Public speaking definitely makes many of us nervous, as it can be tough to stand up in front of the audience to convey your thoughts and ideas. It is always easy to be in the crowd and critique the person who is presenting the idea, but when the time comes to step into their shoes, most of us would have wobbly knees.
Presentations have been a part of my life since my graduation days, and the number of presentations has just gone up over the years. I am not the most eloquent speaker, but I have taken conscious efforts to better my presentation skills. It is surely not as easy as it may sound, but with a bit of practice, confidence, and better preparation, it can be much easier to ace the performance.
The main objective of any presentation is to convey an idea, and it must be done in such a way that makes sure your audience walks away with the right understanding of the message. While anxiety is just one element that can hold you back from excelling your performance, there can be many different reasons for a presentation to be a failure. So instead of breaking out in a cold sweat and stumbling upon your words, try these below tips to improve your skills and to nail your next presentation.
Whether you plan to talk about your company’s marketing strategies or your favorite rock band, do your research well. Even if your qualifications speak about your expertise, go through your topic thoroughly to make your audience believe what you are saying. Search on the Internet, read some books or talk to the experts to be well prepared with your subject.
While you prepare your presentation material, have clarity about your main message and the primary reason for presenting it. You wouldn’t want a long winding presentation where the audience is unsure about the primary objective of your demonstration. Know the real purpose of your presentation, and accordingly, structure the presentation around the key message without passing on any non-relevant information.
While you might be very knowledgeable about your subject and also have a variety of anecdotes to share, but if your presentation is poorly designed and lacks the proper flow of topics, then it might be very difficult for your audience to grasp the intended meaning. Structure your presentation with an introduction, main content to be presented and finally, close with the conclusion. Have a strong opening for your presentation where you can start off with a story, a question or some astounding facts that grab the attention of your audience. Before you dwell into the main topic, make sure you tell your audience the benefits of what you are going to present by outlining the purpose and the direction that the presentation will follow.
Once into the introduction, continue your presentation with the main body, which should not speak more than three to four ideas. If you still must include additional data points, then add them to the appendix. Keep the flow smooth and try not to jump between the topics back and forth. Close your presentation with a strong conclusion that gives a quick recap of what the presentation was all about and leaving your audience on a positive note.
A good presenter always practices his content. Even the extremely proficient public speakers revise the key points from their presentations and evaluate the best ways to communicate with their audience. A poor delivery is very common with those presenters who are ill-prepared. Take some time to go over your presentation a few number of times so that you know your key points well. Don’t memorize your speech because that would only make you sound mechanical and over-rehearsed. Talk to a mirror or a wall, or take help from your friend or family members to listen to your speech. It is also a good idea to practice with the tools that you plan to use on your presentation day such as, laptops, projectors, microphone, laser pointer, whiteboard etc., to safeguard against unpleasant surprises. Also, make sure to have a meaningful eye contact with the audience and avoid looking at the floor or the ceiling. As you practice your speech you will understand the modulation in your voice which must be appropriate as per your content. Work on your pauses, and avoid “ums” and other crutch words in your speech. (Refer to my previous article to know more about them here)
Always leave some time for a quick Q&A session after your presentation, and since no one likes to sit through long presentations, keep your content and words concise and meaningful. Practicing your speech will help you to keep the presentation within time bounds.
Intelligence on your audience plays an important role in the success of your presentation. Knowing the group’s demographic, mindset, interests, and level of sophistication will help you to tailor your presentation to match those tastes and expectations. Speakers who are equipped with this kind of knowledge are always popular with the audience because they are known to structure and adjust the tone of their presentations accordingly.
Even though at most events you would possibly have some idea about the crowd, there can be certain occasions when you are completely clueless about the audience’s taste. In such cases, before you start off with your presentation, talk to the audience, or ask them during the speech about what they are interested in. You can also decide to arrive early at the venue, which will not only help you to get the actual feel of your audience but will also ensure that you don’t arrive late for your presentation. If you are not the only presenter, such as when you are giving a talk at a conference, try to attend some of the presentations that are before your slot. This not only allows grasping on the mood of the crowd but also shows respect to your fellow presenters. And for all you may know, there might be something from other’s presentations that you can play off later in your own presentation as well.
Although it is not necessary to have presentation slides, they are a nice tool to keep the audience engaged. Nonetheless, many don’t make use of this tool to its full potential, and so instead of enhancing the audience’s experience, it somehow thrives in diminishing it. Slides are a tool to assist the speaker during his speech and to keep the audience involved. If a slide has 10-12 bullet points, each containing two lines, the speaker will spend time looking at the slides to read them out. A common rule to follow is, have 4-5 bullet points of single lines per slide, and try to enhance the content with the appropriate image because people always comprehend visuals swiftly as opposed to the text. Don’t read as is from your slides, but use it as cues for your speech. Try and follow the popular 10-20-30 rule by Guy Kawasaki, which says the presentation should not have more than 10 slides, should last no longer than 20 minutes and has text not less than 30 point font size.
It is normal to get the jitters before any sort of presentation, and so the best advice is to take deep breaths. Loosen up your muscles, sip some water and bring back the smile on your face. Smiling not only increase endorphins in your body, but your smile also displays your confidence and enthusiasm that can be felt by the crowd. To help alleviate your anxiety, you can take a walk before your presentation or even better, hit the gym earlier in the day prior to your presentation to elevate your mood. Pump up yourself with an energy drink or by listening to some energizing music, which will definitely reflect into an enthusiastic speech. Try to reach early to the venue to get a good feel of your surroundings. Adjusting to your surroundings will make you feel comfortable. If at any point in the presentation, you get your jitters back then look at someone you know in the crowd who can assure you with their smile, that you are doing a great job.
These are just some of the things to practice as you prepare for your next presentation or speech. If you wish to go beyond these guidelines, then consider joining Toastmasters club in your city. These are groups across most countries that are dedicated to helping every member to improve their presentation skills.
As you start brushing up your skills, don’t forget that sometimes you may not have all the answers to the questions that audience asks. It is an acceptable gesture when you admit to not have the required knowledge to answer the question and are willing to take efforts to get back on it after some study. This would, in fact, result in increasing your credibility with your audience, as it shows no matter how knowledgeable a person might be, we are all learning, all the time.
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