“Most people would prefer to be lying in the casket rather than giving the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld (actor)
Most people are nervous when it comes to giving a presentation in front of a group. However, learning a few public speaking skills will make you a better presenter and will help you make sure your audience walks away (hopefully, after the presentation is over!) with a good understanding of the message you were trying to deliver.
Read on to find out about effective communication skills that can improve your presentations:
Before the presentation:
- Structure: Decide on the structure of your presentation. It should include an introduction, an agenda or a set of goals that will be covered during your speech, and a conclusion.
- Keep it simple: Sometimes, it is best to keep things simple. Technology is great but if you are not a skilled user it could turn into a disaster on your presentation day. Employ the best technology you are comfortable using. You do not want to have a problem in the middle of your speech and have that become a distraction. Also, don’t use too many fancy transitions, sounds or animated graphics on your slides. Do you want people to remember your “cool slides” or what you said?
- Rehearse: A prepared presenter is a good presenter. Even extremely skilled public speakers at least go over in their minds what the key points of their presentation are and what the best way to communicate them would be. If you are not so experienced, then you will benefit greatly from going over your entire presentation at least a few times to make sure you have all the major points nailed down. Also, it’s a good idea to rehearse with the tools you plan to use on the presentation day: laptops, laser pointers, microphones, projectors, etc., to decrease the chance of unpleasant “surprises” during your presentation.
- Don’t memorize: You should definitely know what the key messages that you want to deliver during your presentation are but that does not mean you should memorize a “script” word for word. In fact, delivering a “robotic” message will only set you up for disaster if you forget a single word and then you start to panic trying to get back on the wagon again, and your audience will notice that.
- Create support materials: In order to help your audience to follow your presentation or to make sure they don’t forget the details or the further steps to action, it is a good idea to prepare handouts or other documentation.
During the presentation:
- Dress appropriately: You want people concentrating on what your message is, not what you are wearing. There are already a ton of things that can potentially distract your audience, try not to add to that.
- Explain the agenda to your audience: audiences appreciate it when they have an idea of what the main objective and structure of the presentation will be. Give it to them.
- Don’t lean on your notes: It is OK to occasionally glance over at your notes if you want to check to see if you haven’t missed any important points before moving on. However, remember you are there to present, not to read. Nothing is more boring than listening to someone read through their entire notes with only an occasional glance towards the audience. That’s why you prepared and rehearsed in the first place, remember? Relax, trust yourself, use your own words, and your message will flow.
- Look at your audience: Remember how you felt when you were at a concert and the musician looked straight at you? Ok, maybe you are not a rock star, but making eye contact makes people feel important and respected. So don’t hide behind your notes or computer…look ‘em in the eye! Also, it helps to perform an occasional “audience check” to make sure people are not dozing off, have puzzled looks or are showing other signs of boredom or confusion.
- Imagine a naked audience: We know, it sounds weird, but it does work for a lot of people. If you feel nervous just take a moment to imagine your audience in their birthday suit and it will put you in a lighter mood and less intimidated.
- Watch your body language: It’s a good idea to move around a bit or at least move your hands, shoulders and eyes, like you would during a normal conversation. It will seem more natural and will relax you a little. But if you’re running around the room and swatting your hands like a crazy person it will be distracting and you run the risk of making your audience dizzy!
- Speak with passion: Remember you are selling. Maybe it’s not a product (or maybe it is) but you are selling an idea and if you speak with enthusiasm you will get people excited about what you are talking about and will “buy” your story and take the action steps you would like them to take.
- Humor: Funny little comments (as long as they are tasteful and not disrespectful) here and there weaved into your speech will keep the presentation light and engaging. You’re not doing a comedy act though, so don’t over do it.
- Leave time for questions: Make sure you leave time at the end of your presentation to answer any questions that your audience may have. Don’t worry if you get a question you honestly do not have the answer for. You can perfectly say “I don’t know, but I can find out and get back to you on that”, and then keep your word by sending your answer later to that person or to the person who organized the meeting.
- Summarize: The last part of the presentation should sum up the main points (maximum 5) of your presentation. This is your chance to remind your audience of the message that you want to ensure is understood and the action steps you would like them to take.
After the presentation:
- Thank your audience for their time and attention.
- Handout any materials or documents you want the attendees to walk away with.
- Make yourself available for further questions or discussions by offering a way to reach you at a later time (an email address, a phone number, your instant messenger information, etc)
Learn from the best. Make a Presentation like Steve Jobs: