From forgetting your words to technological meltdowns, public speaking can be a daunting prospect, but for most professionals it’s a vital skill to have.
Get it right, and you come across confident, knowledgeable and a valuable asset to the team. But get it wrong, and you could end up sending the wrong message completely.
So before you let anxiety get the better of you (executive stressball at the ready), here are our top tips for giving a great presentation.
- 1. Be prepared – No matter what the occasion, proper presentation preparation is a must. That means making sure your equipment works properly, your notes are legible, and that you keep to any pre-arranged timescales.Obviously this is going to involve rehearsing. And by rehearsing, we mean proper rehearsing. Out loud. In front of actual people. Rehearsing in your head does not count.
- 2. Introduce yourself– Ah, the old ice-breaker. An integral part of any presentation. Even if people know who you are, a simple ‘For those of you who don’t know me…” can go a long way to building up your rapport with your audience. It also allows you to request that any questions are kept to the end. That way, there will be no interruptions half-way through to ruin your flow.Just try and avoid the ‘I’ll start with a joke’ routine and keep it professional. Awkward silences are difficult to recover from.
- 3. Maintain eye contact – Maintaining eye contact shows you’re confident in what you’re saying, and helps to build rapport with your audience. If you feel uncomfortable, look away for a few seconds or glance around the room. Around 10 seconds of good eye contact at a time is a good guideline. Just try not to concentrate on one person in particular.
- 4. Encourage participation– The most effective presentations usually involve a fair amount of audience participation. So rather than talking at the group, try and involve them. You don’t need to go overboard, but something as simple as asking a question to begin with can help grab their attention and start you out on the right footing.Also being visual is always an advantage, so include any graphs, charts and other information which is better represented with imagery.
- 5. Have a back-up plan – Sometimes, technology is not your friend. And, in case of any mishaps, always make sure you have a Plan B. Simply putting a few bullet points down on paper that correspond to each slide will be enough. If nothing goes wrong, you can still give them out as extra visual aids. But if things fall apart, you’ll definitely be glad they have somewhere else to direct their attention.
Other things to do: Have a set structure, project your voice, make sure everyone can hear you, recap.
- 1. Panic – Although it seems easier said than done, learning how to control your nerves is a crucial part of the presentation process. And whilst not everyone can be blessed with excellent oratory skills, there are a few things you can do to help you relax. Firstly, to avoid any dry-mouth moments, always have a drink to hand.Other tips include taking deep breaths, pausing (both for dramatic effect, and for you to gather your thoughts), and smiling. Finally, using repetition can help underline your main points, and appear far more in control of the situation than you may feel.
- 2. Read from a script-To keep your audience engaged, you need to look engaged yourself. We’ve already mentioned the importance of eye-contact and preparation. The best way to demonstrate both of these is to have learnt exactly what you’re going to say beforehand. The screen should be used as a point of reference only.And, instead of having reams of paper to work from, keep any pointers to a few bullet points and put them on flash cards. This will enable you to be concise enough to be natural, but also ensure that any shaking hands are not amplified.
- 3. Speak too fast – Itcanbereallyhardtofollowsomeonewhentheyspeaktoofast. With that in mind, always be aware of your pacing. A good presentation sits somewhere between a directionless ramble and a slurred sprint to the finish, so make sure you find the line.
- 4. Leave it till the last minute – The ‘I work better under pressure’ approach should be avoided. At all costs. Not only can a lack of preparation make you look unprofessional, it is also incredibly transparent. Your badly made PowerPoint slides and clichéd clip-art pictures will stick out like sore thumbs to anyone who knows their stuff, which almost undoubtedly at least some of your audience will. It’s not big, and it’s not clever. It’s just lazy.
- 5. Beat yourself up – However prepared or experienced you are, mistakes happen to the best of us. The important thing is not to let them get the better of us. So whether it’s an embarrassing mispronunciation, or the dreaded squeaky voice moment, just laugh at yourself, accept it and move on. Better still, if you make a joke of it, they can actually be used to your advantage.
Other things not to do: be scared of silence, over-run, lose your nerve, use a ‘cool’ animation, cry.