Regardless of whether you are about to speak in front of a small group or to a crowd of hundreds, the keys to delivering a strong, clear and well-received presentation are the same. To combat stage fright and to mitigate the fear of failure (and embarrassment, shock and more embarrassment), a little extra preparation and thoughtfulness can really go a long way. Here are four tips on how to improve your presentation skills.
Outline and diagram
Summarize the critical points you want to make in your presentation using a simple outline and carefully diagram how each thought transitions into the other. If possible, keep the number of bullet points per slide to a digestible number (like three or four) otherwise you run the risk of losing people’s attention pretty quickly. Effective oral communication demands simplicity, so state what you are going to say from the outset, say it and then tell your audience what you just said.
Write out everything you want to say
I know, why bother doing this when you can wing it. You are an awesome presenter especially when you come into a meeting where you are the star of the show completely unprepared. Right. If you believe that, I have a few mortgage-backed securities I’d like to sell you, 2007 vintage. Write down everything that you want to say. Forcing yourself to do this naturally leads you to think logically about what you want to say and fill in all of the annoying gaps that plague all of the awful presentations you’ve been forced to sit through.
Memorize your lines
So you’ve written everything down, and you have a pretty solid idea about what you want to say. The next thing to do is to commit your presentation script to memory. If you’ve prepared your outline with purpose, and have a thorough script, memorization is 80% complete through no additional effort on your part. The more you memorize every key point you want to make, the smoother and more natural it will sound to your audience.
I recognize that watching and hearing yourself on video can be extremely painful and weird; however, this method of self-critique is far superior than giving your presentation in front of a mirror and I would argue much more effective as a teaching tool compared to practicing with a friend. The video will show you as you are and you will become far more self-aware of the tics, twitches, “ums,” “ah’s,” and “likes” as a result so you can eliminate them. The best presenters I know swear by this, and with most of us carrying mini-camcorders on our smart phones as a default, you really have no excuse not to give it a try.
Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.