customer as it shows you’re thorough and respond efficiently — which are exactly the sort of traits we all appreciate in business.