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Lisa-Marie Hatcher, September 14 2020

How to Improve Your Presentation Skills

Presentation skills do not come naturally to most of us. In fact, Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is one of the most widespread phobias, affecting almost 75% of the population. The all-eyes-on-you effect may certainly bring some anxiety and may get your heart racing. However, the trick is not to allow the fear to take over and become discernible in your body language and speech. 

The good news is that the art of presentation may be acquired and slowly incorporated. A little preparation and a lot of practice go a long way to help us fight our fears and improve our presentation skills.


Research is the Key!

A confident speaker is the one who knows her subject matter well and is therefore not scared of floundering during the presentation. Knowing your topic well helps you to improvise in case you go off the script and builds confidence that shows in your voice and body language.

Know your Audience

It is very important to research and know your audience to ensure a connection with them. Identifying with your audience helps you to hone your presentation according to their interests and understanding and to engage them purposefully. Once you have a connection with the audience, the fear itself takes a backseat.

Structure your Presentation

Going with the flow is good, but it is always advisable to structure your presentation. An introduction, a body, and then the take-home or the call to action is the basic arrangement in most presentations. Engage your audience right at the beginning when they are the most receptive! Let them know the value adds of your presentation to ensure their attention. A captivated audience and a confident speaker build on each other.

Incorporate the Art of Storytelling

Stories not only engage your audience but also help you relax. Create a story around your presentation that your audience can relate to.  This may include personal anecdotes, weaving in a bit of humor, or relating to everyday situations that draw your audience in.  A great way to incorporate storytelling into your presentation is to use literary devices like metaphor to help paint a picture of what you’re talking about.  When you paint a picture with language, it can help you make new things familiar and familiar things new. Familiarity helps create clarity and understanding. Breathing life into something already well-known helps pique people’s interest. Together, these help you capture and keep attention.

Body Language

Don’t underestimate the power of confident body language. Invite your audience you’re your presentation by having an open posture. Honestly, this is as simple as having the palms of your hands open to your audience. Make good eye contact. Speak to one person. Make sure you’re connecting with each part of the room. And above all, smile, smile, smile!!

Remember, nothing kills a presentation more than nervous gestures and shifty eyes. Practice on video. Play it back. You may be surprised at how you come across. Repeat what works. Discard what doesn’t. How many times should you practice? Some recommend as many as 10 times! Aim for at least three times. One to set the benchmark. Two to incorporate changes. And three to have something viable. And of course, practice on colleagues, friends, and family and ask for honest, helpful critiques.

Involve Your Audience

A good way to involve your audience during your presentation is to ask questions.  However, these questions should be easy. The idea is to include the audience, not to test their knowledge. In reverse, if someone asks you a question during the presentation, be sure to answer it then and there. You may have set time for Q&A at the end of the presentation, but don’t let any questions wait till then.

Use Visuals Aids

When it makes sense, use visual aids to enhance your presentation. People process visuals and images much faster than they do language and words. Images well-used can help you connect. But be aware of a couple of things. First, if you have text on a PowerPoint or Keynote slide, make it short and easy to read. Second, visuals are not cue cards! Don’t use slides as a crutch. They’re meant to complement your presentation. Third, be thoughtful in the images you use and how you use them. Create a design template that aligns with your message and tone and then feed your images into that template. This helps create consistency and helps your audience follow along. 

Take Away Points

Whether it’s a pitch deck to an investor or a presentation before the board members, be sure to include a clear call to action. Before you even start working on your presentation, ask yourself two fundamental questions: (1) who’s my audience and (2) what do I want them to do? And work backwards from there. If you’ve been connecting with your audience and engaging them, the culmination of that work is your call to action. If you’ve done a good job, people will want you to ask something from them. Being asked to do something, especially something meaningful and relevant, is one of the best ways to feel included. People want to feel included. They want to belong.

Be Prepared

Be ready for anything to go wrong on the stage!  Poor Wi-Fi connection, cracking sound system, and laptop connectivity issues often plague presentations. Be prepared with a backup or a Plan B (like a printed paper copy) to cater to these issues. Don’t let these minor tech issues cause you to panic.  Keep short notes or cue cards to help you stay on track during the presentation and your audience will be impressed with your confidence.

Practice, Practice, and Practice some more!

And don’t forget, the adage that “practice makes preparation.” I bet you were expecting me to say, “practice makes perfect?” But here’s the thing: part of what increases anxiety is a feeling that something is beyond your control—out of your hands.

What helps create confidence is the feeling that you’re managing things—you’re in control. And that’s where good preparation comes int! Preparation stabilizes those jitters and invites confidence. Practice may or may not end in perfection but it will always help with preparation.

Keep Calm and Connect!

That’s it. You’re practiced, prepped, and ready to go. If you need help with your next presentation, especially if you want to infuse some memorable takeaways, we here at communicate4IMPACT are ready to help! You can reach us at https://communicate4impact.com/ to learn more!

Written by

Lisa-Marie Hatcher

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