For many of us, giving presentations is an inevitable part of our working life– speaking at seminars, presenting information at a regular team meeting, high profile sales presentations to potential clients, or business networking.
For some people, the delivery skills come easily. For many the thought of presenting, public speaking, indeed being visible at the front of any group, fills us with dread.
The ability to present confidently (or seemingly so) can make the difference between keeping your audience engaged and boring them rigid. Beyond that, it’s the sort of skill that can be career-making or career limiting.
So, what can be done to help overcome your fears and develop your skills so that your presentations, meetings, and team briefings are remembered – for the right reasons?
Here are our top tips:
- Be as prepared as you can be
People usually have time to adequately prepare, but don’t always use the time effectively. Those who have done some research, are much better placed to deliver a presentation that keeps the attention of their audience. Who has made
a presentation before you, who’s on next? What happened at the same event
last year? What is the latest industry news? What are your competitors up to? All this can make you appear more knowledgeable and switched on.
It’s not just the content that can then be well planned (I’ll come back to that) – it’s the venue, the timing, the whole ambience and dynamic of the event too. And if you think about it, this is critical. If we ask people to sit and listen in a warm room after a carbohydrate-rich lunch for example, how can we expect our audience to stay awake? Plan the timing, the room, and any food.
What if it’s online? Know your platform and practice in advance with colleagues or friends if necessary. Check your camera, microphone, screen sharing etc. If you hate seeing your own image onscreen, select ‘hide self-view.
- Know your audience
This is a crucial part of your preparation. I once spoke to a manager who had “drawn the short straw” of delivering a series of presentations to a client. He wasn’t relishing the idea, but he was happy with what he had put together. “Who are you delivering it to?” I asked him. “No idea” was his reply. So how did he know what the content should be?
I have observed a common trait – when asked or told that they are going to deliver a presentation, many people reach automatically for PowerPoint – almost as a security blanket. The order of priority should be this:
- The audience
- The message
- The media
When you know the needs of your audience, you can tailor the message accordingly – the right amount of technical information, the right level and so on. So, ask questions of them. Brief them first and listen to the feedback – you’ll get some good signals that you are heading down the right path. Which leads us to…
3: Be clear about your purpose
What’s the point of your presentation? What do you want your audience to go away with? This might be knowledge, key facts, creative thinking. You might want to leave them wanting more, you might want some action.
Whatever it is, be clear before you start. It will then be much easier measure its success.
4: Learn the skills
Just how do you stand up and look and feel confident when there is an audience watching your every move? You have to do it to get better.
For some, it’s about developing techniques to avoid common pitfalls such as repetitive nose scratching, awkward hand movements, jangling coins in pockets and the common ‘errm’. All of these are perfectly understandable – you are standing in front of people, and they are looking at you.
One client was about to run some high-profile presentations, but his ‘errm’s (at the end of every sentence) were becoming a problem –The more he told himself to stop saying ’errm’, the more he did it.
Our solution? We got him to squeeze his thumb at the end of every sentence, and to associate the thumb-squeeze with silence – it worked.
It’s worth saying that the odd ‘errm’ or nose-scratch is harmless. They’re just human traits. It’s the repetitive habits that have a detrimental effect.
There are all sorts of skills to be mastered – your own body language and speech, how to interact with the audience, how to portray your own interest and passion in the subject. Remember – the audience can’t read your mind, so you must help them follow you and trust you. It involves eye contact, pace, pitch and intonation, being aware of and reacting to the audience’s responses. You’ll also need to deal with the inevitable cock-ups and so do this naturally, without too much explanation or apology.
5: What are you trying to say?
You’ve done a lot of the hard work already, so make sure you put the right message across. Make it right for the audience and right for you. You’ve got to be able to explain what you are saying and to answer any questions that arise.
Questions are a good thing. They can bring a presentation to a lively and satisfying conclusion, so factor this in when designing the content of your presentation. What questions are likely to come out of what you have said? Then prepare for them.
Keep the message simple – it’s tempting try and say everything. But your audience doesn’t need it all. Chief executives are looking for a different level of detail than an operational or project manager, so put the right bits in. Think about the concentration span of your audience – especially if delivering online. This will help greatly when you get to tip six.
Structure the message. Make sure it flows. Make sure that any links between sections are clear, make references to sources of data, use graphs, charts, pictures, video. There are many ways to communicate a message, so think about it carefully, and always have the audience in mind.
6: Tame the beast – use technology wisely
Imagine life without PowerPoint. It’s a great tool, but you need to be in control. You need to have interesting visual aids that really add something to your presentation. Then when the power cut happens, you are not left high and dry.
The temptation is to put too much in the slides. They only need the key points (as do your speaker’s notes) – it’s the job of the presenter to weave the rest of the information around them. And have a back-up – things can go wrong. Make sure you can write legibly and straight on a humble flipchart. It’s amazing how many people struggle to do this.
Avoid swooping slide transitions.
Learn how to move forward and backwards through the presentation without having to stop and think about it. Practice with the remote control. Remove the projected image for a while whilst a discussion evolves – just press the ‘B’ key on the laptop and it goes blank. Press ‘B’ and it comes back. These little things can really help. Incidentally, ‘W’ makes the screen go white.
7: Practice, practice, practice…
You can practice in private in front of a mirror, in front of a small test group of colleagues or in front of friends and family in person or via Zoom / Teams etc.
The truth is, the more presentations you do, the less the nerves will affect you (assuming you apply the principles above). Volunteer to chair meetings, go to networking events, get involved with a drama group, become a toastmaster. The opportunities are many and varied, and they all help develop that sense of confidence that impresses people – think about how you want to come across in a job interview.
Being familiar with the material is also critical if you want to be able to deliver with authority and confidence. Your presentation needs to look un-scripted (so have notes with you, rather than a script). You need to be able to answer any questions that arise, so seek questions from others when you practice.
8: Get some feedback
It helps to cement the learning, and aids further skills development. Listen to what people say. They will undoubtedly think better of your presentation than you do (unless you have a very large ego!). The nerves don’t show on the outside as much as you feel them on the inside.
Use of video as a feedback tool can work very well. Record your practice sessions on Zoom / Teams. You might not like what you see, but it is exactly what everyone else will see.
9: Do it all again
Seriously – the more you do, the more you learn, the better you get, the easier it becomes.
© Copyright The Helix Consultancy Ltd