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I know there must be people out there who are naturally gifted at presenting to an audience, people who ooze confidence and effortlessly show their subject matter expertise; but, I for one get nervous before each and every presentation I give and I'm not as naturally gifted as others.
I've learned over the years to bring those nerves down by making sure I'm as prepared as possible, regardless of the subject, audience size and type of people staring back with interest (hopefully!).
I've written this article to share my own experiences and how I manage my own nerves. I don't claim to be the world's best presenter, but I hope these tips help you in some way to improve your presentation skills.
These things sound obvious, but I've been at the wrong end of these in the past...
Structure – News at Ten works well.
Have you ever noticed how news is broadcast? News headlines are given first, then the story in more depth, then a recap of the headlines again. Human beings take things on board through repetition.
People are able to recall:
Conclusion – recap what you have already told them
End of Presentation Questions & Answers
The first few moments of your presentation will be the first impression your audience has of you. They will either see a confident individual who knows what they are talking about and will be keen to listen, or they will see a gibbering wreck and will have little confidence in what you are about to tell them.
"The human brain is a wonderful thing. It starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public." Sir George Jessel.
Your introductory comments should last for a few seconds only. Depending on the situation, introduce yourself, why you are there and thank your host for the opportunity to share your presentation.
Practice, practice, practice – learn your introduction word-for-word without reading from a prompt card. Practice in front of colleagues, friends or family. Ask them to time you and to let you know if you have any subconscious habits. For example, ask them to count how many times you are hesitating, saying 'em', 'eh', 'um', or fidgeting. You could even record yourself with video or audio and see if you can spot these idiosyncrasies.
Comfort notes – if you need to make notes to guide you, use really big writing you can read from the desk or lectern without picking up the notes.
If you lose your place or train of thought, don't panic. Take a pause, drink of water or throw in an engaging question if you can. A pause for a few seconds may feel like an hour to the presenter. Most people won't even notice an extra pause or two, in fact, it will likely help them digest what you are saying.
Ground rules – set the rules for your presentation from the start, i.e. switch your mobile phones off, ask questions throughout or at the end or whatever else you feel. One thing I aim to do is ask people to turn their chairs to face me, otherwise they could end up going home with a crook neck.
Your voice – speak clearly and louder than normal to help people at the back hear everything you say. Watch your pace, it's very easy to get caught up in the nerves and the moment and speak too fast. This is also important if you have a strong accent or members of your audience don't speak your language as fluently as you do.
Keep your voice up at the end of sentences or you risk sending people to sleep.
Your presence – attention is on you, make your presence felt. Stand proud and in full view of everybody if you can. If not, move around and be seen by everybody as often as you can. I'm personally never sure of whether to move around during presentations or to stay rooted to the spot; I guess this is just your own preference and how you feel on the day. I tend to go for a mixture of both.
Body language – avoid body language that gives off negative vibes, for example folding arms when being asked questions or when being challenged. This tends to show defensiveness and just doesn't do any favours for the perception your audience holds for you.
Make eye contact with people, this helps build and maintain trust.
Humour – some people are just funny and can throw in funny one-liners or great stories with confidence, but others aren't so fortunate. If your strengths aren't in delivering heart felt humour, just stick to what you are good at and comfortable with.
Never patronise any of your audience or make individuals feel awkward, stupid or the butt of a joke.
More often than not, it's just so much easier just being you.
Getting your point across – think out of the box and use as many techniques as you can to help make it stick, for example:
Less is more – less words, less slides, more pictures if you can. I try to keep to no more than four bullet points per slide, evenly spaced with as little words per line as possible. After all, you should be able to expand on each point during your presentation.
When reviewing your presentation, be honest with yourself and ask if you really need that slide. Have you already made your point elsewhere?
Colours – give a thought to those who have colour deficient eyesight. Lots of colour combinations can clash making text difficult to read for some. I prefer simple contrasting colours such as black on white.
Graphs, diagrams, data – these should be easy to read and understand, if not people will just switch off.
Special effects – these are ok if used sparingly or if there is consistency throughout. Don't try to amaze people with your PowerPoint skills using animation, clip art, SmartArt and weird colours. I tend to find this just annoys people.
"All the technology in the world will never hide a poor presentation." John Beaumont, MD, Energis Squared.
This is just my take on things after the years I've been giving presentations, I hope it helps you in some way or another.