presentation tips and tricks

Steve Jobs was recognized as an outstanding public speaker. Photo credit: James Mitchell

Your heart starts pounding. Your palms are sweating, and your blood pressure is rising. You feel like you’re going into a war. That’s what happens when you’re about to deliver a presentation.

The thought of speaking before a group can frighten even the bravest people.

This advice from presentation experts can reduce your tension and help you deliver a performance that wows.  

Know your audience. You can gain your listeners’ trust if you understand their language, priorities and troubles. Your talk will be memorable if you connect your theme to a major issue your audience faces. Scanning industry headlines the day of your talk can also help you avoid an embarrassing issue.

Prepare. Extensive preparation — including research, anticipating difficult questions, and practicing your delivery – can help calm your nerves and decrease chances for an unexpected event. When you finish your preparation, imagine yourself giving the presentation in as much detail as possible, starting from when you are introduced. You might think of something you forgot to address during your preparation. When you give your actual presentation, you’ll feel as if you’ve done it before.

Relax. Once you’ve prepared the presentation and practiced its delivery, relax and accept that you can’t control everything. The audience probably can’t see how nervous you are. Blank faces in the audience don’t mean that they’re not listening.

Pause. Rather than starting to speak the instant you reach the stage, pausing to smile and glance around the room reassures the audience and indicates your poise and control.

Smile. Smiling shows that you are comfortable and friendly and can help endear you to the audience. Remaining stiff can bore an audience.

Move. Exaggerated hand movements show confidence and openness. To notice your hand movements and body language, videotape a practice presentation and play it back on mute.

Look at them. Eye contact engages an audience. Focus on individuals and small groups around the room a short time. By avoiding eye contact or continually scanning the room, you will fail to gain trust.

Keep a consistent format. Switching formats between different slides can distract the audience. Sticking to consistent fonts, colors and layout helps the audience absorb information.

Start with a conclusion. Tell the audience your conclusion at the beginning, and then support that takeaway during your talk. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them. It’s a proven presentation strategy that provides listeners a structure that helps them organize their thoughts.

Reinforce with visuals. When you deliver a point, reinforce the thought with an image. Superimpose a word or phrase over a relevant and memorable image that drives home your message.

Keep it simple. Providing too much information can overwhelm listeners. Instead, focus on three major points. Eliminating less significant points from presentations is as important as making and repeating key points.

Tell a story. Telling a story makes a message memorable. Stories help people process and explain information. The story, of course, should illustrate a key point in the presentation. Ideally, listeners will repeat the story later.

Make them laugh. People typically have difficulty paying attention for over 10 minutes straight. Humor is a superb technique for retaining their attention. Industry jargon, by contrast, can put them to sleep.

Studying the most most-viewed presentations at TED Conferences can help you understand how effective presenters apply these principles of public speaking. We especially recommend watching Amy Cutty, Dan Gilbert, and Steve Jobs.

Bottom Line: Delivering presentations can be a nerve-wracking experience. Thorough preparation with rehearsals, use of visuals with impact, conveying a sense of friendliness and openness, staying on message and using relevant stories to illustrate important messages are the keys to a successful and memorable presentation.


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