Giving a presentation to an audience is the stuff of nightmares for more people than you think. You will have watched many presentations over the years, but you can’t truly know how the presenters were feeling inside. Surprisingly few presenters genuinely enjoy the task.
Why? Well, because presenting to others raises the possibility of rejection from the “tribe” – a primal fear that goes back to the first cave dwellers. Everyone’s heartbeat goes up a few notches when they stand up to be judged.
While there might be tribulations, presentations can be triumphant - if you master the right presentation skills. Let’s have a look at what this entails:
- What are presentation skills
- Different types of presentations
- 12 presentation skills to master
- How to prepare for a presentation
Why are presentation skills important?
While you would ideally be sharing your knowledge with each person in an individual chat, presenting to a larger audience enables you to maximize your impact.
Presentation skills come into their own when you need to speak in public on a set topic. It doesn’t matter whether you are presenting to three people or three hundred; the demands of presenting are identical. It is often tougher presenting to a small audience.
In this blog, we will explore twelve aspects of giving an effective presentation, as well as how to prepare and make the most of the moment. To start with, we need to bear in mind that there are many different types of presentations:
- Any work meeting between two people might involve an element of presentation.
- Making a speech at a conference, seminar, department meeting, or any other event.
- Sales, marketing, and investment pitches – to any number of external clients.
- Presentations can be persuasive, instructive, inspiring, or informative.
- Read from a script, memorized, or given impromptu.
No matter what the nature of your presentation, the following presentation skills will help you feel more confident in your message and ensure that your audience will retain more of what you need them to remember.
12 presentation skills to master
When you contemplate the need to give a presentation, the following key skills should steer you along the right path. There is no such thing as a perfect presentation (communication can always be improved) – you just need to reach most of your audience with the majority of what you have to say. Perfect is the enemy of good when you stand up to present.
Match the medium to the occasion
Presenting at a conference or pitching to investors would be strange without an informative PowerPoint slide deck to back up your claims. You likely wouldn’t use PowerPoint in a wedding speech or in the weekly update slot during a Zoom team meeting. Choose your presentation medium to fit the occasion.
Keep your message clear
It is a fact of communication that you can always say more. Too many presentations contain too much content in the hope that the audience will get the message. Give your audience more credit. They likely understand more than you assume so keep your message clear and powerful. Don’t bombard them with content – trust them to fill in the gaps.
Adopt a passionate tone
If you don’t feel excited by your subject matter, you cannot possibly expect your audience to engage. So, find something in the material to be excited about. And then tell the story with excitement in your voice – as if you have only just discovered the secrets and are bursting to tell people about them.
Speak to your audience
This might sound obvious, but you should write your presentation for your audience rather than for yourself. Tailor its content toward their level of knowledge of the subject. Think about their perspective – why would they be interested in what you have to say? You will only engage them if you make them think and add to what they already know.
Embrace your inner storyteller
The best stories take the audience on a journey and connect with them on an emotional level. Think about whether your audience is going to be hanging on your every word. Will they be wondering what comes next? The best stories embrace mystery and ask difficult questions, whilst sticking to a couple of core messages.
Be ready to change your approach
Sometimes presentations do not go as you intended. You lovingly prepare a 20-slide deck, but by slide five you see that you are losing your audience. Do you carry on for another fifteen or do something completely different to get people back in the room? Few people will know that you had another 15 slides. Change it up to win back a bored audience.
Retain the audience’s attention
In most presentations, the audience is there because they want to hear from you. Even work colleagues invited to a presentation generally have a reason to be there. Such audiences start out hopeful of receiving some useful information presented in an engaging way. Work hard in those first few minutes to reassure them this will be the case.
Be brave and incorporate humor
There is nothing scarier than attempting a joke in front of an audience, but there it’s incredibly engaging when a few people laugh with you. Even a moderate attempt at humor can reinvigorate the audience and get them listening to you again. Keep the jokes simple, steer clear of any controversial topics and test the jokes before you speak.
Be aware of filler sounds
“Um, er, well, you know.” There are many filler words and phrases that clutter up any speech or presentation and add no value whatsoever. If the speaker is nervous or unsure about their material, half of the presentation will be filled with these pauses. If you are going to take a mental breath, fine, but don’t say anything. Silence is powerful.
Don’t run out of time
Time management is a critical presentation skill. If you feel that you are running out of time it means that you are not going to be able to convey the full extent of your messages. It also means that you may feel rushed to cram everything in. When you prepare a presentation, remember that less is more. Your audience is intelligent enough to fill in the gaps.
Importance of images and visuals
A picture tells a thousand words. The right picture in a presentation can spark all the right connections in your audience’s heads. A graph can hit home far harder than a couple of sentences of hyperbole. When a visual pops up on the presentation screen, people automatically sit up to take notice. Their first question: why is it there?
Embrace your anxiety
There is a fine line between anxiety and excitement. You often need some adrenaline flowing through your veins to wake up the audience at the start of a presentation, so embrace that nervous energy. Or would you rather retreat into your shell and walk out onto that stage with an apologetic and hesitant demeanor? Channel those energetic vibes.
How to prepare for a presentation
Preparing for a presentation is not just about knowing your speech by heart.
While every presentation should be familiar, the ability to riff and explore tangents is central to any engaging speech. Your audience will sense when you are being spontaneous. When they don’t quite know what is coming next, they will keep listening. If your presentation is boring and predictable, they will start to scroll their socials.
When you come to writing the speech, do the groundwork to understand your audience and research your messages (with the wider issues around them). Back up your messages with stories, statistics, and imagery. People absorb information more effectively when it is presented in a different context. Don’t machine gun them with endless facts.
The third part of presentation preparation is visualization. Think about every aspect of the day in advance – your trip to the venue, your interactions with the organizers, and the moment of stepping out in front of the audience. Then picture yourself giving your speech in real-time from the point of view of someone in the audience. Be honest with yourself. What do you notice? What could you change? Do you make the audience feel comfortable?
The final skill of preparing for a presentation is knowing when you have prepared enough. You can exhaust your mind by practicing something too much, so draw a line when you know the speech well enough. That freshness and novelty will be transmitted to the audience – stay on the edge of not quite knowing it perfectly.
If you have prepared well enough, getting psyched up in those moments before the presentation will be easy. Come on, let’s go, you’ve got this.
Those ten minutes (or however long) of presentation will require a whole lot more time, effort, and thought to make the most of the opportunity to share your message with a receptive audience. Here is a quick recap:
- Tailor your presentation to the occasion and the audience.
- Share your stories with clear messages and a passionate tone.
- Take your audience with you – be flexible to change tack if needed.
- Think carefully about how your audience will interpret your visuals
- Prepare for the stress – embrace your anxiety and present with energy
- Lastly, and maybe most importantly, enjoy it!
Presentation skills improve with practice. Seize any opportunity to present to an audience. You never know when this experience will be called upon again.