Gregory S. DuPont
Improving Your Presentation Skills
Business owners who make frequent presentations have worked hard in developing their skills; however, those who speak in public only occasionally may be much less confident when they find themselves having to make a presentation before clients, for professional colleagues, or at a conference.
When thinking about how you can make your presentations more compelling for your audience, consider trying some of the following approaches:
Pace yourself. If you speak too quickly, you run the risk of losing your audience along the way. Practice speaking slowly and clearly, pausing frequently to allow audience members to absorb the points you have just made. If you are using slides, keep in mind that squeezing three or four important points onto a single slide can overwhelm the audience. Include only small amounts of quickly digestible information on each slide, checking that each slide is easy to read as it is shown on the screen.
Be brief. Make each point as succinctly as possible, using clear and concise language. Remember that, if you are bored reading the lines you plan to deliver, the chances are good that your audience will be too.
Focus on your audience. Don’t spend the presentation staring at your notes or at the screen. Look at the audience, catching their eyes and acknowledging their presence. Project your voice in the direction of your listeners, not at the wall or at the screen.
Keep it as light as possible. Even if the subject of your presentation is serious, try to bring in a bit of humor and levity. Smile often and include some funny images in your slides. Use less formal language when appropriate, and avoid legal jargon when you can.
Tell stories. While jokes sometimes fall flat, good stories and anecdotes almost never do. People are trained from an early age to enjoy and understand stories; they are more likely to relax and listen when a tale is told than when information is explained didactically. Presenting abstract points in story form can be an excellent method for communicating even the most complex messages. Stories also provide the speaker with the opportunity to bring in emotional content that can prove particularly compelling to listeners.
Give the audience something to look at. When making a presentation with slides, use colorful images and lively fonts to illustrate your points. There are plenty of online resources for downloading photos and artwork that can be used in a presentation, either for free or at a small cost. If it is practical to do so, use props that reinforce the spoken messages.
Encourage audience participation. Asking for responses from the audience is a great way to keep their attention. Audience members who are interacting with the speaker are not daydreaming or trying to do other things.
Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. If there are certain points you especially want the audience to internalize, find ways to make the same point several times without becoming tedious. You can weave the point through the presentation, raising it in several places using different words or a catchy slogan that you have formulated as a theme of the presentation.
Practice your presentation. After all the materials have been prepared, rehearse delivering the presentation. If possible, ask a friend or coworker to observe and give feedback. You may also want to consider videotaping the rehearsal and viewing it critically.
Learn from others. Even if public speaking does not come naturally to you, your presentations do not have to remain flat and lifeless. For inspiration, watch videos of speakers making presentations on subjects similar to yours. Observing the pacing, tone, and body language of effective speakers can help you to improve your own style. If public speaking becomes an important part of your job, take a training course or work with a professional coach to hone your presentation skills.