In a presentation, an audience receives the presenter first, then the message. Therefore, you need presentation skills on how to look, sound and posture as much as you need a powerful message, and an effective hardware and software system to drive it home.
Even more, since you lack the “Undo” option when presenting, you should learn how to pass messages in real time with little mishaps.
This guide offers you communication skills to help package both you (the presenter) and the message (the presentation).
Frank Partnoy in Wait: The Art and Science of Delay:
“We must build a relationship with our audience when speaking publicly or the only knowledge we risk imparting is the colour of the walls and the ticking of the clock”.
In this guide to presentation skills we will look at the following, you can jump to sections with these links below:
Your voice reveals your passion for the message and engages the audience. There are five (5) Ps to master when it comes to voice presentation skills:Project. Whether you have a microphone or not, direct your voice to the audience so that you can be heard clearly.Furthermore, take a deep breath before you begin to have enough air under your voice so that you project without sounding shaky and (or) tired.
- Pause. Silence is great – do not fear it. It attracts audience’s attention. Pause often and longer. In fact, that demonstrates confidence. Silence emphasises and pausing after a significant point highlights it. Indeed, a few vocal pauses like ‘uh’ or ‘um’ are okay. However, many of them annoy. Practice pausing silently to sound thoughtful instead of immature. Presentation skills expert Anne Miller says: “You do not persuade anyone by speaking constantly, rapidly and louder. You persuade them by saying something poignant then pausing while they absorb and consider your words”.
- Pitch. Vary your tone to avoid monotony, which might drive the audience to sleep. Speak like you are telling a terrific story to friends. Avoid exaggerated pitches.
- Pace. Don’t speak slowly. Instead, speak slightly faster than your normal speed but never too fast. Indeed, fast speakers lose the audience. Gain common ground with your audience in regards to your speed.
- Pronounce. Say words clearly. Mumbling makes it hard for the audience to understand or follow your message.
Image – It’s Pillars
Your image on stage should invite a welcoming attitude. Achieve that through:
- Visual impact. The audience makes assumptions based on dressing and grooming. Therefore, take care of hygiene and wardrobe basics. Also, work on your posture. For instance, have your shoulders back and your chest out to show confidence.
- Common Identity. While you introduce yourself, the audience looks for similarities and differences between you and them. The more you are similar, the more they identify with you and the more your message is acceptable to them. So, escalate similarities to find a common identity. Indeed, if you can, dress like the audience.
- Warm Smile. Indeed, learning to smile is one of the presentation skills you really need. A smile transports warmth from you to the audience. As a result, the audience likes and trusts you trust. Even more, a smile tells your audience you know your topic well. Indeed, every business is about people, and people like to deal with those who convey confidence, warmth and trust.
Energy – It’s Fuel
Energy is what that transforms you from a boring presenter to a fiery one. Meanwhile, energy comes from fuel. The fuel that becomes your energy when presenting is your enthusiasm for the subject matter and the presentation itself.
You need to recognise and cultivate enthusiasm for your presentation. University of London’s Dr. Jim Anderson says:
“When you deliver energetically, you distinguish yourself as an engaging speaker. You become a compelling communicator that people enjoy, admire and remember”.
In particular, use your posture to exude energy during your presentation. For instance, move away from the lectern and walk across the podium often. Also, let your hands hang at your sides so they easily move and gesture.
Much as you’ve researched facts and data, aim to tell a story, that is what people will recall. Indeed, the facts and statistics should only serve as aids in telling a story. Seth Godin, an online entrepreneur, author and public speaker, advises:
“If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report.”
A research from Stanford shows statistics are not memorable. Stories are. However, that doesn’t mean that statistics are useless in a presentation. In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip and Dan Heath have Credibility as the fourth principles of the SUCCES model of making ideas stick. They explain that it is foolproof statistics that give your story credibility, which is critical.
The entire list of the principles has Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions and Stories, which you can use to sharpen your presentation skills. So, tell a story that tap into emotions of the audience while you make it credible with thorough research.
Among the greatest presentation skills is the ability to create an emotional connection with your audience. It is the way to achieve engagement and impact. Use the following to do that:
- Open with Impact. It may be humorous, surprising, informative, challenging—anything original that works for your particular speech. You make your first impression in the introduction. It will assure the audience that what follows is worth listening to.
- Use humour, compassion, and empathy. If someone can make you smile or shed a tear, you know there’s a pretty strong emotional bond there. These emotions are the best we use to relate to one another.
- Question them. The easiest way to connect emotionally and drive more engagement amongst your audience is to question them. For instance, ask, about their experiences with your company, your products, or your service.
- Use Gestures. Use open gestures to reinforce important points and appeal to the audience. Stiffness makes one look timid, or unsure about themselves.
- Maintain Eye Contact. If you want the audience to listen to you and believe you – talk to them. Indeed, eye contact is a golden presentation skill. Look at them while you speak. Meanwhile, don’t stare at your notes, the screen, the back wall, the floor or the ceiling. Of course, you might need to glance at your notes from time to time but spend 85% of the time looking at people. Indeed, try to look directly at as many people in the audience as you can over the course of your presentation.
Aside from the presenter, three other things matter when it comes to presentation skills:
All these affect one another. The wrong audience won’t get the message even if the occasion is great and the message brilliant. On the other hand, a celebratory occasion might not be ideal for detailed report presentation, however great the speaker and the message are.
Know your Audience
For your presentation skills to serve you well, you need to know who you are talking to. This dictates the approach and language to use. Speeches to executives differ greatly from speeches meant for consumers. This, therefore, informs the design of the speech. In particular, you need to know
- What is their size
- Why they are there
- What are their demographics (age, gender, literacy or social status)
- What attitude they have towards your message
Types of audiences
- The uninformed audience — those present know little about the topic you are presenting. Indeed, they have no preconceived attitude toward the subject. Therefore, you need to inform them so that they understand it.
- The hostile audience — this is an audience that either does not like you or your message. Moreover, they know something about the topic. Therefore, you should talk with a friendly tone and emphasise on common grounds. Even more, answer to objections with facts and logic.
- The apathetic audience —Is indifferent or doesn’t care to get involved. You will need to study this audience carefully to determine the source of the indifference and how you can excite them.
- The mixed audience — this is an audience having the informed and the uninformed. Whereas the non-informed may be indifferent about the topic, the informed ones can either be receptive or hostile. When dealing this audience, be careful with facts and reach out to their emotion.
- The favourable audience — these are people who support you or your attitude and beliefs. However, do not take them for granted. Reinforce their existing attitudes and make them more grounded with facts.
In fact, treat seek information about an audience before and during the presentation as one of the presentation skills you need.
In any course on presentation skills, you will learn that your speech topic will vary depending on the occasion (celebratory, just plain fun, solemn, or professional).
A solemn occasion, calls for calm speech. On the other hand, if the occasion is fun and (or) celebratory, you may use light-hearted humour.
The setting of an Occasion can influence the ability to give a speech and the audience’s ability and desire to listen. For instance, the time of day, temperature, noises, and type of space matter. Also, the technology aids available is critical.
The Speech – know your content
We have different kinds of speeches, which suit various audiences.
The Informative Speech:
- contains new and useful information
- instructs the audience
- motivates the audience to learn the information
The Persuasive Speech
- gets your audience to take action
- changes their attitudes or beliefs
The Entertaining Speech
- is best left to professional speakers or humourists
- is the most difficult to carry off successfully
1. Have a Clear Purpose.
Start your presentation with the end in mind. This presentation skill is pegged on the fact that the reason to speak is to move people. So before you accept any invitation to speak ask this question. What do you want people to think, feel or do after you speak?
Then write your presentation to reinforce that message. Keep that purpose top of mind as you prepare and deliver your presentation.
When defining your purpose, understand that people think differently and ‘tolerate’ why they ask the questions they do. From that angle, you can design how to use their thinking to enhance your own.
2. Prepare Adequately.
Never wing your presentation or hope to think on your feet. That is courting disaster. Instead, before you speak, think about your audience. Even more, design and rehearse your presentation.
Also, arrive early to check out the room. Meanwhile, don’t forget to prepare for interruptions such as having to cut the presentation short due to time constraints. It is also important to rehearse dealing with difficult questions.
Most business related presentations will require visual aids or demonstrations. This means, you have to arrange the information in an appealing format to maintain the attention of the audience. By understanding others you can communicate in ‘their language’ better, give feedback how they need to hear it, and understand how best the information should be framed.
Preparation is key and putting the necessary time into your presentation will set you up for success.
3. Develop a Central Theme for Your Speeches.
Instead of trying to cram everything there is to know, be selective. Make a list of the key points you want to cover, eliminating the superficial. For instance, instead of presenting about inflation generally, focus on a say, ‘How inflation hurts small businesses’.
4. Select a Suitable Method of Delivery.
In order to achieve the best result, you need to use The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI). This is a psychometric assessment tool that helps determine what people prefer to think about or what they prefer not to. Many presentation skills courses, or presentation workshops do not teach it. With this tool, you can strike a balance of facts, structure, concepts and feelings to achieve the purpose of presentation. Knowing how the audience’s brains work is critical in the choice of the method you adopt.
For instance, in an informative speech, Akash Karia in Own the Room: Presentation Techniques to Keep Your Audience on the Edge of Their Seats, writes:
Give small amounts of information, repeat your key points several times during your speech; stress the principles. Generalizations and major concepts are better comprehend and retained than are details or specifics. The better the generalizations are, the better the content will be retained. If you must give a large number of details, make printed copies of the information and distribute them. If you overload your audience with details, they will tune out.
The recipe for success
On the other hand, an informative method cannot be used in a persuasive speech. In this case, as HBDI guides, you must understand them and plan your strategy. Are they uninformed, apathetic, hostile or favourable?
Turning an audience around if their attitudes and beliefs are set is unlikely. It is unrealistic to expect to change their minds with just one speech no matter how convincing you are.
In Bob Elliott and Kevin Carroll’s Make Your Point: Speak Clearly and Concisely Any Place, Any Time, you persuade your audience through:
- the factual data presentation (statistics, documentation, evidence, facts)
- basic social, biological, physiological needs, wants and desires
- your own credibility as a speaker (how to carry yourself, your position in the company or on the topic)
Successful persuasion requires a mix of the three in varying degrees.
To be more successful at your presentation select the techniques that you want to use, then make them habits in your presentation.
5. Use Words of Power in your delivery.
Pick words that convey power and resonate with the audience. Short, simple, and clear words display more power than longer words.
Dan Rothwell in Practically Speaking states:
“Love, hate, grow, kill, stop, go, are more powerful than infatuation, ill feelings, cultivation, exterminate, discontinue, departure.”
Simple phrases and short sentences have more power than long, vague convoluted meanderings.
“Our mission is to be the supplier of choice to our customers, show respect for our employees, work fairly with our suppliers, be recognized as a leader in the marketplace and generate a consistently above average return on investment to our shareholders.”
“We are here to win.”
Verbs are more powerful than nouns and more powerful than adjectives and adverbs. Action is power.
6. Apologies not accepted.
Never apologise in advance for your nervousness or mistakes, as it immediately reduces your credibility. The audience does not need to have it announced to them that you’re uncomfortable.
When in doubt, there is power in a pause. Meanwhile, admitting you briefly lost your train of thought or silently referring to your notes is much more comfortable for both you and your audience than stumbling over disorganised babble. In fact, embrace your anxiety and use it as fuel.
7. Opening and Closing remarks.
Many speakers make the mistake of only focusing on the body. The opening remark creates the first impression that the audience feels. You need to grab their attention, establish rapport and set the direction in your opening.
The close is the last thing you say and hence might be the strongest thing they remember. Instead of stumbling to wrap up with an awkward, “Um, that’s all I have to say…any questions?” prepare a solid closing.
A memorable quote and brief summary of your key points are both good places to end. Also, don’t forget to encourage last minute questions.
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