At Shropshire Speakers, we sometimes get enquiries from professional people who are interested in improving their presentation skills.
Perhaps they are already delivering presentations on a regular basis and are looking to improve, or perhaps they have been asked to give a presentation and the thought of it is terrifying for them.
At Shropshire Speakers, we help members to improve their public speaking skills in a safe space, where it’s OK to make mistakes. After all, that’s how we learn and improve. It’s certainly better to make mistakes in front of a friendly group, instead of your management team or customers.
As a member of our club, you can even choose a learning pathway on mastering presentation skills.
Here are twelve short tips to help you cope with nerves and deliver an effective presentation.
1. Think about your audience
When planning your presentation, you need to be aware of your audience and keep them in the forefront of your mind.
- What will they be hoping to learn?
- What message are you bringing to them?
- What’s the best way to communicate your message?
If you start with an understanding of what value your audience will derive from your message, then the battle is half won, and you can move on to deciding how best to present your message.
2. Know your subject
If you have been asked to speak, then it is usually because you are expected to communicate your knowledge to the audience. As far as possible, make sure that you go in fully prepared. This may mean speaking to colleagues, researching online, and going back over your own work.
Being fully on top of the subject will help with nerves, and will demonstrate that you have expertise in your area.
3. It’s all about communication
Remember that the most important objective is to communicate information to your audience. Keeping this in mind can help with nerves because, usually, the presentation is about a particular subject and not about you. If you end the presentation having communicated the intended message, then the presentation will have been a success.
4. Structure the content
When presenting, your task becomes a lot easier if you stick to a structure.
For example, in a 10 minute presentation, the structure would be something like:
- Introduction (1 minue)
- 3 – 5 points which support your message (8 minutes)
- Conclusion (1 minute)
Your presentation will involve you guiding your audience through this structure. At each of the points, you can remind your audience about the message you are delivering.
Finish by summarising the points, reminding the audience of the message, and stating how you communicated the message to them.
5. Open with a story
If you can open with a ‘story’, especially one with a personal touch, then this will help to engage your audience. It might be a traditional story, or even just an personal observation you have about the subject.
This has to be done carefully, and is not appropriate in every situation. You will have to think about whether your presentation would benefit from a story. If you are only speaking for 10 minutes, then your story should be very short, no longer than 45 seconds.
The advantage of a story is that it will engage your audience from the outset. You will pique interest and you’ll actually see audience members stopping writing, and looking up from smart phones.
If you can make it relevant to your audience, even better. If you can get a laugh, then this is ideal, because it will help get the audience engaged. Avoid unrelated stories, jokes or anything boring.
6. Less is more
When it comes to content, less is more. Avoid the temptation to go off on tangents when speaking. Stick to the message. A defined structure will help with this.
7. Use Powerpoint sparingly
If you are a new or nervous presenter, it’s tempting to write out your presentation onto Powerpoint slides, and then read through the slides in front of the audience.
Audiences hate this. Slides should only be used when they enhance your message. Keep slides simple and avoid long bullet point lists. Spend time on making your slides look professional. Large colourful graphics work well.
8. Stick to time
One of the worst crimes you can commit when presenting is to run out of time. You should stick to the time that you have been allotted, or have assigned for yourself. If there is a “question and answer” session, ensure that you allow sufficient time for this. End the presentation when time is up.
Running out of time will annoy the audience and make you look unprofessional.
It is vital to prepare properly, and to run through the presentation with a stopwatch so you are fully aware of timings.
9. Dealing with nerves
If you are nervous or new to presenting, then try the following:
- Slow down. Don’t rush and speak at a slower pace than you might normally speak at.
- Speak clearly. Introduce pauses after you have made key points. Avoid using filler words such as ‘um’ and ‘er’.
- Use vocal variety (i.e. vary tone of voice, and volume). When done correctly this will help with audience engagement, and indicate that you have a interest in the topic.
- Stand with a confident, balanced posture, and make eye contact with the audience.
- Don’t turn your back on the audience when referring to a slide.
If you happen to be speaking about a subject you are passionate about then great! Try to ensure your natural enthusiasm comes across, because the audience will pick up on this.
10. Set-up any tech correctly
Make sure that your tech is going to work. Try to test connecting your laptop first, and making sure everything works. Bring spare cables, batteries etc. Bring backups of presentation files on external USB drives.
If your slides don’t work, or something fails, your stress levels will rocket and you run a risk of ruining the whole presentation.
Remember that slides should be used only if they add to the communication of the message. Sometimes you don’t need Powerpoint slides.
No matter how much testing you do, tech can still fail. Ensure that you can carry on with the presentation even if your technology dies.
Everything becomes easier with practice, and it is important that you practise your presentation. You can practise in front of a mirror, record yourself on your phone, or practise in front of friends, family and colleagues. Practise with a stopwatch so that you are fully aware of timings.
Practising a solid opening will help to settle your nerves when it comes to delivering the presentation.
12. Come along to Toastmasters
Finally, if you want to super-charge your presenting skills, then come along to a Toastmasters meeting and talk to the members. They’ll be happy to encourage you and to pass on advice which is specific to your presentation.
Presentations are a fact of working life, and being able to present effectively can really improve your career prospects. Toastmasters is an organisation which promotes effective public speaking and leadership skills. Anyone wanting to master the art of presentations should come along to a Toastmasters club and find out how we can help!
For anyone wishing to learn more about effective presentations, including some of the points made here, I recommend reading “Persuade on Purpose”, by Eric Fitzpatrick.