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Whether we like it or not, presentations and public speaking are a part of life.
It is inevitable that at some point we will all have to take centre stage and deliver a presentation to colleagues and customers.
While nerves play a part in the foreboding many of us have, it also doesn’t help that we can probably all recall sitting through painful presentations where time seemed to stand still.
So how can we overcome these obstacles and deliver a presentation that will be memorable for the right reasons?
Here are nine top tips from our presentation skills training courses.
The only way to ensure success in a presentation is careful planning and preparation.
Bullet points, mind maps and message preparation sheets will all help you to structure and plan your presentations effectively.
Always think about your audience and your message. How can you make what you say relevant and interesting to them? What is the main point you want them to take away and how can you ensure you make it memorable? It is essential to think of ways to engage your audience and illustrate all your points with examples – a good anecdote, fact, or analogy, will help bring any message to life.
Knowing you have spent time thinking about what it is you want to say will also help to build your confidence.
It may sound shallow, but when you are presenting, your audience will form an almost instant impression of you.
Your impact in the first 30 seconds is determined by: body image 55 per cent (dress, eye contact, posture, open gestures), voice 38 per cent (tone, volume, accent, clarity), and just seven per cent by what you say.
First impressions are formed almost instantly and then, in the subsequent few minutes, the audience will be looking for proof that the initial assessment is correct. This is called confirmation bias and everyone is susceptible to it.
Dress code and body language are crucial (more on both of these below). You should also look to make eye contact with the audience and smile – smiling will make you appear confident and suggests you are happy to be there.
You want to convey a combination of authority and personal engagement/warmth according to the occasion. So, dress with care and aim to be about 10 per cent smarter than your audience.
It is worth taking a look at the way TV newsreaders achieve both authority and personal engagement in their appearance.
Male newsreaders are clean-shaven and wear a plain, well-ironed shirt, pulled down so there are no wrinkles showing, and a richly coloured tie done up well at the neck. For a more informal occasion where you want to dial up personal engagement rather than authority, you can lose the tie and can wear a plain, coloured shirt or a bold striped shirt. For even more informality, roll sleeves up to just below the elbow, rather than wearing a short-sleeved shirt or a polo shirt.
Female newsreaders will be well groomed with brushed hair, some make-up, jewellery (earrings/necklace), a defined shoulder line, generally in plain, bright clothes. The effect is sharpness, professionalism and personality.
To soften the impact, but still retain the professional look, consider wearing a pattern on your blouse or jacket. A smart cardigan over a dress, rather than a jacket, or the addition of a scarf would have the same effect. This can be helpful if you’ve been given feedback that you come across as overly assertive.
It’s not just what you say during a presentation but also how you say it.
Getting the body language right can make a huge difference to the success of your presentation.
Standing? Feet at ‘5 to 1’ will give you a solid base. Then you want to send the energy up and out, so use those arms to bring life to your performance. As part of your preparation, deliver your lines in front of a tall mirror, so you can see if you are standing confidently and using your arms and hands to emphasise particular points.
Sitting down? Remember the acronym BBC – Bum in Back of Chair. Draw yourself up to your full height and lean slightly forward, putting elbows on the table.
We’ve all endured a terrible PowerPoint based presentation at some point.
Endless slides of text are sure to turn off an audience and distract them from what you are saying.
And then there are the ubiquitous stock images – pictures of people shaking hands, a pile of pebbles, a jigsaw piece, and, of course, a thumbs up. All guaranteed to bore an audience and perhaps even make them angry.
Before you plough headlong into preparing slides, it is worth considering what your audience will actually gain from them.
There are some clear advantages to having some slides, as long as they are not text heavy (aim to show the odd headline statistic or tag line with support and underline your message).
But it is worth considering presenting without any slides at all. This will ensure the audience’s focus is completely on you and, because most people present with slides, not using them could make your presentation stand out.
When presentations don’t flow, the audience gets lost and switches off and the opportunity to get your message across has gone.
Structuring your presentation is key to avoid your audience having to sit through a disorganised and frustrating ramble.
There are many structures to choose from, including chronological and 'problem-solution-benefit'. If you are presenting to people who are new to the topic, you will need to include more background information in the structure.
The three-part structure used by journalists will ensure your key points are succinct and memorable - Point, Example, Point. Remember that just one story will bring your message to life and bring it to life.
Delivering your message in a dull, flat, monotone way will ensure the audience switches off.
You need to inject passion, enthusiasm and energy into your voice.
If you show that you are motivated and excited by a particular subject it will help you to connect with the audience.
Many delegates on our presentation skill training courses particularly worry about the questions that tend to come when you have finished speaking.
If you are going to take questions in your presentation, then make sure you have done your research - not just on what you want to discuss but also the related issues your audience may raise.
What are the topical issues around your subject? What is being discussed on social media? What news stories related to your topic are out there on the day?
If you want to be an authority or thought leader then you need to know the latest thoughts and trends to demonstrate authority, credibility and integrity.
On our presentation skills training courses, we recommend that questions are not left until the end of the presentation. Chances are that by saying ‘any questions?’ as you finish, you may well be met with an awkward silence or you could face questions which are not on the main message you want the audience to take away from the presentation.
The approach we suggest is to ask for questions at regular intervals throughout the presentation and focus on providing a strong ending.
Having done all your preparation, as you are waiting to start, use breathing to control your nerves. Listen to your breathing - this slows your heart rate, makes you feel more in control and then, when you get up to speak, your voice will be strong and resonant.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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