Very few people are born with the natural charisma and confidence that it is assumed great presenters possess. It would be unreasonable to expect a child to learn to ride a bike immediately, or for anyone new to a sport to excel at it from day one. Presenting is a skill like any other and requires hard work and practice to master. This is good news, because it means anyone can learn how to become a better presenter.
Often individuals who think they are poor presenters simply have not had an opportunity to present and to learn how to improve. Presenting is certainly one of those skills that is learned through practice – you could read all the books in the world about giving an excellent presentation, but your presenting skills will only improve by putting theory into practice.
This might seem a scary thought. Public speaking and presenting often cause a certain amount of anxiety, even in experienced presenters. It is worth remembering that this is completely normal, after all, we are all human, not robots. With presenting being key to many influential roles in today’s business world, it is best not to shy away from it, but embrace the chance to develop your skill.
Fears, such as worrying your mind will go blank, being afraid of boring your audience, or that you will be asked a question you don’t know the answer to, can often be boiled down to a fear of embarrassing yourself in front of others. If this rings true for you, think back to presentations you have sat through. Can you think of a time when any of these things happened to another presenter? Chances are you can’t, as it isn’t especially memorable when someone forgets their place when giving a presentation before picking it back up again a few moments later. For the presenter, that brief moment can feel like an eternity, but for an audience it just isn’t that much of a big deal.
We recently gave a presentation at a networking event, and while we don’t profess to be experts at presenting, we thought we would share what we learned in the process.
When presenting you want to feel relaxed, the best way to feel relaxed is to feel confident, and the best way to feel confident is to prepare well. When we think of presenting, we think of the part where we stand up and deliver our presentation before an audience. We don’t often think of the research and preparation that goes in to a presentation, yet it is vital to its success.
Preparation might involve researching an industry, observing trends, conducting a literature review, finding and analysing data, and extracting the information that most supports the message you intend to convey.
Nobody likes being lectured to, so consider opportunities within your presentation for engaging with your audience. Inviting your audience to think, reflect, ask questions, or feedback from their own experiences are good ways of encouraging your audience to participate. If you think you might be distracted by being asked questions throughout your presentation, let your audience know at the beginning that there will be time for questions and answers at the end.
Preparation might also involve creating a PowerPoint, or writing notes on index cards to help prompt you when you deliver your presentation. Keep text to short bullet points on a PowerPoint as your audience will not have time to take in too much information as you progress through each slide. Distributing printouts of your slides at the start of your presentation will allow your audience to focus more on what you are saying than scribbling down rushed notes. If you are writing index cards, use one card for each main idea and connect them with a tag or piece of string so they cannot fall out of order.
The more familiar you are with your material, the more confident you will feel, and the more you will be able to win your audience’s trust and confidence. Practicing your presentation to a point where you have a good understanding of the order of your material will be very helpful if you experience any distractions on the day, as you will be more likely to be able to pick up where you left off.
Running through your presentation in your head will only get you so far. Standing up and delivering your presentation out loud will help you to get used to hearing your own voice filling a room and encourage you to think about your posture and body language in advance of your presentation. Once you have tried this a few times, ask another colleague, friend, or family member to watch you present. You might feel a little silly, but wouldn’t you rather find out you are talking too fast or making them feel seasick by swaying from side to side in advance of your big presentation and while you still have time to make adjustments?
Don’t undermine your confidence before you begin by arriving late. Plan to arrive early, with plenty of time to set up and familiarise yourself with the room. With excitement and nerves buzzing through you, it is important to make a conscious effort not to rush your presentation. Remember no one will complain if you are too loud, but your audience will quickly switch off if they cannot hear you, so speak loudly and clearly.
Make eye contact with your audience as much as possible to engage and connect with them – looking at the floor or ceiling will look like boredom or rudeness, which is not what you want to convey. It is perfectly okay not to know all the answers to everything. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, you will gain more credibility by admitting this than by blustering a response.
Presenting can be a fantastic opportunity to show your passion for a subject, and demonstrate your expertise, so don’t be afraid to give it a go. Finally, remember that by and large, audiences are generous, are on your side, and want you to do well too.