15 ways to improve your presentation skills

The focus of this piece is to offer suggestions to enhance your presentations. My scope of work spans consulting, lecturing and giving regular industry talks on various aspects of brand strategy. As a result, I am often giving presentations. Based on my experience, I have learned (and continue to learn) ways to improve this critical skill.

The Value of Presenting

Before delving into ways to enhance your presentation, I thought I would highlight the opportunities created through a strong presentation. The positive impact a presentation/talk can have on your personal brand, or your business, cannot be underestimated.

Key opportunities include:

  • An opportunity to position your personal brand as an authority in your field
  • The opportunity to build a following in your respective industry
  • An opportunity to network with prospective clients or business partners
  • An opportunity to more effectively communicate your product or service offering
  • The opportunity to more accurately convey your brand’s identity or your personal brand

Developing Your Presentation

1. When crafting your presentation always remember the ‘K.I.S.S’ Principle, which you may recall is the acronym for ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’. Keep your presentations short and simple, as this will be a more effective tool for maintaining your audience’s attention and interest. Furthermore, demonstrating that you can succinctly communicate your message shows that you have a firm understanding of the subject at hand / your service or product offering.

2. Aligned with the point above, always remember that your audience has a limited attention span. You need to get to the point. Don’t spend too look labouring unnecessary points.

3. A PowerPoint or Keynote presentation is aimed at aiding you in your presentation and not substituting it. The presentation should be a reference point from which you speak. Avoid cluttering your presentation with transitions and animated effects, and don’t let text heaviness detract from what you are saying.

4. Don’t use key-cards. Rather capture those key points in the PowerPoint/Keynote presentation, and use it as your point of reference. Key-cards can be distracting, and you are easily able to lose your place, adding to any anxiety you might already be experiencing.

5. Don’t read off the slides, they should just be key points for reference. Talk to your audience. If the environment is right ask questions, encourage dialogue rather than the traditional presentation style of pure monologue. This builds engagement and engagement is currency!

6. Keep text to a minimum. I suggest, where possible, using bullet points and trying to limit your word count to 3 to 5 words per bullet point. When slides are too text heavy, the audience will start reading your presentation instead of listening to what you’re saying. In addition, having your presentation, word for word, on the slideshow puts extra pressure on you to know everything backward. If you have keywords and phrases, you can let the presentation flow naturally.

7. The number of slides will depend on the topic and content but again be conscious of your audience’s attention span.  I’ve found when I have had too many slides to cover I end up rushing. My suggestion is to have fewer and spend more time on the slide. Remember quality, not quantity.

8. Enlarge important quotes and statistics. This can build on your presentation, mix up the flow, and enhance engagement with key information. To build upon this idea, consider incorporating a Pecha Kucha approach. It’s a presentation technique whereby the presenter has to work within the constraints of 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide. The real benefit of this is that it forces you to concentrate on what matters and to remove any ‘fluff’.

9. If you are giving a talk or delivering a presentation to a client off-site, I suggest giving yourself a bit of a buffer by leaving home or the office early. Traffic jams, accidents, and taking the wrong off-ramp happens (especially given my terrible sense of direction). By giving yourself some extra time to get to your destination, you eliminate the potential of a stressful situation. Running into a presentation at the very last minute won’t do much to calm your nerves.

10. In line with the above, setting up your laptop or tablet isn’t always smooth sailing – it can take time to ensure that your laptop recognises the projector and that the sound is working. By giving yourself that extra time before the start time of your presentation you can drastically reduce your stress levels.

11. Go over your presentation and check your slides are in order, and if you are showing any videos it’s always best to check that they work. It’s always awkward when you’re halfway through your talk and a technical glitch occurs.

12. I recommend keeping a backup copy of your presentation on a flash stick/ or saved to the cloud. You can also email the presentation to yourself in case, for whatever reason, you can’t present off your own device.

13. Know your presentation but don’t memorise it. Often when you’re hell-bent on remembering our talk word for word, we put additional and unnecessary pressure on ourselves. This, in turn, means we’re more likely to fumble our words out of nervousness, or if we haven’t got the preceding part 100%. If your presentation is memorized it can come across mechanical, and this will alienate your audience. Plus what if you go blank? Your entire presentation is thrown off.

14. Dress the part. As I highlight in a number of my posts, you are a brand and everything you do is either building upon or eroding it. The reality is if you want to be taken seriously you need to dress appropriately. I’m not saying go out and buy designer clothes but consider your outfit.

15. Be yourself, it’s a cliché for a reason. To my mind it’s the best advice I could give. Being you in a presentation situation builds authenticity; it reduces stress, and becomes one less thing to worry about. The reality is that things can go wrong in a presentation, you forget what you wanted to say, a cellphone rings, or you get thrown off by a question you didn’t see coming, by being yourself you will naturally adjust to the situation.

From a personal perspective, I’ve found talks and presentations to be deeply rewarding from a professional and self-actualisation perspective. The hard work and stress pays off and can open all kinds of opportunities. Getting out of your comfort zone and standing in front of people isn’t easy. The rewards though are exponential. I’ve built strong relationships off the back of my talks and have realised exciting new business opportunities.

Do you have interesting experiences, and/or valuable tips to share?

Photo by Oleg Laptev on Unsplash

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