Your presentations skills are just as important as the information you are presenting.
Whether your presentation is for educational purposes, a PTA meeting, a motivational talk or to take advantage of a business opportunity, there are basic elements that must be effective in order to engage and connect with your audience.
How To Improve Your Presentation Skills
1. Know your audience
Understanding the needs of your audience can help you tailor your presentation to target their interests. What is the message you are trying to convey? Is the intention for it to be educational, informative, motivational, inspiring, to sell something, to challenge people’s viewpoints, a call to action, or a combination of intentions. Is it industry-specific, community-related, promoting fundraising, political in nature, interactive or for actuating self-improvement?
The type of message you are trying to convey will shape every aspect of your presentation, from the content, the content format, and the presentation style. The same topic can take on different intentions which will then require the presenter to make the necessary changes for each respective audience. One of your primary objectives is to keep the audience engaged so that they are fully open to the message you are presenting.
2. Strong Opening
The Presentation opening should be something that makes an emotional connection with the audience. It can be a story, a question or a shocking or revealing statistic. That connection should create anticipation of wanting to learn more about your subject matter.
3. Less is More
The heart of your presentation should not be to tell them everything that you know. It is important to stick to succinct points. You fill in some information between the lines and provide them with the greater context. Pictures and short videos can convey much more information than a lot of words. In the cases where there is a handout, do not simply read the words off the slides, we are assuming most people can read, and that is not what you’re there for. Keep focus on the main points and the desired outcome of the presentation.
We live in a very distracted society, so if your presentation is too wordy and doesn’t flow, your audience will be more interested in their Smartphone than what you have to say, even if what you’re presenting is worth its weight in gold.
4. An even stronger Closing
The opening may have gotten your audience’s attention but they may have wandered when going through the finer details of your topic. The best way to recapture their attention, especially when approaching the questions phase is by summing up all of your main points as concisely as possible and leaving them with a question or something to reflect on. What was the ultimate purpose of this presentation? And the answer to that is what the audience should be left with.
5. Practice makes excellence
Since there is no such thing as ‘perfect’, the goal is to know your material well enough so that you can speak to the subject when questions come or if there are technical difficulties and you cannot totally rely on the information in the electronic presentation (or teleprompter). An added skill is to have the ability to steer the conversation to constructive thought, reflection, reasoning and fruitful questioning.
Make sure you know the timing of your presentation so that time doesn’t run out especially when you get to the key areas of message conveyance. Create a contingency plan or ‘escape route’, that if time has to be cut for some reason, you know what lesser details to skip over, to get to the final points at the heart of your message.
That has happened to me several times and knowing where ‘the parachute’, as I call it, was located, saved many a presentation.
Be aware of your tone, pace, timing, speaking volume, and the dreaded uhms-and-ahs. If you start out slow and then speed up at the end, the tendency is to roll-over key information and possibly lose the audience. A good suggestion is to assign someone in the front row to provide clear signaling, with hands or signage, to let you know if they detect a problem or if something is not being received well.
For Body Language, make eye contact when possible, don’t slouch, and be aware of any body movements that could be distracting to the audience. Make sure all of the props and technology are within an arm or step’s reach. Don’t stand in front of or move in and out of a projector’s light—that is HIGHLY DISTRACTING to the audience.
And most importantly —-SMILE!!!
7. Are there any Questions?
Being prepared to answer questions plays a major role in appearing credible to your audience. This requires there to be time at the end to do so. That’s why timing is so important. Make sure that your presentation can be shortened to allow for that critical question time at the end. Whenever possible, take a few questions in the middle, to allow the presentation to be more interactive and gives you a chance to gauge the audience’s mood, knowledge and responsiveness. And in the event you run out of time, at least some of the audience’s questions would have been fielded.
Being able to convey a message or concept to a group of people, large or small is more than a skill, I believe it is an art. And you can only get better by doing it again and again—trial and error. Also, watching and listening to good and great presenters, to understand what makes an audience respond to them so well. And equally as important, is being present and aware of what you are doing and how you are being received by making eye contact with members of your audience, especially if you can get them engaged.
Remember, know your subject, understand the needs of your audience, less is more, keep practicing, be present, and be aware of your delivery. And always leave a final point or question or two at the end to resonate with them after the presentation is over.