Good presentations come with practice.
How do you feel when you have to make a presentation?
Are you well prepared and relaxed, confident that your performance will have the desired impact on your audience?
Or is the thought of standing on a podium, holding a microphone, enough to give you stage fright?
Enjoy it or not, presenting – in some form – is usually a part of business. Whether you get up in front of formal audiences on a regular basis, or you simply have to make your voice heard in a meeting, you're using presentation skills.
Many believe that good presenters are born, not made. This is simply not true. Sure, some people are more relaxed and comfortable speaking in front of others, but everyone can learn the skills and techniques they need to increase their level of confidence and performance when presenting.
From sales pitches to training lectures, good presentation and public speaking skills are key to many influential roles in today's business world. The good news about presenting is that you can improve with practice.
So do you have the skills you need to do a good job? And how effective are you when you have to 'perform'? Take this short quiz to help you assess your skills.
For each statement, click the button in the column that best describes you. Please answer questions as you actually are (rather than how you think you should be), and don't worry if some questions seem to score in the 'wrong direction'. When you are finished, please click the 'Calculate My Total' button at the bottom of the test.
|14-32||Your presentations are probably quite weak, and perhaps a little boring. There are lots of ways to bring more excitement to what, and how, you present. You simply need more practice developing the right kind of content, and learning to use your nervousness to create a positive flow of energy. Read this article for everyday tips on building your self-confidence. (Read below to start.)|
|33-51||Your presentations are OK, and they're probably very typical of average presenters. The impression you leave isn't good or bad – it's essentially nonexistent, and your message is likely soon forgotten. Use the tips and tools in this article to add life to your presentations so that your audience remembers you for all the right reasons. (Read below to start.)|
|52-70||Super job! You're giving excellent presentations. They're interesting and well suited to the audience, and you know that taking time to prepare pays off in the end. Review the strategies in this article, and challenge yourself to continue improving your presentation skills. (Read below to start.)|
Effective presentations are a mixture of a variety of elements. You have to know what your audience wants. You need to prepare good, interesting, engaging content. You must be confident in presenting the material, you have to know how to manage your environment successfully, and you need to make sure that your message has maximum impact.
Balancing all four elements is no easy task. And, when combined with the natural anxiety often felt before giving presentations, it's no wonder that many people struggle with this skill. In fact, fear of public speaking is extremely common.
However, you don't have to remain fearful and stressed by the thought of giving a presentation. With the right tools and material, along with planning and preparation, you can present with energy and confidence.
Let's now look in detail at those four key elements of effective presentations:
1. Understanding your audience.
2. Preparing your content.
3. Delivering confidently.
4. Controlling the environment.
(Statements 2, 5, 6, 9)
The success of most presentations is generally judged on how the audience responds. You may think you did a great job, but unless your audience agrees with you, that may not be the case. Before you even begin putting your PowerPoint slides together, the first thing you need to do is understand what your audience wants. Try following these steps:
When what you say is what your audience wants or needs to hear, then you'll probably receive positive reinforcement throughout your presentation. If you see nods and smiles, or hear murmurs of agreement, for example, then this will motivate you to keep going and do a great job.
When your audience is satisfied, it doesn't matter if your delivery wasn't absolutely perfect. The primary goal of the people listening to your presentation is to get the information they need. When that happens, you've done a good job. Of course, you want to do a great job, not just a good job – and that's where the rest of the tips can help.
(Statements 6, 11, 13, 14)
The only way to satisfy your audience's needs and expectations is to deliver the content they want. That means understanding what to present, and how to present it. Bear in mind that if you give the right information in the wrong sequence, this may leave the audience confused, frustrated, or bored.
If you provide the information in a well-structured format, and you include various techniques to keep the audience engaged and interested, then they'll probably remember what you said – and they'll remember you.
There are a variety of ways to structure your content, depending on the type of presentation you'll give. Here are some principles that you can apply:
A special type of presentation is one that seeks to persuade. Monroe's Motivated Sequence , consisting of five steps, gives you a framework for developing content for this kind of presentation:
To brush up on your skills of persuasion, look at The Rhetorical Triangle . This tool asks you to consider your communication from three perspectives: those of the writer, the audience, and the context. It's a method that builds credibility, and ensures that your arguments are logical.
(Statements 1, 4, 7, 10)
Even the best content can be ineffective if your presentation style contradicts or detracts from your message. Many people are nervous when they present, so this will probably affect your delivery. But it's the major distractions that you want to avoid. As you build confidence, you can gradually eliminate the small and unconstructive habits you may have. These tips may help you:
Manage your stress – Confidence has a lot to do with managing your stress levels. If you feel particularly nervous and anxious, then those emotions will probably show. They're such strong feelings that you can easily become overwhelmed, which can affect your ability to perform effectively. A little nervousness is useful because it can build energy. But that energy may quickly turn negative if nerves build to the point where you can't control them.
If you have anxiety before a presentation, try some of these stress management tools:
When you present with confidence and authority, your audience will likely pay attention and react to you as someone who's worth listening to. So 'pretend' if you need to, by turning your nervousness into creative and enthusiastic energy.
For other tips on delivering confidently, see Delivering Great Presentations , Speaking to an Audience , Managing Presentation Nerves , and our Bite-Sized Training session Giving Better Presentations.
(Statements 3, 4, 8, 12)
While much of the outside environment is beyond your control, there are still some things you can do to reduce potential risks to your presentation.
Test your timing – When you practice, you also improve your chances of keeping to time. You get a good idea how long each part of the presentation will actually take, and this helps you plan how much time you'll have for statements and other audience interactions.
Members of the audience want you to respect their time. If you end your presentation on time or early, this can make a huge, positive impression on them. When speakers go over their allowed time, they may disrupt the whole schedule of the event and/or cause the audience unnecessary inconvenience. Be considerate, and stick to your agenda as closely as possible.
Presenting doesn't have to be scary, or something you seek to avoid. Find opportunities to practice the tips and techniques discussed above, and become more confident in your ability to present your ideas to an audience. We all have something important to say, and sometimes it takes more than a memo or report to communicate it. You owe it to yourself, and your organization, to develop the skills you need to present your ideas clearly, purposefully, engagingly, and confidently.
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