As far as communication tools go, presentations are still the best way to convey information, make key points, display findings, and provide a template for a winning strategy. However, for some, the overwhelming anxiety of giving a presentation to peers can become a debilitating fear that negatively impacts the success of their professional lives.
The fear of public speaking can also lead to avoidance behavior, where individuals go to great lengths to avoid situations where they might be required to speak in front of their peers. Of course, this behavior is self-defeating because valuable opportunities to develop their skills, build relationships, and advance their careers, go out the window.
As a high-performance executive coach, you might be surprised at how often I deal with people terrified of giving a presentation or speaking in public. More often than not, we can get to the root cause of the fear and develop confidence in their skills well beyond what they thought was possible. Sometimes, giving a killer presentation becomes a strength, not a weakness.
In this blog, I’ll let you in on a few of the secrets I share with clients. We will explore why giving an excellent presentation is essential and provide tips for improving your presentation skills. Even if standing at the lectern is second nature, I’m sure you’ll get a few great tips that will help you hone your craft.
So, whether you’re preparing for your very own TED Talk or you have your first-ever presentation to give to the owners of the company, now’s the time to get it right!
1. It’s all about mindset
Having a positive mindset and practicing mindfulness can help individuals ward off nerves and give a good presentation in any situation. The most important thing is to change your perspective. This presentation is an opportunity, not a threat! People will notice if you’re measured, clear, concise, and have done your research. By focusing on the potential benefits of the presentation, such as gaining new clients or advancing their careers, you can approach the presentation with a sense of excitement rather than fear. This shift in mindset can help individuals feel more confident, which can improve their performance.
Practicing mindfulness is your best bet if you struggle to manage your nerves during a presentation. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and accepting your thoughts and emotions without judgment. I often advise clients to use deep breathing techniques or visualization exercises to calm their nerves and focus their minds.
2. Get your audience’s attention
Think about the first scene of a movie or the opening chords of your favorite song. As a general rule, the opening of your presentation is a pivotal moment as it sets the tone for the rest of the talk.
Given that the average attention span of an adult is around eight seconds, you need to grab your audience’s interest immediately. I ask my clients to start strong and use a hook to draw people in. Think of a provocative question, an interesting fact, or tell a story. When you connect emotionally with audience members, they will pay attention.
3. Know your audience
What’s in your presentation may have a profound effect on those listening to it. Unbeknownst to you, it could be positive or negative, so it’s important that you practice empathy and understanding your audience’s needs.
I also advise people to take some time to research their audience’s demographics, interests, and knowledge level before giving the presentation. Armed with this knowledge, you adapt your message to their needs, making it more relevant, engaging, and palatable for them.
If you’ve given presentations many times, ask for honest feedback from your audience about how you come across. Not everyone will be forthcoming with feedback, so you may need to ask around.
4. Keep it simple
Keep it simple! For many attending your presentation, you’re possibly drawing them away from other tasks that they consider more important. Whether this is true or not, it pays to keep things as brief and to the point as possible. As you’re aware, the most effective presentations are often the simplest.
Cut out any jargon or confusing terms in the presentation slides, and try not to use any body language that may cause attendees confusion. Strictly adhere to your main points and goal and try not to let the presentation veer off course, with conversations irrelevant to what you’re trying to say. If the audience members ask questions that derail the presentation, assume the role of the meeting moderator and take control to get back on point.
5. Use visual aids in the presentation slides
There is nothing worse than sitting through more presentations where the speaker has thousands of words on a PowerPoint, few diagrams, and proceeds to read EVERY. LAST. WORD.
Visual aids are a powerful tool for engaging your audience members, making them active participants in the message you’re trying to send. Research shows that visual information is a far better way of getting people to remember something—much more than written or spoken information. Incorporate high-quality images, charts, or videos into your presentation to make it memorable. I’m a big fan of using diagrams and mind maps as it significantly cuts down on the word count!
6. Practice, practice, practice
Preparation and practice make perfect. Not only should you ensure that everything within your slide deck is understandable and free from errors, but it also has to be presented well.
Yes, that means rehearsing it a few times before you present it for real. You may not know everyone in the audience, so a potential job offer or promotion could be possible. If you perform well, the possibilities are endless! Make sure you have your timing, delivery, and attire up to scratch, and maintain eye contact at least once with every person in the room. If you have an area you keep stumbling on, think of a better way to say it. Only through trial and error will you be able to iron out any deficiencies.
7. Use storytelling
This ties in nicely with the previous point, but I thought it might need a little emphasis.
A good storyteller is captivating. You’ve probably been to a seminar or presentation where the audience hung on every word the presenter said. All this comes down to is knowing your material and finding a unique way to express it. Creating an emotional connection with your audience can only occur when you believe what you say.
If this doesn’t come naturally, try to think of some anecdotes, stories, or examples that can help to bring your message to life and make it more memorable. Facts, bullet points, and stats are great, but they will never hold a candle to a well-thought-out story delivered with gusto.
8. Emphasize benefits
When communicating with your audience, it’s essential to understand that they’re primarily concerned with how your message can benefit them. People are typically more interested in the outcomes they will achieve by taking certain actions or making specific decisions rather than the features or details.
To achieve this, it’s crucial to take the time to understand your audience’s needs, wants, and desires. This process involves researching their pain points and identifying the problems in their work lives. Once you clearly understand their challenges, you can present your message in a way that addresses these issues and offers them ideas and solutions.
9. Interact with audience members
Now, we don’t want your presentation to go off the rails by engaging the audience with totally off-topic chatter. But we also don’t want to ignore them entirely either!
For many, learning something new requires an element of collaboration and participation. That is why eliciting audience participation is a surefire way to make a good presentation memorable and dynamic.
This could be through a short task or a breakaway discussion where you split people into small groups to report back. This strategy makes attendees feel involved in something original and memorable. It’s also a sign of a great presentation.
10. Use humor
Presentations don’t need to be dry and depressing. That audible groan you might hear from team members when they tell you they must attend yet another meeting could be replaced by people who are genuinely excited. The best way to do that is to use humor.
Far from being unprofessional, humor can be a powerful tool for creating a relaxed and engaging atmosphere in a presentation. Well-timed and inoffensive jokes, puns, or other forms of humor can help to make your message stand out and add a light-hearted air to the room. Of course, everything depends on what you’re speaking about and the audience attending. To ensure the humor will be well-received, drop in the odd joke here and there. In future presentations, you might choose to increase the level of humor.
A great presentation lasts forever
Presentations can be a terrifying prospect, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Sure, public speaking isn’t a walk in the park, and you may have a lot riding on it, but a simple change of mindset can help you convey the necessary information in a thoughtful, informative way.
I encourage you to try out a few tips I’ve discussed here that will turn your entire presentation game from so-so to go-go! I always remind my clients that a good presentation should always be seen as an opportunity and not a threat. So, get out there and show people what you’re made of!