You’re stood at the front of a room presenting to an audience of esteemed colleagues and clients: your palms are sweaty, your voice feels like it’s about to crack, and you’ve forgot what you’re supposed to say.
If this situation sounds at all similar, then worry not – you aren’t alone. Only a minority of people have a natural flair for presenting to a crowd, and so – for the rest of us – it can be a nerve-wrecking, stress-inducing experience that leaves us over-analysing every detail once it’s finished.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. By taking the right steps we can learn how to present in a stronger, more confident manner that leaves our audience both impressed and engaged. Our new presentation skills training course has been designed with this in mind, but rather than go into too much detail about the course here, we wanted to provide you with a few quick and simple takeaways that you can use to improve your presentations immediately.
Start with a story
The next pointer is about engaging your audience, and one easy way to engage an audience from the outset is to tell a story.
Stories, when told right, are extremely powerful tools that can make us buy into a shared system of beliefs and experiences. In fact, the history of human progress is rooted in cooperation through story-telling (Yuval Noah Harari has an excellent TED presentation on this, and for further reading check out his book Sapiens).
The point is, a good story can break down the barrier between you and your audience; it can make them feel the way you want them to feel; it can ease any tensions and relax the room; and so on.
Engage the audience
For the majority of audiences, sitting through a whole presentation can be difficult. Our minds wander, we get bored of listening to the same person speaking the whole time, and we lose concentration. Fast forward a day or two and we’ve likely forgotten the entire contents of the talk.
However, when an audience is engaged throughout a presentation, the outcome is significantly different. We’re much more likely to retain a higher percentage of the information provided, and we’ll remember the speaker and their presentation as a positive experience.
A story (see above) is a great way of engaging an audience at the beginning of a presentation, but you can continue to engage throughout with polls/surveys, interactive questionnaires and games (there are plenty of online tools for this), short videos, debates, and so on.
Make it look good and read well
It’s human nature to lean towards things we find aesthetically pleasing; Instagram’s entire business model is built around this fact.
No one wants to read a whole paragraph of text from your presentation slides. And, in fact, having blocks of text will mean the audience are too busy focusing on reading what you’ve written to absorb what you’re saying. Short, direct points, which you can then expand on, work best.
Similarly, use a complementary colour scheme and keep the design clutter-free and simple. With younger audiences, memes can work well to add a touch of humour, and when it comes to presenting data in a graph or chart, make it extremely easy for the audience to very quickly understand what they’re looking at – getting data visualisation right is key.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
In classrooms up and down the country, year in and year out, teachers repeat the famous Benjamin Franklin quote as they encourage students to revise for their exams: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.
The old adage should stay with you in whatever you do and wherever you are. The nervous reaction from presenting to an audience can be calmed and conquered (to an extent) by the confidence that comes from knowing your material inside and out. Learn your lines, do multiple run throughs, practice in front of a friend or partner, anticipate potential questions, and even practice having to go “off-script”. Prepare for every eventuality, and the reality will not phase you.
And remember, despite all the preparation in the world, you can’t be perfect: you may well slip up, you probably will get a little hot and sweaty, all the eyes in the room will be staring at you, and sometimes you will forget what you’re going to say (hence preparing to go off-script). This is all entirely normal, the best thing you can do is accept it, remain calm when it happens (regular meditation can help with this), and learn to embrace it.
Some of the best advice I ever had was to be the most enthusiastic person in any given situation. Attitude and delivery can make all the difference in a presentation; no one wants to listen to a monotone voice drone on endlessly with zero passion about the subject.
Enthusiasm is a form of passion that breeds positivity and evokes motivation in others. The best leaders are those that are enthusiastic in the right way, i.e. not blind fools, but inspired and knowledgeable individuals with the character to evoke similar responses in those around them. And if you think about a presentation, the presenter is simply a leader of the audience.
Don’t be fooled by those around you with the natural charisma and charm to lead a presentation; only a few people have these skills innately, most of the people you see giving lectures in front of a hall of hundreds, inspiring work colleagues in a meeting, or leading clients towards their solution, learn how to present effectively through training and doing (building up their experience). Over time, presenting becomes second nature to these people, and they may even thrive off it.
You can learn how to give great presentation too. The tips in this post are a start and will give you a good basis from which to work. However, if you’re interested in learning more about presenting and training with an experienced team then please get in contact.
Photo by Hermes Rivera