Presentation Skills: complete our Professional Refresher module and answer the questions at the end to earn 1.25 minutes' CPD
Our Professional Refresher module on presentation skills says that the ability to deliver successful presentations is a “crucial soft skill”. However, for some, even just the thought of delivering a presentation – regardless of the audience size – is daunting.
Here we cover some of the most important elements in our module and provide key takeaways to improve presentation techniques.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Preparation is essential, and so is having enough time to prepare. “Although the amount of preparation required will vary, there are a number of common elements that any potential presenter will need to consider,” the module says.
- Setting the objective – ask yourself why you are doing this and what the audience is expecting from you. “Simply writing down the reason that you were initially asked to deliver your presentation can prove to be a useful reminder of your overall objective and can help you to stay focused while you are preparing and developing your talk.”
- Understanding your audience – tailor the talk to your audience’s needs. Establish the size, demographic makeup and level of expertise of the audience.
- Logistical considerations – consider timings and use of technology. Check how long you have to talk and whether this includes a Q&A, and find out information about the venue, such as the size of the room, if there will be any noise disturbance, and if the venue has the equipment you require, such as a microphone, a projector or access to the internet.
Practise makes perfect
In a tutorial article for Envato Tuts+, Julia Melymbrose writes: “Ever heard stand-up comedians talk about how they prepare for routines? Even though when you’re watching them on stage it may seem like they’re just improvising or coming up with jokes on the fly, the truth is that everything they do and say comes as a result of relentless practice and repetition – even their pauses.”
She adds: “Practise not until your presentation sounds rehearsed and memorised, but until you’ve so internalised your points that your presentation sounds natural.”
Our module suggests that for important presentations, spend more time rehearsing than writing the talk itself. “It is also beneficial to rehearse in front of an audience, particularly if you are not used to giving talks or presentations. By practising in front of people you should get any feelings of awkwardness or nervousness out of the way before you step onto the ‘big stage’.”
In an article for Inc. keynote speaker Carmine Gallo recommends that you practise under “mild stress”. He says, “Psychologists who work with athletes have found that mirroring real-world conditions as much as possible during practice sessions brings out the best performance when the pressure is on.”
Structuring your presentation
Our module says: “Write down all the different thoughts and ideas that you have relating to the subject of your talk and the points that you wish to make. At this stage, you are simply brainstorming your ideas, so nothing that you come up with is incorrect – you can begin to formalise your presentation by deciding on the most salient points that you need to make and how you can illustrate each of them.”
Following this, you should try and create a logical order for the key points, organising them into introduction, main contents and conclusion. A good way to approach this, as the module states, is to think of them like this:
- Introduction – tell them what you’re going to tell them
- Main contents – tell them
- Conclusion – tell them what you’ve told them
Other helpful tips to keep in mind when writing and editing your presentation include:
- Keeping sentences short to aid audience understanding
- Avoiding jargon or obscure words and ensuring the language is appropriate
- Avoiding acronyms
A welcome sight?
Visual aids and handouts can enhance a presentation, although they need to be used appropriately. The module says, “if your presentation is relatively short and informal it is probably best not to try to incorporate any”.
In an article for Harvard Business Review, Chris Anderson, head of TED, the ideas-based talks organisation, explains that we might be tempted to use technology in a presentation, just because it’s there. “With so much technology at our disposal, it may feel almost mandatory to use, at a minimum, presentation slides,” he writes.
If you are going to use a PowerPoint presentation, Anderson has some advice: “By now most people have heard the advice about PowerPoint: keep it simple; don’t use a slide deck as a substitute for notes (by, say, listing the bullet points you’ll discuss – those are best put on note cards); and don’t repeat out loud words that are on the slide. Information is interesting only once, and hearing and seeing the same words feels repetitive.” He also adds that many TED speakers don’t use slides, and many talks do not, in fact, require them.
Our module says: “If you are going to use visual aids, the trick is to figure out when to use them.” It explains that they should only be used if they add value for the audience. “It is better to restrict the use of visual images to a relatively small number of key moments during a presentation,” it says.
“It is natural to be nervous before making a speech – even seasoned presenters admit to feelings of anxiety prior to delivering major presentations,” says the module. Try and harness your nervous energy into positive energy, using the extra adrenaline pumping around your body. “This is what top performers across all sectors of life are proficient at doing.” You can boost your overall energy levels and ensure that you deliver a great presentation.
The module also contains some techniques to help control your nerves. These include breathing exercises, such as breathing slowly and deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth and smiling, which is a “natural relaxant that sends positive chemical messages through your body”.
Julia Melymbrose gives practical advice on breathing. “Right before going on stage or entering the presentation room, take five to ten deep breaths slowly inhaling as much air as you can and slowly exhaling it back out. The practice will help you relax, focus, and dispel any minor anxiety that may still linger after your thorough preparation,” she writes.
Hitting the right chord
Speaking is, of course, a big part of a presentation and an element of effective speaking lies in your vocal production.
“To become an accomplished presenter, you need to understand the various elements of vocal production and utilise your voice fully,” says the module. It reports that by varying both the volume and pace and changing your pitch, “you can make your voice sound more dynamic and hold your audience’s attention”.
You need to speak loud enough for the audience to hear, but shouldn’t raise your voice too much. “Aim to project it towards those people that are furthest away from you. By speaking with a strong voice, as opposed to a loud voice, you will be perceived as being confident and assertive rather than aggressive,” says the module.
It concludes that the best route to becoming an accomplished presenter is to keep on doing it. What are your top tips for delivering a killer presentation? Leave your comments below.
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