Unless you’re Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama, for most people, presenting to an audience is a pretty nerve-wracking prospect – but good presenting skills are essential to success in business.
The power to inspire, motivate, persuade, inform and enlighten your audience – whether in front of a 1,000-strong conference, or one-to-one at a job interview – should never be underestimated. It’s an area which seems to give business leaders sleepless nights and coaching for presentations is one of our most frequently requested services.
Like everything else in life which is worth achieving, becoming a confident and effective presenter takes hard work and hours of practice. The following tips should help you along the way.
1. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Great presentations take days or even weeks to prepare well. The amount of time you spend depends on your situation, but it pays to start early and plan well.
All presentations should have a purpose and desired result, relating to the message they want to communicate to their audience. Your outcome and your message should be your stating point.
This will then allow you to decide on a title and the main goals or issues which will be discussed in your presentation. You should note down three supporting points for each goal. Review these, then start to think about three ideas for an exciting opening and three ideas for a memorable ending.
Once you have your basic structure, write your presentation in a style appropriate to your audience – remember that people respond well to humour and storytelling, so these are useful tools in any presentation.
If you’re planning a visual element to your presentation, audiences tend to respond better to pictures and animations than bullet points. Ensure these are prepared well in advance and relate to your presentation.
2. Time in reconnaissance is never wasted
Remember that technology can let you down. Find out in advance what facilities the venue has for your presentation, so you know what to prepare.
The night before, check that you have everything you need and that your equipment, including cables and chargers, is packed and ready – the laptop, tablet or phone you are using for your visuals should be fully charged.
Arrive at the venue early – you should leave enough time to run through everything at least once, in order to familiarise yourself with the equipment, walk around the speaking area, practise with the microphone and check that everything is working correctly, ensuring a smooth presentation. This will also help you to feel more comfortable in the surroundings, particularly if it’s an unfamiliar venue. And always have a back up device or work out an alternative method of presentation in case something doesn’t work or lets you down.
3. Engage your audience
People are in the audience for two reasons – to learn and to be entertained. Engaging your audience is the key to successful public speaking.
Think about the needs of your audience – and set expectations from the very outset. Let people know what you’ll cover, timescales and when you’ll take questions.
Engaging people also means connecting with them. Stories will reach people’s hearts and minds in a way that facts and figures simply aren’t able to – research by neuroscientists shows that delivering messages with anecdotes stimulate and engage the brain, increasing the chances of the audience agreeing with the speaker’s point of view.
Try to deliver at least one moment which will elicit a strong emotional response – be it joy or surprise. This is what scientists call an ‘emotionally competent stimulus’ and will grab the listener’s attention and be remembered long after you have left the stage.
4. Use appropriate content
Research your audience. Find out why they are there and what they are hoping to get out of attending.
Consider hard the level you need to pitch your content at and avoid using jargon – this will make your presentation inaccessible, incomprehensible and dull.
Try to teach your audience something new. Our brains are stimulated by the unknown, and dropping in a novel or unexpected ingredient into a presentation will give them an alternative viewpoint on a familiar subject, encouraging them to look past any preconceived ideas on the issue. This is a powerful tool which will inspire and engage your audience.
5. Make yourself clear
Practice is the key to good delivery – Lewis Hamilton would not attempt his first drive in a new F1 car at a Grand Prix, so neither should you deliver your speech for the first time in front of hundreds of people.
Ensure that you run through it alone until you are happy and then in front of a few different audiences. Ask your audience to give you critical feed back at each stage and use this to refine your presentation. It may even be worth enlisting a coach to help you polish your skills.
As well as rehearsing your presentation, take some time to develop your public speaking generally. Speaking to an audience is a difficult skill to master, and one that requires lots of practice. Nerves can make you rush and miss key points, so combat these through voice coaching and deep breathing exercises. Breathe deeply and enunciate each word clearly while you focus on speaking more slowly.
6. Passion and dynamism
Passion is one of the key elements of a good public speaker. To become an expert in anything, you must have a passion for it. Unless you are enthused by what you are doing and connected to the subject, you will not inspire your audience. Your speech should represent you and your passion for what you are speaking about.
Use the full stage to show your passion by using dynamic gestures and body language to communicate your enthusiasm for the subject. And never underestimate the power of public speaking – it is one of the single most useful skills for any business leader to master.
Sharon Klein is a director of Azure Consulting, a Yorkshire-based specialist in leadership development. www.azure-consulting.co.uk. 01924 385600. www.twitter.com/azureconsult