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PRESENTATION SKILLS: Ten Ways To Improve Your Presentation Skills

It’s no secret that while almost every job has some kind of speaking or presenting component to it, a majority of Americans hate doing it.  Whether it’s the traditional presentation or making those god-awful cold calls, our job demands us to stretch outside our comfort zone at times.

As we look at public speaking, in whatever facet, how is that some of us are so terrible at it, while others make it look so darn easy?  We each have our own tips and tactics that we use to overcome nervousness, maximize our PowerPoints, or just make it through the presentations, but even then, we can typically identify those characteristics that can be the tipping point from taking a boring or mediocre presentation and turning it into one that is remembered.   Whether it’s mechanical as in the development of the presentation or materials, or humanistic in that it’s how the materials are delivered, there are dozens of opportunities throughout our typical business day to hone our skills to become better presenters.

Here are ten tips that will help you overcome anxiety, develop a presentation that is memorable, and deliver it to the best of your ability.  Before we jump into these ten tips we must first understand that the key to effective presenting isn’t about ridding yourself of all deficiencies.  It’s about neutralizing those tendencies that detract from your presentation and maximizing those that enhance your presentation – so stop worrying about being perfect.  I want to encourage you to work towards your strength, and simply control your idiosyncrasies so that they don’t overpower.  Imagine that you’re cooking a casserole; it’s five minutes before your family shows up, and you accidentally dump too much salt into your dish.  You don’t have the time to start over, so what do you do?  If you’re my girlfriend you might throw the dish out and call the local pizza shop… or, you could simply add honey to the dish to balance out the dominating spice.  Presenting is like this in many ways – adding additional components to balance out the dominating characteristics.

With that being said, let’s get started.

Numero Uno – Presenting shouldn’t be one big event. Repetition and consistency are what helps us become comfortable in our own skin.  If your focus is only on one presentation that occurs one or two time per year, like maybe a board retreat or an annual meeting, then you will continue to stay at your current level.

2. Identify what you are good at and build your presentation around it. For me, I’m good at ad-libbing.  Unfortunately not every presentation can be a casual, impromptu conversation, but it helps me to know that I can fall back on my strength if I get stuck.

3. Begin with the end in mind. Figure out what you want your presentation to do for you.  Does it need to persuade, inform or inspire?  Knowing this will help you develop a presentation with the necessary components. For example, one that’s meant to persuade will most likely need some fact-based evidence included in it and probably something that tells people the consequences they might encounter if they don’t adjust. Likewise, if I want to inspire someone, it will be much more about talking to possibilities and achievements, while also giving them a clear vision of where we are headed. Imagine if John F. Kennedy had shared his concern about the U.S. lacking a space program without ever saying, “We will go to the moon!” It might have sounded something like this: “The Soviet Union has beaten us to outer space.”

4.  Keep it simple. So often we think the more sophisticated the program or the more intricate the PowerPoint, the better the presentation.  Interestingly enough, one of the most memorable presentations I’ve ever seen was white lettering on a black background. I remember seeing it and thinking, this just looks sleek, clean and sophisticated. When I teach our presentations skills class, the number one thing that trips people up is that the presentations that are developed are too complicated for the topic and the presenter.  During the session participants are asked to develop a five minute presentation, which according to most standards, deserves about two and a half slides in a PowerPoint.  So you can imagine my thoughts when they show up with PowerPoints that have ten and 15 slides.  This understanding isn’t just related to PowerPoint, but all aspects of presenting.  The simpler the components of a presentation are, the more opportunity one has to enhance the presentation by using more natural skills, such as humor, storytelling, voice modulation and hand gestures. Something to take note of, unless you are presenting on the use of PowerPoint: remember that it is simply a program to enhance the experience. It is not THE experience.

5. Don’t wing it, but don’t memorize. On a continuum these two are the polar opposites of one another.  People who simply wing it, will find that their presentations lack the substance that is required for the audience to perceive the presentations as value-added. Likewise, those that memorize find it hard to adjust if something unexpected happens, like a question from the audience.  My suggestion is to memorize the important parts.  Instead of trying to capture the entire presentation in your mind, find those sections that are the most complicated, or even where you typically trip up.  Those are the sections you should be memorizing in terms of how the conversation should flow.  Memorizing word for word is hard because as soon as something interrupts your concentration, you’ll lose your place.  Plus, those presentations that are the most memorable are when the presenter is able to play off the audience.

6. Speak in questions. Whether you’re presenting or just at work, this tip should be planted on your computer screen.  Speaking in questions minimizes defensiveness and opens the door to learn more about the intent of the other individuals.  When it comes to public speaking there are two types of presenters: Those that see themselves as experts and others who believe their role is facilitate the conversations.  If you are the latter, then your purpose is to ensure that the presentation environment is conducive to asking question and exploring possibilities.  You cannot do this if you always speak in statements.  The question is the most powerful tool when it comes to persuading others.  Did you know that master persuaders ask 2.7 times more questions?  That being said, average presenters ask six questions, while great presenters ask 16.

7. It’s about quality, not quantity. One of our biggest challenges at New Directions is that we get excited about a topic and want to share all the information we have on a topic with our audience.  Unfortunately, the result of that is a presentation that is so jam packed with information that it prevents us from being able to completely dive into each area fully, and participants walk away feeling overwhelmed with all the information.  My advice to you is to pick one nugget of information that you think would be beneficial and focus your presentation around that.  Remember, you are presenting on a topic you’ve given weeks and maybe months of thought to, while your audience is seeing it for the first time.

8. Talk the Talk – yes ‘talk’. 40% of your presentation’s effectiveness is dependent upon the rate, tone and pitch of your voice.  Respectively, 55% is based on body language leaving only 5% for content of the presentations.  That being said, where do you spend most of your time preparing?  On content?  Because that’s where most people spend the majority of their time preparing.  Break out of that mold and flip your style so that you’re giving the necessary time to preparing your voice and body language.   Yes your presentation needs to have value-added content in it, but for the audience member, a great presentation is more about the presenter and less about the material.  Just keep that in mind the next time you prepare a presentation.

9. Treat presenting like your job, because it is. If you see presenting as a part of your job, you’re less likely to minimize it. Imagine you were the executive of a major corporation and you told a major stakeholder that s/he would need to fax you the information because you don’t use email.  That’s just not acceptable anymore. So if you’re actually willing to commit to perfecting your presentation skills, then start with the little things and work your way up.  A great place to start is with your boring and unoriginal voicemail message that sounds like you woke up at 5AM and decided that would be a good time to record your personal voicemail message.  Once you’ve mastered that, then work on how you’re going to leave voicemails for other, and then work on telling a story at lunch, and so on.  Do you bring your work home with you, whether it’s physically or even if you just allow it to take up space in your head?… rent free might I add.  Then you need to be willing to give your presentation skills that much thought as well.

10. Practice, practice, practice – But do it with flare. If you’re not practicing out loud and standing up, then you’re not really practicing.  People who practice in their heads tend to be 1.5 times longer when they actually have to present.  I know it sounds foolish, but practicing is the number one thing that will prevent anxiety and it will ensure that you are able to handle that curve ball that gets thrown at you during your presentations, like someone asking you to fill an extra twenty minutes of time, or if your PowerPoint doesn’t work.  I can’t convince you to practice; you just have to get to a point where you’re tired of mediocre presentations and then you will practice out of necessity.

That’s it, go forth and conquer the presentation realm… or at least feel a little bit better about the next time you have to present.  If you’re struggling with some aspect of your presentation, give me a call. I’d be happy to chat with you and develop some tactics to improve your skill.  Also, if you have some tips of your own, please share them with the group.


Needing help with your presentation skills?  Or, maybe you have a team of sales people, engineers, scientist – people who critically need to get their message and presentation across to decision makers.  Let us come along side and help you build an army of great presenters – we’ve been doing for 30 years!

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