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Presentations skills are crucial to progressing in so many jobs that it comes as no surprise that businesses are seeking out candidates who can deliver the goods. The attention to detail you apply to your presentation can make all the difference, from enthusiasm, to the deliverance of a speech. All this can be learnt when you know how to put your skills into practice.
Whether you’re a seasoned professional presenter or preparing for your first big presentation, here you will find all the fundamental lessons to help you maximise your potential and deliver the best presentation.
Like going on a first date, first impressions can make or break an audience’s perception of you. You can gain or lose your audience in the first 20 seconds for a number of reasons. Our first job is to make sure you win over the audience and capture their attention by giving a great presentation.
Deliver a warm and inviting opening line. Welcome the audience to your presentation and be sure to smile as you first go on stage. When I say ‘welcome the audience’, you want to give the audience the impression that you are grateful to have been given the opportunity to present to them and you’re happy to see everyone.
Imagine yourself reuniting with someone special at the airport after 6 months of separation, you would naturally welcome them with great delight. Though try not to get too carried away with this idea as you wouldn’t want to scare your audience away with tears! A moderately warm welcome would suffice. Spread out your arms in a welcoming gesture to all of your audience. You don’t want to single out just a small section of the audience as the rest may feel neglected.
Give a brief summary of who you are, the nature of your business and a short and sweet introduction of the presentation. You want to include the following three elements:
- Welcome: You may say something like: good afternoon and welcome to the National Sales Conference….
- About you: You may say something along the lines of: I’m James Ashby and I’m an account manager in the Sales division at Coaching Key.
- Introduction: A short sentence that summarises your presentation and captures the audience’s attention. This would be along the lines of: Today I will be identifying 8 of the most influential speakers of the 21st century and highlighting the impact they have had on society.
Hand gesturing is another effective technique of quality presenting. Just like sign language, hand signaling can be used to tell a story. In your case, to make your presentation more interesting. This is key to delivering a good presentation. The use of hand gestures in a presentation helps to bring your words to life and in essence, deliver creativity to enliven even the most uninteresting of subjects.
Effective use of hand signaling is a key part of everyday life and is essential to many of your daily activities. So why not use it more in your presentations? Think of the best presenters in your field… watch how they use their hands to explain a situation or persuade an argument. The most effective presenter’s use every asset they have to deliver a more persuasive and memorable speech and hand signaling is one of the best resources available.
The best ways to implement hand gestures into your presentation:
- Make meaningful hand gestures: for example, if you want to show a big increase in profit, make sure you show a big increase in profit. Reach to the bottom of the floor for the previous year profit and reach as high as you can for the new profit. You want to make people impressed, a small change in height won’t make an impression.
- Over-exaggerate: Impress your audience with large expressions. This might be something you practice and grow more comfortable with. Really focus on your words and try introducing a hand signal in every sentence. Your audience can really relate to hand signals as it helps describe your story in more detail. This will support the audience in understanding what message you want to get across.
- Practice: A common theme in this post and the most essential lesson in becoming a better presenter. Practice bringing in hand signals into your daily life. When having conversations with your friends or even over the phone, use hand signals to improve your interactions. Eventually, this will become natural over time and when you present, you will automatically introduce excelling signals in your presentations.
What better way to improve public speaking than by enhancing your speech and confidence? Speech may be an obvious point to include and that is the reason why it shouldn’t be ignored. If people can’t understand you or hear you, people will immediately switch off. I’ve listened to many quiet presenters and people’s expressions say a thousand words.
Clarity of speech is key to keeping your audience engaged. If your audience can’t understand you because you’re mumbling or if you’re speaking to fast, it makes it extremely difficult for anyone to process your information. The King’s Speech (2010) is a great film to watch to show the significance of speech in a public job. The film highlights the demands of superior delivery of communication on a regular basis.
There are a few techniques to improve speaking skills in presentations:
- Volume: Make sure everyone can hear you. Over-exaggerate if you’re not sure. Ask someone to stand in all the far corners of the room while you practice your speech to confirm they can hear you nice and easily.
- Speed: Try not to speak too fast. If you rush through a presentation because of nerves, your audience won’t have time to process your thoughts. Take time to slow down and compose yourself. Make sure there is at least a second pause between every sentence. These pauses give statements more impact so it is essential to keep this in mind when delivering your presentation.
- Clarity: This is as obvious as it is important. Speaking clearly and understandable is essential to help delivery your message. A mumbled speech that no one can understand is as much use as a chocolate mug. Let your listeners know what you want to say. Practice keeping a good posture, taking deep breaths and warm your voice up with different pitch ranges. Exercise your face muscles by pulling various extreme poses and you will be ready to deliver as clearly as you can.
It’s fair to say that a story being told is made more interesting when delivered with varied a pitch and tone. Take Morgan Freeman for instance. He is the epitone of the perfect combinations of elements that help establish him as one of the best narrators of all time. If you are looking for an example of how to do a presentation, you can certainly gain some speech pointers from Morgan. He brings stories to life delivering perfect pitch timings. What I mean by perfect pitch timings is by optimizing all the available opportunities to tailor the pitch to the sentence being described.
I’m sure whilst reading this you can think of someone you know that has given a very monotone presentation. Think of how you felt while listening to that. You were probably struggling to keep yourself awake while pretending to be intrigued. Knowing this, you wouldn’t want to give the same type of presentation to your colleagues, so practice on making it more interesting. Add a bit of surprise in your speech, when raising your hands to show an increase in profits for example, speak with a slightly higher pitch. These small chances make all the difference when keeping your audience engaged.
Pointers to improve your pitch:
- Pitch with your hands: Practice changing your pitch with hand movements. When you’re explaining that something is low or deep, speak with a deeper voice and point your hands lower to the ground. This method will come natural with repetitive actions. Think of Mariah Carey when she sings at her highest. Mariah raises her hands higher as her pitch heightens.
- Pitch practice: A great tip to really challenge your vocal pitch is to read a children’s book out loud. Not only this though, you want to deliver the story as if you are reading this to a large assembly hall of children. You want to every child in all far corners to be fixed upon your story. Read every word as the book means it to be read, exaggerate all the pitches both high and low.
- Everyday conversations: Try introducing this into your everyday life. As your speaking to people in presentations, why not speak to your colleagues with a more interesting tone. Make the effort to make your conversations more engaging.
Stance & Posture
Standing confident will bring that edge to your performance and will make people aware when you walk into the room and present. If you want to understand how to give a good presentation, gain as much confidence from simple changes such as your stance and posture. Presence is a key part to keeping the audience engaged. The audience are more likely to act favourably and pay attention if you show more authority throughout your presentation.
You want to have that first date impact when you first walk into the room. Going back to ‘first impressions’ mentioned earlier in the post, you want to warm the audience to your presence. Smile as you make your way on to stage and follow the ‘first impressions’ guidelines to build a connection with your audience.
As for stance and posture, there are a few good pointers I follow when walking into a room and when presenting:
- The walk onto stage: Walk confidently, stand tall and relax your shoulders. Keep your head up and look across the audience and smile as you walk on.
- Stance: This is different for men and women. For men you want to keep your feet just on the outside edge of your shoulder width. Too wide and it can come across as a slightly aggressive, too narrow and you might fall over and you wouldn’t want that now. For women, the same distance as men, however, maybe slightly narrower inside your shoulder width.
- Posture: Keep your back straight and stand as tall as you can. Your voice projection will dramatically improve if you’re upright rather than crouching over. Imagine there is a piece of string pulling you up from the top of your scalp. This is the posture you want to be in throughout the presentation, while keeping your eyes in line with the audience.
To engage your audience, it is important to get the attention of the audience with eye contact. Eye contact is one of the minor factors that will improve presentation skills as a whole. This may seem obvious but it sometimes gets overlooked. If you watch a chat show on TV, you will notice the host is always engaging eye contact with both the audience and the guest (apart from when they are addressing the cameras). It would appear unprofessional if the host was looking at blank walls throughout the show I’m sure you would agree.
Work your way round the audience with your eyes. Try and even out the time spent looking at all areas of the audience and make a conscious effort to look at as many people in the audience as possible.
Key practices when engaging the audience with good eye contact:
- Work your way around the room: from left to right or in segments, trying not to spend too long looking at one area.
- It’s not a staring competition: Try not to scare your audience by looking at one person for an awkward amount of time (10 seconds plus would sometime seem quite lengthy). This would obviously depend upon the size of your audience though.
Like the old saying, ‘Practice makes perfect’. Perfection is what all employees are searching for, so the ball is now in your court to make things happen. Like with anything, you need to work at something every day to be a master of the class. Take professional athletes for instance, you can’t be the best without training to keep fit.
You want presentations to be like second nature so the first learning curve is always going to be the most testing but equally the stage in which you will learn the most from yourself.
Ask fellow colleagues to critically review your presentation skills. You want to diminish your bad habits so you need your colleagues to be particularly critical. If you want to be the best you want them to be comparing yourself to the best presenter they know.
The best presenters I know will practice for hours upon end to perfect their presentation. They will often practice in a similar environment to how they will present in the near future. The more comfortable you are with your reading the more confident you will become on stage.
Remember to practice all the different aspects of presentations mentioned in this post. It’s difficult to strive for perfection in all areas so aim to focus on one or two factors at a time. Being great in one or two areas will be significantly better than be average in all.
Good luck and thanks for taking the time to read.