To many, the idea of standing in front of a room full of your colleagues and giving a presentation is enough to make you want to run for the hills. But it’s likely that at some point in your career, this horror will become a reality. Even if it doesn’t, knowing how to effectively communicate (with confidence) to a group of people is an invaluable life skill.
No matter what you think you know about presentations, remember this: they’re not as bad as you think. With a bit of preparation and a belly full of courage, you too can inspire your team with your excellent presentation skills.
Read on to find out how.
Plan your talk with your audience in mind. What does your audience want to know? What can they learn from you that is unique to your experience.
Write your talk so that it unfolds logically. Think of it as a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. More specifically, the basic building blocks of a story are: introduction, rising action, climax and resolution. So, introduce your subject, have each point build on the previous one, have them all add up to a key point that is bigger than all its parts and then end your talk with a summary, and an explanation of the larger point. It may be a cliché, but try to take your audience on a journey.
Any opportunity you can get to talk in front of people will be a step towards breaking through the fear-barrier, and will give you the confidence needed to propel you onwards. Even if it’s just for a few seconds, give yourself an opportunity to see that it’s really not that bad.
Learn your talk off by heart, and make sure it runs to time. Give it to your partner, your mum…your dog! This will make you feel and act more confidently when speaking and have your talk flowing nicely. You’ll end up with a well-informed dog, too.
Even if your legs are shaking and your stomach is doing cartwheels, act as though you’re cool, calm and collected. Put on your ‘I’m confident’ disguise, and people will start to believe it. Eventually you will, too.
Don’t be afraid to be a little ambitious with the goals you set yourself. Set goals. Adjust them. Review them. Always set them a little beyond your reach so that you have to stretch. Often today’s ‘stretching’ is tomorrow’s ‘within reach’, and when you DO finally reach them, your self-esteem will sky-rocket.
When you’re out there, don’t forget to smile and look your audience in the eye. Confidence is contagious, and yours will be reassuring to your listeners. If you smile and make eye contact, you are building rapport, which helps the audience to connect with you and your subject. It also helps you to feel less nervous, because you are talking to individuals , not to a great mass of unknown people.
A few basic rules:
Use pictures – you can use pictures to clarify or focus your message, and people love having something interesting to look at, especially if they’re doing a lot of listening.
Use a sensible font size – nothing will give your audience a headache more than squinting at a tiny block of text in an illegible font. Be considerate.
Make each slide illustrate just one point – don’t throw several points out there at once. Break that list down into individual slides and illustrate each with a single word and/or image to keep them moving along.
Stay on point – it’s easy to wander into tangential stories that aren’t useful to your audience. Don’t waste their time.
Offer a handout – a handout will help your audience to keep up, it allows them to recap at the end, and is something you can really have fun with.
Use your voice effectively – varying the speed at which you talk and emphasising changes in pitch and tone all help to make your voice more interesting and hold your audience’s attention.
Use your body too – it has been estimated that more than three quarters of communication is non-verbal, so make sure you’re giving out the right messages. Make your gestures open and confident, and move naturally around the floor.
Use humour – humour endears us to people and their message, and can also put your listeners at ease. However, use it wisely – too much and your message can be lost in the jokes. Sprinkle rather than ladle.
Relax, Breathe and Enjoy
This may be easier said than done when you have a room of people waiting for you to give them the presentation of their lives, so take your mind somewhere else for a moment.
Start by concentrating on your breathing. Slow it down and make sure that you’re breathing fully and deeply.
If you can bring yourself to relax, you will present better. If you can actually start to enjoy yourself, your audience will respond to that and engage better. Your confidence will be better and your presentations will improve exponentially. So take a deep breath.