Presenting to an audience is an important professional skill to have. If it doesn't come naturally - and for many of us it doesn't! - honing this skill is something that everyone needs to spend time on. As you work your way up the corporate ladder this gets even more important - you need to be able to speak naturally with gravitas to a wider range of audiences.
Good presentation skills are also crucial for interviews that require formal presentations. Again, this happens a lot at the executive level. Senior leaders will usually be asked to present to the board, or to demonstrate a particular problem-solving approach.
Effective presentation skills get you noticed, hired, promoted and even headhunted, and stand you in good stead throughout life as well as your professional career.
Plan, prepare and practice
Know your target audience
You need to know who you are presenting to. Different audiences need to hear different messages and tones of voice. Also find out if there are any time constraints and tailor your content accordingly. The organisation may have already communicated these details but if not, ask.
Set out your presentation
Think of it as a captivating story with a beginning, middle and end that you are going to share with your listeners. Briefly summarise what the presentation is going to consist of in the introduction, elaborate in the main body and finally tell them again what you just told them.
Practice, practice, practice!
Once your presentation has been brought life, hone those presentation skills in front of a mirror, family and friends, or an independent party if you can. Don’t be shy – they will pick up ticks and personal behaviours such as ‘um’s and ‘ahh’s you will want to weed out.
Scope out the room
Does it have the equipment you’ll need, e.g. laptop and overhead projector? Can you do a dry run to make sure your slides are visible and your voice can be heard from the back of the room? Getting a feel for the room can be a good method of easing those pre-presentation nerves. Do not rely on technology – it notoriously lets you down, so always have a back up.
Dress to impress
Professionally speaking of course. Make sure you dress comfortably, but smartly. This will help you feel confident and self-assured – you don’t want to be tugging at your too tight collar as you try to make a good impression. Don’t let anything detract from your presentation
Use materials wisely
Slides should not be used as crutches. They are there only to guide the audience through your presentation, not to help you present – your planning, preparation and practice will do that.
Bullet points and graphics
Don’t put everything you want to say on slides or your audience will be reading it and not listening to you. Only include the most relevant information that can be read in a glance so you can truly engage the audience. Use infographics or images to replace words where possible.
This shows professionalism. Set up your equipment if necessary and calm your nerves.
Greet the room warmly
A smile always relaxes people. Introduce yourself and the presentation topic. Summarise the structure of your presentation and don’t forget the language of presentations – ‘firstly, secondly, moving on to my next point...’ Leave time for questions at the end so you won’t worry about losing your flow.
Hide the slide
If you find that your audience is fixated on what is on your slide, temporarily hiding it from view is a useful presentation tip – press the B key on your keyboard. Press it again to bring the slide back.
Maintain eye contact
Use a natural steady sweeping motion. Don’t focus your attention on one person. This may make them feel awkward and the others feel left out. Try skimming the tops of people’s heads, which gives the impression you are actually looking at them.
Speak naturally and take your time
Pause during natural sentence breaks – speak clearly, project your voice and don’t rush through the presentation. If you forget a point, carry on, it happens – you can always come back to it later with a variation on ‘one point I should also mention is...’ The main thing to remember here is that you always – always – talk faster than you think you do, so slow down.
Towards the end of the presentation, summarise your main points again as a subtle reminder for your audience. Thank them for their time and invite questions.
If you can’t answer a question – perhaps because it’s not directly related, apologise and offer to find out or direct them to someone, or literature that could help. Don’t ‘umm....’ but rephrase the question back to them to give yourself some thinking time – this is not only an effective presentation skill to learn but an effective communication skill too.
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Developing great presentation skills are key for professionals looking to influence others, communicate ideas and make an impression. To improve your skills you should:
- Plan, prepare and practice your presentation. This includes scoping out the location and ensuring you have everything you need to deliver your presentation as envisioned.
- Use materials wisely. Don't rely on PowerPoint or visual aids, and ensure that they are used to enhance the presentation, rather than being the main focus or a distraction.
- When presenting, ensure you are punctual, prepared and able to engage your audience through eye contact, speaking naturally and allowing questions.