Some people are naturally great presenters. They're charismatic, clear, convincing. I can think of a few off the top of my head: Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr., and of course, in the tech world, Steve Jobs.
But not everyone is a born storyteller, and not everyone is born a captivating speaker. The good news? Both can be improved.
Here are some tips to up your presentation game.
1. Nail your story.
Your presentation is not about you; it's your story. Once your story has structure and focus, your presentation style will improve significantly. Make sure the story is structured, tight and in the right flow. Make sure it's pointed at the right target audience and addressing the things they want to hear.
2. Don't improvise.
Even actors have a script. When my clients try to improvise what they're going to say on each slide, they usually end up repeating everything about three times. It's very hard to know what to say in the moment, especially when it's high stakes like an investor pitch meeting or a competition.
When working with clients preparing a pitch or presentation, we actually script out the story in the speaker's notes on each slide and get super clear on what needs to be said. When you're not reaching for words, your mumbling and nerves will improve dramatically.
3. Don't memorize either.
This might sound contradictory to the previous clause, where I say to script it all out. Script, yes, but don't memorize the script – use it as a guideline. If you do try to memorize and suddenly forget a word, it can throw you off track, leading to a complete blackout, especially if you're on stage.
You should read and reread the script until you are so familiar with it that it's practically memorized, but not. Then the fun starts: You can play with it and make it seem like you're simply making it up on the spot. It sounds funny, but it's true – try it and see for yourself
4. Be (the best version of) yourself.
When we attempt to be someone we're not, we set ourselves up to fail. Instead, try to be your most authentic self, with a good dollop of passion and animation.
Try this exercise: Record yourself pitching in your regular way. Now, think about something that excites you – a sporting event, traveling to a new destination, dancing, skydiving, etc. Take a moment to imagine yourself doing that thing you love. Now record yourself describing what it's like to someone who's never done it. Get them excited about it! How do you talk when you are passionate and excited about something?
Now launch straight into your pitch, keeping that feeling of excitement, and record it. Now watch all three recordings. Is your pitch more animated in the third recording? If it could still use some more oomph, try it another few times until you get the right level of authentic animation. Remember what it feels like to be at that level of excitement.
5. Watch your filler words.
Presenters often use filler words like "um," "like," OK" and "right." They show up at the end of sentences or at every pause. Usually people are entirely unaware of these filler words until someone points it out or they see a recording of themselves. It's not a pause to search for a word that we're forgetting; these are actually moments of our brain doubting what we're saying, questioning how we're coming across and searching for approval. It's not the worst thing, but when there are so many of these filler words, it is simply distracting to listeners and dilutes the potency of your message.
If you want to get rid of these, ask a friend or colleague to help. Have them watch you present, and when they hear your filler word, they should clap. At first you won't get why they clapped. It will seem that they were just interrupting you. The second time they clap, you'll identify that filler word, and after a few claps, you'll start to notice your pattern and nip them in the bud. Just as with getting rid of any bad habit, awareness is the first step.
6. Keep practicing.
Actors, singers, dancers and athletes all go through intense rehearsal or practice periods before a show or game. Presenters often don't give themselves that privilege and come in to present without even having rehearsed once! Presentations – especially one as crucial as an investor pitch – need practice. It's not enough just to read it over; your body needs to run it through as well. We learn on a different level when reading and when doing.
Practice in front of your team, spouse, kids, neighbors or even your Uber drivers and get their feedback. You can also record yourself and watch it back. Lather, rinse, repeat until you feel completely comfortable. The more times you pitch, the more comfortable and polished you will be.
7. Remember that your audience is hearing your presentation for the first time.
If you give the same pitch, speech or presentation again and again, it may start to feel old, stale and boring. You may start to tire of hearing your own voice. But you must remember that the audience seeing you this time is seeing you for the very first time. They deserve to be just as wowed as your first audience!
Before each meeting or speech, take a moment to remember why you're doing this, what the first time felt like, what a rush it was. Think that someone sitting in that room might be the person you've been waiting to meet, and you want to give it your all. Then go in there and slay it!