Presentation Skills | Ultimate Guide
Jacky Clarke | April 26, 2019 | Presentation Skills Tips
Jacky Clarke | April 26, 2019 | Presentation Skills Tips
This Ultimate Guide to Presentation Skills will deliver answers and understanding to the following. You can jump to the sections with the links below:
Simply put, presenting is communicating to an audience in order to deliver a message. It can take many different forms. It could be at school or university. Perhaps, it’s a speech at a wedding or a special event. Typically, however, we associate presentations with work.
For most people, the thought of talking in front of a group of people, regardless of the reason, makes us scared. We know, however, that we need this essential communication skill. It helps us lead people, get a promotion or just get our point across. So how do we develop this skill? Read on to learn how to give a good presentation.
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To start, let’s understand how each is defined:
‘A speech or talk in which a new product, idea, or piece of work is shown and explained to an audience.’
‘The art or process of making a speech in public using effective oral communication with an audience.’
Looking at both definitions you can see clear similarities. In short, the core of what they are is the same. They require similar skills to enable communication with others.
Public speaking uses a more general set of communication skills and is a very important skill for anyone to have.
Presentation Skills are more specific to get a point across. Often linking the talking to a medium and having a measured outcome. However, both are about successfully talking in-front of an audience. Both come down to who is giving the message, what the message is, whom the audience is, what medium supports it and what impact our message has.
Already, we have mentioned a list of times you might need to talk in front of a group of people. Be it work or socially we have a need to be able to get our point across to be successful. If we are good at public speaking we can build a strong reputation, and improve self-confidence. It will even open up more opportunities for ourselves. This is something everyone wants.
In order to learn how to give a good presentation, we need to understand the key differences between ‘personal presentation’ and Presentation Skills.
Typically, Presentation Skills are limited to those times you know you are in the ‘limelight’. You have been asked to give a presentation, run a meeting or train a group of staff.
Personal Presentation, however, is all the other times you need to speak out in front of a group and would be less prepared for. This might be in a meeting you are attending or something as simple as a work lunch. Your personal Presentation Skills include your voice, body language and what you say. Your ability to think on your feet, say what you actually mean and get a point across.
Both of these are core life skills that make you more adaptable.
A fear of public speaking can be all-consuming for some people. You might freeze completely, feel nauseous or faint when forced into these situations. However, being one of these people doesn’t mean you have to stay one. Once you understand how you feel and shift your attention to what matters, presentations become so much easier.
One of my favourite pieces of wisdom I was told whilst overcoming my own fear of presenting was, ‘How you are feeling isn’t the same as how you are doing’.
We have a tendency to over think everything. Particularly when the spotlight is on us. We like to call this the ‘spotlight trap’. Falling into the spotlight trap is easy. We instantly become very self-aware. Each movement we make is over analysed and causes us to move unnaturally or stiffen up altogether. We need to remember that this presentation is not a performance. It is purely us sharing the knowledge we know with an audience that doesn’t know about it. If we start by keeping that in mind it will become easier. All of the tips below may feel like common sense, but when you actually apply them they can drastically reduce the fear and make your presentation great.
‘There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.’ – Mark Twain
The more you tell yourself how badly it will go, the more likely it is that this will happen. You need to think positively about the outcome from the beginning.
I know this sounds silly, and you might almost want to skip this point – but don’t! Too many speakers practice in their heads, flick through the slides too fast and it becomes sloppy. Then on the day, they can’t get the words out or they forget major points.
You need to practice out loud, then to other people and lastly video yourself and watch it back. This will help you with your flow, pace and body language. Your timing also goes wrong if you don’t practice out loud, and you either end up rushing your presentation or going over your allotted time.
Know the order they come up and if you think you won’t remember, have a print out of all the slides on one page so you can see the order at a glance. This will help with your flow. You should know what’s on each slide and the message that slide is trying to get across. They are there to engage the audience. They should contain the main talking points, not the whole presentation.
Any good speaker will have already thought about the potential questions that might be asked at the end of their presentation. Being prepared will help you deal with your nerves. Moreover, it will help you seem even more confident with the unexpected questions.
Not just because you will pass out if you don’t! Steady breathing will help with your tone of voice and also help you keep calm. One minute before you start your presentation, take some deep breaths to calm the nerves.
This will help your audience to digest the new information you are giving them. It will also help with the pace of your speech. If you are not comfortable to just pause, then have some water close at hand and have small sips at set times to give the audience the same thinking time.
Amy Cuddy gives a TEDTalk (see below) on the confidence ‘power posing’ gives a person. Try following this method for two minutes before you start to talk. See how confident you feel. Also, by holding good posture during your presentation, you can trick your hormones into making you feel more confident. This can make you feel less anxious.
They have come to listen to you and learn new ideas. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get them involved. It might be simply getting them to raise a hand in agreement. Alternatively, you could get much more creative (more ideas in the next section on this). Nonetheless, this can help you take the focus off yourself and put it back onto the people that matter most.
Understanding that you will be nervous is the first step. Then understanding what to do with your hands, feet, etc. is the next important step. When we are nervous we will twitch, wring our hands, move our feet too much or find something to play with. All of these become a distraction to the audience. So you need to make sure that you move your hands to add meaning to your words. If you like to move, walk to reference your material and engage the wider audience. Once you are moving for the right reasons you will get rid of that nervous energy that has built up and you will feel more comfortable.
This is a widely debated topic. Is it ok to have notes? My take on it is simple. If you feel you need cue cards then definitely use them. People will remember more if you make a mistake than if you had a few notes. However, saying this you need to make sure that your cues are on flashcards. They should only have key points to keep you on track. If you have a piece of paper with your whole presentation you will end up reading it. This is the worse thing to do. You head will be down looking at your notes and you won’t be engaging with your audience at all.
‘There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practised, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.’ – Dale Carnegie
It is an important question to ask. We know the basics of presenting, but how do we make a good presentation? Also, how can we ensure it is effective?
This should start with a mind map or a simple set of questions. I like to call this ‘5 Bums on a rugby post’:
As you can see from the image, the rugby post forms an ‘H’. This is for ‘How’. Each of the bums is a ‘W’. These remind us of five open questions, ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘When’, ‘Where’, ‘Why’. You should think about your presentation asking these questions. This is an easy way to remember all the questions you need to answer to be best prepared. Answer each question about your content, context, audience and impact. Examples might be, What is the point of this presentation? When does it need to take place? Where will it happen? Does that limit my media options?
If you are unclear on your own objective it will be very difficult to create a powerful presentation. So make sure you are clear on why you are talking and what the point is that you need to get across. If you can successfully answer those two questions before you start planning, you will have a much better idea of structure. When deciding upon your objective, ensure you are SMART.
When you are doing a presentation it is essential to think about the objective you want to achieve. Are you there to educate and inform the audience? Or, is it more about energising and entertaining them? Depending on the objective the structure, content and way of presenting will all change dramatically.
Another method you could use is DeBono’s 6 Thinking Hats. By looking at your decision making from a range of perspectives will help you think more creatively about your content:
Once you understand the purpose of the presentation you then need to think about the order. A storyboard could come in handy. Have each topic on a post-it note so that you can move them around with ease until the order flows in the most logical way.
Now you need to think about how to grab the audience’s attention from the beginning. Ask yourself, ‘Why have they come to listen to me?’. This is normally a good place to start. Try understanding what might work for your specific audience. Ideas of ways to grab attention are:
We mentioned earlier that getting the audience involved is a helpful presentation skill. You could do something simple or you could plan something more elaborate, like a game. During a training session a delegate came up with a way to ensure the audience would ask questions. He printed the questions he wanted, placed them in envelopes and stuck them under a few chairs. Then during the presentation, he got them to look under their chairs and those with envelopes needed to ask the question. This immediately got the audience involved and relaxed the whole room. So be creative!
By starting with words like, ‘imagine’, ‘think of a time’, ‘close your eyes’ or ‘what if’, you are encouraging creativity in peoples minds. Furthermore, you’re making it easier for them to relate to your topic. The story that follows needs to be relevant to the presentation to make this work.
By quoting someone relevant to the topic, or group, you can add value and depth to your presentation.
Ask direct, or rhetorical questions. It doesn’t really matter. Once again this is about activating the brain and involving the audience.
Caroline Goyder used an aid very well in her TEDx Talk. It intrigued the audience and made them pay attention to find out what it is. View her 19-minute TEDx talk below:
‘If you don’t know what you want to achieve in your presentation your audience never will.’ – Harvey Diamond
When thinking about creating the best presentation you need to take your ideas and start to structure them well. To create your structure you need to think about the following areas:
When you are planning your presentation you need to consider the people you will be talking to. Who are they? What age range will they be? Why are they in front of you today? You also need to consider if they are there voluntarily or mandatory. This may affect their engagement. Think about their demographics (age, gender, literacy or social status) and how that will affect the information they are hearing.
If you don’t consider your audience then your presentation is set to fail before you have even begun. Below are the five different types of audiences to help you consider who you are delivering to:
When thinking about delivery and the language you use, it is important that you consider if you use colloquialisms, slang, technical speak, buzzwords and metaphors based on the audience’s level of understanding. However, you also need to think about if you are presenting to a geographically diverse group and need to use a different language or a universal language. If you are speaking in a neutral language that isn’t native to the whole audience consider using more basic words and sentence structures to get your points across clearly.
When you focus on your voice this is looking at your pace, tone and pitch. Thinking about how you create emphasis on words by using your pausing and volume. To help with this, we can think about the 5 Ps of Presenting:
These 5 Ps can help you deliver a better presentation
When you give a presentation, the first thing the audience will do is decide if they like you based on your appearance. You need to make sure that you are dressed in an appropriate way to suit the audience you are talking to and the environment they are working in.
The second element that is noticed is your overall passion for the topic. Even if you are a bit nervous, if you have a real passion and a deep understanding of the topic, that will always shine through. Make sure that you are well prepared and that you are really passionate about the topic you are presenting. Furthermore, being able to relate back to personal experience is a sure way to show people your own passion.
Your body language is the last element that people will focus on. This is a telltale sign to the level of nervousness that someone is displaying. If you have the room you should make the best use of it. Moving with purpose can help you master how and when to move. An example of this is to move towards your medium to point at something with emphasis rather than just bobbing around from foot to foot. It can also be walking forward towards the audience or from one side of the room to the other to engage eye contact with all participants.
Mastering good time management is essential when developing your Presentation Skills. Depending on the type of presentation, you may only have a short window to present and develop your key argument (e.g. sales pitch). Otherwise, you might have a longer slot that you need to make sure you not only fill but also engage the audience throughout. When you create timings you need to have a little flexibility so that you can adjust depending on audience engagement. If you are talking about something and you can see a loss of interest, you need to be able to move on and shift the focus onto something that grabs their imagination. Think about your transitions from different points. How long does each point need? If you are moving too fast you could lose your audience, but taking too long could have the same effect.
When structuring your presentation you need to focus on covering the four main areas:
If you focus on these four key areas you should be able to create a structured presentation that is easy to follow and memorable for your audience.
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Now that you have an understanding of your content and methods of audience engagement, you can decide on the medium you will use to support you. So many people make the mistake of creating a PowerPoint before they have considered any of the information above. Now that you know about it, you can see why this is a bad start. We also need to accept that PowerPoint isn’t the only or always the best method of getting your point across.
Let’s look at a few different ways we can support our presentations:
Let’s start with the favourite. As discussed earlier, we need to consider how we grab our audience’s attention. The likelihood that a slide will do this is slim. Especially when it just has the topic name on it. So why use it?
Nowadays there are a variety of programmes that do similar things, Prezi, SlideRocket, and Emaze to name a few. All of them have similar functions to personalise information in a slide form. They each provide a visual aid that can be displayed as you speak. Furthermore, they all allow you to illustrate key points using a range of graphics and advanced features, such as video and audio. Slides can add value if used correctly.
We all suffer death by PowerPoint regularly. Guy Kawasaki, of Apple fame, came up with a helpful and easy to remember the rule for PowerPoint presentations. The 10-20-30 rule suggests the following for every presentation:
When you are looking to format the slides you need to keep your audience in mind. You should consider the following:
Google Slides and Slideshare work in a similar way to PowerPoint or Prezi. However, they provide a greater collaborative way of working. They are mostly free, web-based software that will help you to collaborate in real time with people all over the world. This can be very useful for projects for international companies or teams. The same rules apply with regards to the slide structure and layout as they do with PowerPoint.
Some people love this, others hate it. But a flip chart means you can make your audience feel part of the presentation. It is, however, important that you are comfortable writing in front of people.
Prepared and well-printed wall boards can add great visuals for any presentation. They can be turned to reveal information at the right time or be on show when people arrive to get their brains working in advance.
Using different software can help you get real-time voting, gaining instant feedback on a topic or point raised. Moreover, using real-time quiz activities can help engage your audience further. The following two examples are currently very popular:
Mentimeter gives the audience a code. They can put it into the app and then vote real-time as you present and ask questions. This can be useful to then analyse the data and see what engaged the audience most.
Kahoot! is an interactive quiz. Again, users can put a code into the app and answer multiple choice questions. This can help you gauge their level of understanding of the topic.
If used correctly these tools can add a lot of value, but you have to make sure the questions are very relative to the topic.
A lot of people feel the need to have something to support them. Consider the impact of having nothing. Are you able to pull off not having visual aids? Will you make the right impression and get your point across to your audience? If not, then choose one of the options above, if yes then give it ago!
You now have your content and visual aids. Now it’s important to practice. Try to use all your skills to make the delivery of your presentation match the effort you have put into creating it.
Understanding your audience is the key to delivering a successful presentation. With this in mind, it is a good idea for a presenter to understand different types of people and how their brains work. Understanding theories like Myers Briggs (MBTI) or Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) can greatly help a presenter shape the delivery to meet all types of people and provide maximum influence.
In simple terms, this type of indicator looks at four elements; energy, information, decisions, and living. By placing people on each scale you can start to understand their psychological type. Once you understand your own type, and that of those in the audience, you can start to adapt your communication and approach to get the best out of conversations.
HBDI is a psychometric tool that places people into four different areas based on how they think. Here is a breakdown of the four areas:
As a speaker, it is important to understand how people might react to the way you talk about different topics. If you heavily favour one of these styles, it may come across in your presentation. Moreover, it could cause friction with the audience without you meaning to.
Throughout this article, the Presentation Skills covered have been in content, design, the type of medium to use and how to use it. Now comes the most important part, the actual delivery of your presentation. These are the things you need to be practising over and over. Try to watch out for them in your recordings. Mastering these techniques will make you look comfortable, and ensure you deliver an effective presentation.
Most presenters will pick one friendly face in the room and talk to that person. This is can help at first to calm your nerves. However, for that person, it can become awkward. Furthermore, the rest of the audience might feel left out. Make sure you start with a friendly face, but then give everyone eye contact as you look around.
If you struggle to make eye contact, the easiest tip is to divide the room into thirds (left, middle, and right or front, middle and back). Then move your head to look at each third one after another. When practising, get into the habit of engaging one of the three areas with your eyes as you move to each new section or slide. This creates an easy flow that your body gets used to. If eye contact makes you really uncomfortable, you can look at peoples noses instead, they won’t be able to tell the difference, but it may put you more at ease.
It is really important that you engage the audience with your voice. Deep breathing before you start can help steady your voice. Also using pauses can help build anticipation in the audience.
Everyone wants a silver bullet here and honestly, there isn’t one. You need to move with a purpose (to point at something or change your focus). You need to record yourself and understand what you do with your arms and legs. If you know you fiddle, make sure you have nothing around to pick up. Make sure you don’t have coins in your pocket.
If you can focus on moving for a reason and using your hands to emphasise your words then you are on to a winning formula. Always remember that doing anything that might be a distraction once or twice is fine. It is only once it becomes repetitive that people will become distracted by it.
Listening to someone speaking too fast is not a pleasant experience for your audience. They will feel rushed and uncomfortable. Practising your speech beforehand can help you pace yourself. Being nervous naturally makes us talk faster. We want to get it over as quickly as possible! When you practice your speech, think about the section you are on at set times. Try to know where you should be in your presentation on the day.
Presentation training should cover the main areas of a presentation in enough detail and give you time to practice those skills.
Most good Presentation Skills courses will run over two separate days with a break in the middle. This allows you the time to create a final presentation to bring back to the group and gain further feedback on your skills. Without doing this you might not have embedded the skills, therefore, this second day is vital to help make the learning stick.
A good course is also likely to ask you to arrive with a presentation prepared on the first day. This is to set a benchmark of the starting point and for the trainer to understand how to alter the day to the delegates in the room.
Take a look at our Presentation Skills infographic below. Click the image for a higher resolution:
Finally, let us look at the list of the top 5 tips to take away for your journey to better presentations:
Thinking back to my early days of having to talk in front of my class in school, I was terrified. I was very bad at making eye contact or projecting my voice loud enough to be heard. So when I moved into business and needed to get better at this, I chose the sink or swim approach. I took an opportunity to train a group of 9 people over a 5 week period, which was part of the job that did at the time. For the whole of the first week, I was red in the face, very nervous and uncomfortable. But as I practised the skill set day in and day out, it got easier and easier. Now, I own a training business and deliver to large and small groups of people within all levels of organisations. Like any skill set, you need to practice to make it work.
Presentation Skills are so important to help us move through life, gaining the best opportunity and showing the best of ourselves. Even if you don’t regularly need to talk in front of groups, it is a skill that will help in many aspects of your work and personal life. From feeling more confident to be ready to say ‘yes’ when the opportunity presents itself, these skills will help you grow. Knowing how to give a good presentation and having good communication skills should be life skills everyone develops. In the wise words of Richard Branson: ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!’. You need to be ready to have the conversation and put yourself forward.
You can find further insight, detailed definitions and clarification of all the key Presentation Skills terms mentioned in this guide in our Glossary of Terms.
‘No audience ever complained about a presentation or speech being too short.’ – Stephen Keague
‘[The] best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you’re talking about.’ – Michael H Mescon
So many amazing authors and speakers have given their tips on presenting and dealing with nerves. I have included my favourite books below:
Watch our Presentation Skills playlist from our YouTube channel:
Chris Anderson, A TED Talks curator, explains the secret to a TED Talks. The ability to place an idea or thought in a listeners mind. A very interesting concept:
Jacky is a training consultant with seven years of experience in developing individuals and teams. Passionate about helping people be the best they can be, she gained her CIPD Level 5 in Learning and Development. This gives her the ability to write in-depth articles that help readers think about topics in a new way.