Presentation skills are critical to professional success, according to 70 percent of employed Americans surveyed in a Harris Poll. Perhaps the other 30 percent don't want to admit it's true.
Knowing how to present information in a way that influences others to act is not an innate ability; it is a learned skill that requires ongoing practice. If you want to close the deal, make the sale, get promoted or speak to be heard, routine practice and skills refinement are required. Whether you break out in a cold sweat just thinking about presenting, or you feel like a natural on stage, consider implementing these 12 techniques to master your presentation delivery.
1. Always Have a Plan.
Planning is essential for a successful presentation. Outlining the structure is very important to ensure a smooth delivery. Formats that flow and naturally transition between topics make it easy for your audience to follow and retain. A well-organized structure also makes it easier for you, ensuring you don’t lose your train of thought.
2. Burn Off That Nervous Energy.
Even the most seasoned presenters sometimes get butterflies before taking the stage. For almost half of the population, however, presentation fears are seemingly insurmountable. One way to work off nervous energy is to get some exercise and burn it off. Going for a run or walk the morning before a big presentation will channel your energy, generate endorphins and leave you feeling more confident than terrified.
3. Arrive Early.
Before a presentation, give yourself ample time to set up and examine your surroundings. Evaluate the technology and ensure everything is working properly. Adjust the room settings to promote a more audience-friendly atmosphere. Test the sound if you're using a microphone, or walk the presentation area to get familiar with the layout. If time permits, do a dry run of your presentation opening to help you practice a successful delivery.
4. Don’t Forget to Breathe.
When nervous energy takes over the body, the heart rate increases. To normalize your body's reaction, take concentrated deep breaths. Not only does this help your body calm down and your mind to focus, but it also helps you slow your rate of speech. Pause in between thoughts to allow yourself a deep breath and a moment to channel your energy.
5. Nail the Opening.
The likelihood of your capturing and keeping your audience's attention hinges on the first 30 seconds of your presentation. Skip the introduction and purpose of the presentation. Everyone knows why they are in attendance. Instead, open with a story. Stories help audiences connect with the topic emotionally. When done correctly, stories are captivating and thought provoking. Keep your story within 30 to 45 seconds. Start with a situation, tie in a dramatic climax and end with the presentation-related purpose.
6. Summon Your Super Power.
Exuding confidence is critical to influencing audiences and impacting their experience. Practice using a power stance. Stand in a neutral position, arms comfortably down at your side. Keep your shoulders back and your head up. Use your hands and arms to gesture as it relates to the presentation, refraining from overuse or distracting motions. Avoid crossing your arms, touching your face or fidgeting. These gestures convey nervousness and uncertainty.
7. Skip Anything That Doesn't Directly Relate to Your Topic.
Chances are you have a limited amount of time to give your presentation, so avoid the temptation of squeezing in every last ounce of information. You may have statistics or data that seem impressive, but if they fail to relate directly, skip them. Remember: Less is more. The information you share should fit comfortably within the time constraints you're given. If you attempt to include too much information, the presentation will feel rushed and overwhelming, and most certainly will go over time.
8. Let the Audience Know What's in It for Them
Audiences don't care what you are trying to sell; they care about the benefit it brings to their job and life. You will lose your audience's attention if you try too hard to push your agenda instead of focusing on theirs. Nearly half of the audience respondents surveyed admitted to multitasking and tuning out a speaker during a presentation. When you fail to engage an audience by keeping the topic centered on what’s in it for them, you risk losing them.
9. Visualize the Positive.
If a picture tells a thousand words, you don’t have to. Use images and visuals to convey a message and support your topic. Keep presentation slides visual and straightforward. Use large font sizes (60 to 80 point) for words and graphs. The slides are there as a support resource only, not a crutch. As the presenter, you must blank out the screen and refrain from referencing it or reading from it. Remember, the slide is there to support you, not to do the heavy lifting.
10. Nix the Nonwords.
“Uh” and “um” are not words and have no place in your presentation. Practice eliminating filler words that threaten your credibility and the audience’s attention. Keep your thoughts short and to the point. Remove excess words that may tempt your use of filler words. The best way to prevent using nonwords is to practice removing them from everyday use. The more you practice eliminating filler words from your daily interactions, the less likely they will pop up in more stressful presentation situations.
11. Don't Make Excuses.
One way to call your credibility into question is to make excuses for your lack of preparation or knowledge. Too often, presenters will admit to the audience when they feel unprepared or nervous. This doesn’t garner sympathy but rather irritates your audience. If they are giving you their time, respect it enough to be prepared. During the question-and-answer session, questions may arise that you don’t know the answer to. Admit it. Tell the listener you’ll find out and get back to them. Don’t make up excuses for why you don’t know.
12. Finish Strong.
Your presentation continues until you step out of the spotlight. Finish confidently with a strong closing statement. Thank your audience and be purposeful in your closing. Remember, people are still watching you even after you're done, so don't linger on stage or spend time fidgeting with technology, notes or visual aids. Be excited about the information you've shared and feel confident that your audience agrees.