Death by PowerPoint? You can learn how to improve your presentation skills and to create compelling content when speaking in front of others.
Studies in the US have shown that amongst adults fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of dying. Of course, for most people death is an abstract idea, whereas speaking in front of an audience is a harsh reality for many leaders – a dread necessity they would rather be without. But when it is done well, a presentation can be both fun and an informative learning experience for the speaker and the audience. It is just a matter of working on two things: your mental preparation and a few simple rules about content.
Michael Clark, management consultant at Mannaz, remembers his first experience of presenting:
“It was awful, I think I stared at my shoes the whole time while speaking in a dull monotone, not really being sure what my key message was. I had the right idea of using a story to illustrate my point, but I failed to grab the audience’s attention because my presentation style wasn’t engaging. Studies show that what people remember about a presentation isn’t just the words, it’s as much to do with how the presenter engages with the audience, eye contact, tone of voice, the variation in gestures and movement – all of these together are what creates meaningful contact and a memorable experience” says Michael Clark.
Take your audience on a journey
According to Michael Clark, a poor presentation is a mere transmission of facts where the speaker relies only on a projector and a screen to carry the message. A good presentation, on the other hand, takes the audience on a journey and invites them to engage in the flow, to relax and as a result, to think.
“Your presentation skills are such a key part of how people remember you and if that memory is positive. For anyone who has had the experience of standing in front of an audience expecting too many elaborate slides to create interest, I would recommend rethinking this approach, seeking out coaching and building their storytelling confidence. There are so many quick fixes available, so many dos and don’ts and so many easy steps to quickly become better at this,” says Michael Clark.
5 tips to improve your presentation skills:
- Connect with your audience! Remember that people at your presentation are not just there to receive facts, they also want to know who you are, and this gives you an amazing opportunity to improve your connection with them. Become conscious of your body language, gestures and facial expressions and the impact they create, use the available floor space consciously, try moving around to different positions. Ask your audience questions. Show that you are interested in them.
- Information overload! If you are using a PowerPoint presentation or similar, you need to use it effectively. Too much information leads to boredom and an uninspired audience. Stick to key elements of information and remember that if you are using bullet points, 7 is a max. There’s a limit to how much our brains can deal with at a time, so do not overdo it.
- Storytelling! Storytelling is an art in itself and a true friend of the good public speaker. A good story well told can illustrate your point more effectively than 50 PowerPoint slides, and it will be something your audience is more likely to remember. Become a good storyteller - learn how it works and when to use it, and then do it.
- Overcome your anxiety! This might sound as though it is easier said than done, however there are many mental tools available to help you, if you feel anxious when speaking in front of others. A key element to this is using what the brain is already really good at – creating powerful images – but using this ability differently and to your advantage. When your brain creates anxiety, it does so in a very specific way, typically by distorting your mental images of the event to come. This can be changed very simply and quickly, allowing you to focus your energy on content and impact.
- Structure! Like any good story, a successful presentation has a clear structure: a beginning, a middle, and an end. The narrative can take detours but must ultimately conclude with the audience feeling they have understood the message. Ensure that the narrative flow makes sense, that your key points are highlighted and that it’s clear to your audience what they should do when you have finished.
Michael Clark has more than 20 years’ experience of designing and leading training and leadership development initiatives globally. He specializes in creating an open, safe and engaging learning environment, encouraging participants to explore and develop their skills for greater impact in the workplace.