Do you remember the last time you spoke or presented something in public, to a group of total strangers? What happened? Did you ace it like a seasoned public speaker? Or were you sweating, stuttering and shaking like the great majority of amateur presenters? Sorry, if that question brought back bad memories, but whatever happened then, it’s all in the past. Today, you’re going to turn over a new leaf. In this article, I’m going to show you how to improve your presentation skills and finally speak in public like a boss!
- Chapter 1: Preparing For Your Presentation
- Chapter 2: Building Your Confidence
- Chapter 3: Polishing Your Presentation
- Chapter 4: Presentation Day
- Final Thoughts On How To Improve Your Presentation Skills
Chapter 1: Preparing For Your Presentation
Obviously, the first thing you need to do if you want to ‘wow’ your audience is to prepare for your presentation. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. If you don’t get all the details straightened out, then you’ll find it an uphill battle to achieve success.
Step 1: Define your presentation goals
So, first things first. If you want to capture your audience’s attention (and yes, you’re presenting for your audience’s benefit, not yours), then you need to identify or define your presentation goals.
Here are some of the most common presentation goals (and sample calls to action) for business presentations:
1. To inform and educate
If you want your audience to know more about a particular subject, then this is the kind of presentation you want to give. Some examples include presenting your project to managers and CEOs, giving lectures at school, and the like. You’re delivering facts, so you need to know your topic very well.
Due to the broad nature of informational presentations, your call to action could be anything you like. You can ask your audience to visit your website, fill out a survey, or give a pop quiz, etc.
2. To persuade and convince
If you’re trying to get people to buy your product or service, or you want them to invest in your startup, then this will be your presentation’s end goal. You’re going to show the problem first, cite examples on how the problem affects their lives, then present the solution.
A good persuasive presentation will have a mix of facts and logic, and have a good dose of emotions thrown in. A common call to action for these kinds of presentations will be to ask your audience to sign up, try or buy your product or service.
3. To inspire and motivate
Inspiring your audience and motivating them to do something is another possible goal for your presentation. Often, presentations like this can get extremely personal, and it’s easy to get emotional and passionate about your topic.
The most common calls to action for this type of presentation is to ask the audience to think about what you said, or to join your movement or organization, or something along those lines.
Step 2: Know your audience
Knowing who your audience is plays a key role in helping you improve your presentation skills. If your audience responds favorably to your presentation, then you can safely say you’ve succeeded. However, if most of your audience members weren’t paying attention while you were on stage, can you still say the same thing? That your presentation was successful? I think not.
So, how do you ensure your audience is going to like your presentation? Here are a few ways:
1. Find the common denominators that tie your audience together
What do all of them (or at least the majority) have in common? Is it a love of dogs, or do they have a common belief about something? Whatever it is, figure it out. If you’re speaking at a conference, you can ask the organizers for more information about your audience.
2. What do you have in common with your audience?
Finding common ground between you and your audience will help you present content that everyone will find enjoyable. You’ll be able to deliver your examples and stories more naturally since it’s something you personally already know about.
3. What’s in it for them?
How will your audience benefit from your presentation? Think of pain points you can address during your presentation, and hit them hard with it. Point out how your product, service, or ideas can change their lives for the better.
4. What do they know or expect about your presentation?
If you’re talking to experts in your field, then you don’t need to waste their time by defining every technical term you’re using. However, if you’re speaking to newbies or total strangers to your field, then you should try to simplify your language and your presentation, so they can all relate to what you’re saying.
Now that you know who your audience is going to be, it will be easier for you to create content that they’ll find interesting, content that will actually matter to them!
Step 3: Preparing your content
At this point, you know what your presentation’s goal is and who your audience members are. Now, it’s time to start preparing your content. Here’s how:
1. Research your topic
Learn everything there is to know about your topic. You can go online, visit the library, conduct expert interviews, etc. You want to be seen as an ‘expert,’ or at least someone knowledgeable enough about the topic.
Depending on the difficulty of your topic, you may need to allot several hours to a few days to thoroughly understand everything. When you know your topic like the back of your hand, then it’s going to be easier for you to write your speech and structure your presentation’s flow.
2. Create an outline of your speech
Your outline will give you a bird’s eye view of how your presentation is going to flow. You can see which areas you need to focus on, and you can streamline your presentation to make sure you don’t go beyond your allotted time.
Pay special attention to your introduction because this is where you need to make an impression on your audience. This is where they decide if you’re worth listening to or not. Inform your audience what they’re going to learn throughout your presentation – why it’s relevant to them and why it’s important they pay attention.
When you get to the main body, it’s important to mention only the key points. You don’t want to bore your audience with all the tiny details. Give the most important points and use sub-points to discuss what goes on in each main point. Use examples or tell stories for each of your main points. It’s easier for your audience to retain information this way. If you need to include charts and graphs, then annotate that in your outline, but put a note that you should only include the most relevant ones (if you’ve got hundreds of charts, choose 1 or 2). Remember that for presentations, less is always more.
Lastly, make sure you end your presentation with a bang. This is your last chance to end your presentation with impact. Summarize the key points you’ve discussed and ask your audience to follow your call to action. And make it clear to your audience that your presentation is finished. You don’t want to leave them hanging, wondering if you’re done or not!
3. Write your speech
Now, that you’ve got your outline ironed out, it’s time to get to work writing your speech. You don’t need to write it out like an essay, but try to get everything you wrote in your outline included in your speech.
Don’t hesitate to include jokes or your raw emotions in your speech (as long as you know it’s not going to offend your audience). Don’t worry about the quality of your speech at this point, it’s just a rough draft, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to rework your speech later!
4. Get feedback on your speech
Now that you’ve got your speech written out, record and time your speech to make sure it’s within your time slot. Then make changes as necessary. The next thing to do is to make a mock presentation in front of your colleagues. Ask them to point out areas you can improve on, then use their feedback to rework and perfect your speech!
Step 4: Preparing your presentation slides
Some of you may think that this step is the hardest part. You may think it’s going to take you days to create your slides and make sure they all look attractive and engaging. In the old days, that may have been true. But nowadays, there are plenty of time-saving techniques you can use to have amazing and visually stunning slides for your presentation!
Time-Saving Technique #1: Use PowerPoint templates
It’s unfortunate that templates still get a bad rap. Up until a few years ago, the assumption that all templates look like they were designed by amateurs may have been true. But now, there are tons of places where you can download high-quality and 100% free PowerPoint templates online.
For instance, you can check out our very own Template Hub right now. We add new templates every week so make sure you register for a free account, so you can start downloading your favorite templates!
Templates are special for a reason. They can literally save you hours or even days of your precious time! Instead of slaving away on your slide design, you can simply download a nice template, insert your content, and you’re good to go! No need to tear your hair out from frustration (non-designers can very well relate to this!).
Time-Saving Technique #2: Use a service like 24Slides to redesign your slides
If you’ve got time to kill and you feel like designing your slides on your own, then, by all means, do so. However, if you feel unhappy with your output and you think you’d be better off having someone else design your slides, then our design team will be more than happy to help you out. We offer brush up (basic enhancements) and redesign services (complete transformation).
PowerPoint presentation skills training is no joke. Unless you’ve got all the time in the world, it’s better to spend your time working on your presentation and leaving the presentation slide design to the experts.
Now that you’ve got all that free time, you can start working on other aspects of your presentation, which I’m going to cover in more detail below.
Chapter 2: Building Your Confidence
The fear of public speaking is so prevalent that studies say it affects 25% of the population. Can you imagine, hundreds of millions of people are scared of presenting in public! So, you see, if you belong to this group, it means you’re not alone. But it doesn’t mean you’re going to stay there forever. You’ve already taken measures to make your speech and your slides perfect. You can’t stop now, that’s what I’m saying.
So, how do you build your confidence then? Because, chances are, this isn’t going to be your only presentation in life! Sooner or later, you’re going to give another presentation, and another, and another. You get my drift. If you’re looking to advance in your career or your business, then know that you need to learn how to improve your presentation skills, whether you like it or not!
Your presentation’s success hinges on how well you can deliver it. If you can barely speak or you look constipated, then you’re not going to get your audience’s attention (well, perhaps, but not for the right reasons).
If you look like you don’t believe in what you’re saying, meaning, you don’t sound convinced, then your audience is not going to believe you either. You’ll just be wasting everybody’s time.
Here are some effective presentation skills tips you can start applying today to help build your confidence:
1. Practice your presentation every day
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. You’ve already got your speech and your presentation. Get to know these like the back of your hand, so that no matter where you are in your presentation, you’ll know exactly what to say. You can insert some impromptu lines and still know where you left off.
You may not be able to overcome your nervousness a hundred percent, and that’s okay. If you check some TED talks, some speakers are obviously nervous. But did they stop or run from the stage? Of course not. They kept their nervousness in check and went about their business.
Your presentation doesn’t have to be perfect. Remember, it’s not about you at all. It’s about your audience. As long as you deliver your message to your audience and they receive it loud and clear, then consider your presentation a success!
2. Overcome your negativity
You may not have to look very far for your oppressors and your critics. You just need to look in the mirror. Often, the loudest voice you hear telling you that you’re crappy at public speaking is your very own self. You’re the nitpicker and the naysayer.
Every time you practice, all you see are your faults. You fail to see your progress, or if you do, you belittle it. You’ve got to put a stop to it. You can’t ever succeed at giving presentations if you think like that. Find a way to replace your negativity with positivity.
Learn to smile. Learn to appreciate and love yourself. Even if you’ve failed at presenting before, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever knock your upcoming presentation out of the park!
3. Practice positive affirmations
Positive affirmations can go a long way towards helping you improve your confidence. You’re in total control of your life. You don’t have to listen to your inner critic all the time. In fact, the best thing you can do for yourself is to silence it for good! And the best way to do that is by practicing positive affirmations.
With affirmations, you’re basically encouraging yourself to move your life in a positive direction. You can start by telling yourself, “I am a confident speaker. I will do whatever it takes to persuade my audience to believe in my message.”
Start believing in that, and you’ll soon see some positive changes in your behavior!
4. Visualize success
Just like positive affirmations, visualizing a successful presentation can help you build your confidence. If you imagine every aspect of your presentation and how your audience is going to react, then you’ll find it easier to let go of your nervousness.
You’ve got it all mapped out in your head, you just need to turn it into a reality. You know exactly what you’re going to say and you know when you’re going to move on to the next slide. You know just the right joke to tell when you see someone in the audience reacting to what you say!
Imagine your audience nodding along to whatever you’re saying. You think of them giving you a round of applause when your presentation ends. The more vivid your visualization, the easier it will be for you to make it a reality!
People listen to confident speakers, so you better get your ducks in order if you want to succeed. Whether you’re presenting in front of a small or large crowd, your confidence will help take your public speaking and presentation skills to the next level!
Chapter 3: Polishing Your Presentation
At this point, you’ve already got your speech and your presentation slides ironed out, and you’re also working on improving your confidence. Here are some additional tips you can add to your daily practice sessions. As you get closer to day zero, or presentation day, the anticipation builds up. Keep working on these ‘polishes,’ and you’ll be ready for the big day!
1. Smile like you mean it
You want to make yourself look friendly and approachable during your presentation. Smiling will help you look the part. However, take note that you don’t need to smile all the time, especially if you’re presenting somber facts or information.
When you smile at your audience, you’re basically telling them you’re there to help them out. You’re there to address their pain points or any concerns they may have about your presentation.
You can mask your nervousness with your smile. You’ll feel more positive. It’s also easier to engage your audience when you smile as opposed to frowning and looking serious all the time!
2. Using your voice effectively
It’s important to know how to modulate your voice throughout your presentation. There may be times when you need to speak loudly, or even softly, to deliver a point.
Practice speaking on a microphone and record yourself. Listen to how you sound. Do you sound a bit shrill? If you do, then you may want to lower your voice’s pitch if you don’t want to annoy your listeners.
Also, you can practice speaking at a slower pace. You don’t want to sound like you’re rapping! Speak clearly, otherwise, your message is going to get lost. You want to get your message across, right? Make sure your audience understands you perfectly.
3. Work on your pauses
Pauses don’t just serve as an interlude to catch your breath. It also serves one important purpose – it allows your audience to process what you just said and it prepares them for the next point you’re going to deliver.
A longish pause (say 5 or 10 seconds) will make your audience think. Use this time to scan your audience and make eye contact with those brave enough to look you in the eye.
During your presentation, keep in mind that you can always take a pause if you feel overwhelmed and you feel like you’re talking too fast or you’re rambling. Pauses can help you regain composure and control over your presentation.
4. Work on your body language
Your body language says a lot about you. You may not realize it, but if you don’t work on your body language, you could be sending the wrong message to your audience.
You may have nice words coming out of your mouth, but if your body says the total opposite, guess what, your audience is totally going to follow your body’s lead.
As part of your body language, you also need to work on your facial expressions. Your nervousness may cause your mouth to move on its own while keeping your face blank. If this happens, know that your audience isn’t going to take you seriously.
You need to look genuine, remember you’re speaking to real people, not robots. If you want to engage with them and get their trust, you’re going to have to interact with them naturally, like a real human being with natural facial expressions and the right posture and gestures to match!
Continue polishing your presentation – and your presentation skills training – right until your presentation day. When you do something often enough, you learn to do it by rote and by memory. When the big day comes, you’ll be ready (yes, it’s absolutely okay to feel nervous and be ready at the same time)!
Chapter 4: Presentation Day
So, the big day has finally arrived. You must be oh-so-excited by now! You’ve done the legwork, and you’ve been preparing for this day for weeks or maybe even months. Now, you’d finally get to face the audience you’ve been dying to meet all this time! Here are some important tips you need to follow on this very important day:
1. Your appearance matters
Yes, it does. Ideally, you should have planned what you’re going to wear a few days before your presentation. You don’t need to buy new clothes. If you’ve got old ones that are still presentable, then, by all means, wear those!
The most important thing is you want to look professional, and you want your audience to take you seriously. They’re not going to do that if they see you wearing something that looks like it’s been slept on and drooled on for the last 48 hours!
Putting that much importance on clothing may sound trivial. But the truth is, in business, appearance truly matters. It can make or break million-dollar deals. Don’t disrespect your audience by showing up at your worst. You’ve come this far – make sure you look your absolute best, or your hard work is going down the drain.
2. Arriving early and getting ready
It’s important to arrive at the venue early, so you can scope out the place. You’ll also have time to squeeze in a final run-through of your presentation.
You can set up your equipment and make sure everything’s working fine. You can, of course, choose to leave it to technical staff if available. But if you don’t want surprises, then it’s better to be hands-on with every aspect of your presentation.
When people start coming in, be cordial and smile at them. If you’ve got some time to burn, mingle and talk with them. It will make your presentation so much easier when you know some people in the audience. You can easily make eye contact and smile naturally at them as though they’re your long-lost friends!
3. Going onstage
So, here you are standing in front of your audience. You’ve waited so long for this moment. You’re understandably nervous. But you’ve had some time to rest and prepare since you came in early.
Take a deep breath. Try to seek out and make eye contact with the people you’ve befriended and spoken with earlier. Remember everything you’ve practiced. Gather your thoughts.
At the count of 3, begin with your introduction and let your confidence and your knowledge shine through. If you’re still feeling a bit jittery, it’s okay. You’ve practiced this presentation over and over again. Harness your nervousness into positive energy and let that flow over to your audience. You’ll appear more human and more authentic, someone they can all relate to.
While your presentation is going on, make sure you continue paying attention to how your audience is reacting to your presentation. Are they listening? Are they dozing off? Perhaps they’re glued to their smartphones?
Don’t be afraid to think on your feet. If you think they can use a good joke, then say something funny. It will help break the ice. If you want to keep them on their toes, then ask random people some questions – that will keep the rest of them on the edge of their seats! You can even try letting them stand up and stretch for a minute or two to clear their heads!
When you resume, you’ll not only feel like you’re back in control. But best of all, your audience will actually be benefitting from your presentation!
As for the dreaded question-and-answer, it really depends on the nature of your presentation. Some places want Q&A’s at the end, while for others, you’re encouraged to entertain questions while the presentation’s going on. Just make sure that you only answer relevant questions (you may get some far-off questions which serve no other purpose but eat up your time).
If you’ve done your ‘homework’ and know your topic by heart, then you really should be able to answer all relevant questions. If not, then just be honest and say you’ll look into it. You can then ask for the questioner’s contact info (after the presentation) and tell them you’ll send them an update.
When it comes to ending your presentation, make sure you use your call to action. Without it, your audience may feel lost and confused. What do you expect them to do? Make sure you answer that by asking them to follow your call to action.
Final Thoughts On How To Improve Your Presentation Skills
If you’re willing to put in the time and the effort, you can actually become really good at presenting. Presentation skills are a must-have – you’ll be valued in the workplace, people will look up to you, and best of all, you’ll be making an impact on your audience’s lives!