Whether it’s at college or work, we all need to give presentations at some point. Many people dread standing up in front of others and having to talk, let alone trying to keep your audience interested. Luckily public speaking doesn’t phase me, so here are some of my top tips when you have to give your next presentation.
How to slay your next presentation
This might sound super obvious, but it always amazes me how many people stand in front of a power point presentation and it seems like they’ve never seen the slides before. If you really want to impress, you should know your presentation inside out! This doesn’t mean that you will drone on monotonously as you recite the script off, instead, it means that you know what topics you want to cover and the key points of each. If this is an important presentation, spend an hour or two before practising giving the talk and become familiar with when you should change slides.
Also, accept that everything will go wrong just before the presentation. Always have your slides saved on a USB stick, in Google Docs and in your email. And if you are using your own laptop, make sure that you have all the wires you need to hook it up to the projector/display. Wires go missing, so having your own makes sure that you are not scrambling around college/the office trying to find spare ones.
Don’t rely on slides with lots of information
We’ve all sat through presentations when the slides contain paragraphs that the presenter is basically just reading through. If an audience can just read your presentation, there is no point in your giving it. Plus if they are reading it, they are not listening. Your slides should only contain graphics or keywords. Anything more and you are losing your audience.
Take a moment and breathe
There is a strong temptation to just start talking the second you take the stage. Fight this temptation! Instead walk on, pause and take a breath. This gives an air of confidence and cuts down on unnecessary babbling as you try to fill up the dead space before your presentation. Pausing before you start talking while looking at the audience gives an even stronger sense of confidence. It says to the audience ‘I got this!’
Don’t start by apologising
This is the worst way to start your presentation. Don’t start by saying sorry you’re nervous or by saying you didn’t have time to prepare etc. This is distracting to the audience. If you begin by saying that you are really nervous and you were dreading this presentation, suddenly the audience feels worried for you and are now concentrating on whether you will be able to get through this without crying, rather than listening to what you are actually presenting. Or if you tell them you are underprepared, now they are cringing every time you make a mistake. So never start off a presentation by making excuses. You might think by coming out and lowering expectations, that you will look better as the presentation goes on. It just makes the audience uncomfortable.
I know for some of you the thought of recording yourself practising the presentation so you can watch it and pick out issues has you screaming – ‘hell no!’ But this really is the best way to improve your public speaking skills. It was only by watching recordings of myself speaking that I realised that I overuse some words (a lot!!) and certain body movements could be distracting. If you want to level up your presentation skills, you need to do this exercise!
Use your body
Staying still can lead to boredom during your presentation. Vary it with hand gestures etc. Move around if you have space, but be careful of ‘loud’ jewellery. If chains or earrings you are wearing are dangling they can create noise that can be picked up by the microphone.
Dress in your style
If you have to do public speaking regularly, it can help to pick a style and then you won’t have to worry about what to wear. Just look at Steve Jobs who wore the same type outfit for all his major speeches. Ideally, have at least one outfit you know that you feel comfortable in, that doesn’t interfere with microphones etc. and shoes that are easy to stand/walk in. Remember you may need to walk up steps if you are on stage, so now is not the time to wear 6-inch heels if you find them difficult to wear.
Also, use clothes to your advantage. For example, I have sensitive skin so my neck goes red under stage lights so I always wear a scarf. It’s part of my signature look. Clothes should add to your confidence, not make you self-conscious.
One of my favourite podcasters Chalene Johnson always says – Your goal is to be brief, to be bright, to make it fun and be done. Remember this the next time you are faced with giving a presentation. I’d also recommend Michael Port’s book ‘Steal the Show’, which gives great actionable advice on public speaking.
Do you dread public speaking? What methods have you used to help you give great presentations? What do you struggle with? I’d love to hear your tips and issues in the comments below.