7 Tips for confident presentations

Do you present with confidence? Or maybe you’re faced with the peculiar and specific anxiety of your first presentation? Whatever your level of experience, there’s always a butterfly in the belly. And there’s always room to develop.

Covering the topic of ‘presentation skills’ in a single blog post would be… ambitious; a book, maybe. But what we can do here is offer a series of quick tips or insights, focused on the key issues. And if this just whets your appetite for exploring further, we offer an opportunity to do just that at the end. Meanwhile, the tips…

  1. Content – What are you going to tell them? What they need to know. What do you want to achieve with your presentation? A sale? A decision? Increased awareness? Whatever it is, your content should fit the goal. What must they know? What should they know? What could they know (i.e. the nice-but-not-essential-to-know category).
  2. Structure – Bottom line, your structure must make sense, especially to your audience. Options include a timeline approach (present the material in a linear, chronological order), building up to a climax (the information comes in order of increasing importance), offering a problem and then a solution (a bit hurt & rescue, but effective), or increasing complexity (simple ideas first, as a foundation that you can build on).
  3. Rehearsal – The more important the presentation is, the more it helps to rehearse (yes, even if you’ve done this hundreds of times). Whether it’s alone or with a ‘tame’ audience, practice delivering the presentation. Feel the words and phrases, the key messages, get comfortable saying them. Put yourself in front of a mirror (or better, record yourself) to see things from the audience perspective.
  4. Engage your audience from the start – It’s possible your presentation isn’t a priority for the whole audience. Grab their interest from the moment your begin to speak. No, don’t tell them a joke, that’s a bit of a cliché*. A well-worn but effective technique is to focus on A, B, C… or Attention (get it), Benefits (tell them what they’ll get from listening), and Credentials (yours, why should they listen to you?). *Mind you, if there is a relevant joke, and you’re confident telling it, AND you reckon your audience will ALL appreciate it, then go for it.
  5. Flexibility – Structure and script are essential guides to have, but don’t get trapped by them. During the presentation, be aware of how the audience is reacting, see questions as feedback and input on where their interests lie. And be prepared to go off-script or edit on the hoof if necessary (e.g. after dealing with a question about costs, you might drop slide #12 but spend more time on slide #17).
  6. Show don’t tell – It’s a good principle in a movie (too much spoken explanation/exposition = yawn) and it works for presentations too. Include visuals to engage and retain audience interest. One chart is worth a thousand words.
  7. More than words – We all know that communication is more than just the words that leave your mouth. Bear in mind your posture, whether you sit or stand, your body language, your tone of voice, the look on your face as your co-presenter is speaking… it all speaks volumes and if these indicators are not consistent with the message of your words then your audience will be leaving confused.

As Mark Twain apparently said, “It usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech,” nicely illustrating the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work in preparing to stand up and speak persuasively and confidently to an audience. If this short article has prompted a thought or two, or if you have a presentation coming up and would appreciate a few pointers, Maximum Performance is offering a free, 45-minute Presentation Skills webinar on 10 September, covering what powerful presenters do and don’t do, knowing which elements of your delivery to focus on, and how to plan and structure a presentation. Or just give us a call on 01582 463460. We’re here to help!

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