Presentation Skills

Why are they important?

I was at a Chamber of Commerce meeting this week, watching various people present on their businesses, and it was incredibly noticeable how bad most people are at presenting. Communicating a message to a crowd of people has always been important since the beginnings of time, and those that do it well, often get ahead. It is even more important in this day and age due to the abundance of meetings that plague the modern working environment. People must be able to represent themselves effectively when they’re stood up in front of others, but they are often forced in to those situations, and a lack of training accompanied with a huge amount of anxiety leads to some incredibly dire results.

In any position, in any career, you must be able to sell yourself adequately in front of a group. If you are in business then your whole business’ future relies on you being able to sell your products or services to others. Public events, conferences, seminars, awareness sessions, networking, sales pitches all require you to talk confidently and articulately to others. However you decide to present yourself at these moments will form other people’s opinions and perceptions of you. As the majority of communication occurs at an unconscious level (it is thought that only 7% of effective communication is through our language) then it is vital that you can control the other signals that you are giving out whilst presenting.

Professor Albert Mehrabian’s Communications Model:

  • 7% of meaning in the words that are spoken
  • 38% of meaning in the way that the words are said
  • 55% of meaning is from facial expression and body language
We rarely have formal training on how to give presentations, and are usually thrown in to pressure situations from a manager that does not want to do it themselves. We are conditioned to dread public speaking. From an early age, at school, we learn reasons why we should fear it, and then we reinforce that belief every time we have to do it, until we learn that avoidance is the best strategy, but obviously you can’t run from it forever, it becomes much bigger in your mind than it ever needs to be. Imagine if you feared just speaking to one person in the same way, it’s the same thing when you think about it, that person will still be making the same judgements and opinions of you based on what you say and how you say it. Of course, if you did fear speaking full stop, then you’d recognise this as a social phobia, and eventually do something about it. This is no different though. If you have a normal career then the likelihood is that you have to talk in front of people quite regularly, so if you’re scared of it then you’re not going to be performing at your best.
Anyway, the fear and anxiety part of public speaking is very important to notice and do something about, but today I want to give you more practical advice that you can apply in giving better presentations immediately.
What is good presenting?
Good speakers are those that engage with the audience. They are able to adapt and adjust how they give a message in order for the audience to fully understand it. When you listen to a good presenter you are transported in to a different dimension of space and time, as they are able to bring you with them and take you to the places that they want you to see, and you sit there grateful to them for doing it. When you get that feeling at the end of a presentation, that you could have sat there all day listening, then you have been in the presence of a great speaker.
Story-tellers throughout history have always been some of the most influential members of society. Us humans love being told a story, and we are captivated if the story is good. Unfortunately we do not see presentations as the same thing. We fall in to the common traps, and lose our audience. Their concentration wanders off and they come back for the great line at the end, “Any questions?” and then silence. At the event this week, I witnessed some crackers for how not to present, and any of these no-no’s make the audience; cringe, feel uncomfortable, pity the speaker, get bored, start thinking of other things, judging the person rather than the message their giving. Surely you don’t want any of these in your presentation.

How not to do it

  • Don’t read from notes – this takes your eyes continually off of the audience, and every time you do it you lose more engagement, until the audience aren’t looking at you, and you start relying more on your notes.
  • Don’t read from slides – how does it look when the speaker has his back turned to the audience and reads the slides that the whole audience can see anyway. The speaker puts himself in the same shoes as the audience, and loses the power that he has for people to listen to him.
  • Don’t make the presentation too technical – unless it is a technical subject matter. Remember that people are listening more to you rather than the words that you use, so delving into too much detail will lose their focus.
  • Don’t just list factsnobody wants to be bombarded by information that is coming at them in no discernible pattern.
  • Don’t make massive gestures with your arms – 55% of communication is body language, so make sure that you are in complete control of what your body is saying.

How to do it

  • Understand the intention of your presentation – make sure you know what the key points are that you want to get across, and how you want them to be received by the audience.
  • Structure – it is so important to get this right. People are different and what works for one may not work for the other, so you must engage with all types of people. You have high level and low level people. You have planners and the spontaneous. Make sure that the structure has a bit for everyone, and not too much of one or the other.
  • Make up a story – your presentation must have a natural flow to it.
  • Slides should back up the story – so many people start a presentation by creating the slides first. The problem with this is that the slides then dictate what you are going to say, and you end up falling into some of the traps above. Instead work out what you want to say, and then what visual representations would back it up best.
  • Visual slides – the purpose of slides are to give the audience something to glance at while they are listening to you. Slides are a relatively modern invention, and before that people would have to listen. Don’t get too dependant on slides. Slides should have minimal writing on, and maximum pictures, they are to fill the visual gap that you can’t do as easily with words. Plus good slides will stick in the minds of those audience members that have a visual representational system.
  • Make it personal – apply whatever your message is, to the audience. Right at the top tell them why this is important to them, and then throughout constantly re-apply it to them.
  • Stand still – it is so distracting to watch a presenter that can’t keep still. The audience will watch, rather than listen, and the presentation has been pointless.
  • Believe in what you are saying – if you show any sign of doubt then this will be intuitively understood from the audience, and your message will carry no weight.
  • Be excited – most importantly excitement and enthusiasm are infectious. Smile and the room will smile with you. Get up for it and look forward to it, and after all how often do you ever get a chance for a room full of people to listen to you.
  • Appear confident – even if you’re not, then practise putting on the face of a confident person. The last thing you want is the audience’s pity because they sense that you’re nervous.
  • Know the technology – before you present, give yourself some time to feel comfortable with any slide projecting equipment or microphones, the more you tackle with this stuff during the presentation, the more your audience wanders off.

What if this was easy?

Imagine how influential you could be. If you are in a career job, then think of all the senior people that will witness how confident and effective you are as a speaker, and how your profile will then be raised. This will undoubtedly lead to more promotions in the future, and a better reputation with the people that matter. If you have your own business, then imagine how much better you will look when communicating to prospective customers, or perhaps leading employees to realising your vision for the future. What about if you’re simply getting married, but getting a handle on this would mean that you don’t spend the next six months building up the anxiety for a fifteen minute speech.

If you need help with presentation skills, or removing anxiety and improving confidence relating to public speaking, then please get in touch with www.clearlantern.co.uk. If you like this article then please share it with your communities, and feel free to follow this blog for further advice in the future. 

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2 responses to “Presentation Skills

  1. Great advice for would-be speakers. I especially agree with your tip “know the technology.” It’s such a shame when otherwise well-prepared presenters fall foul of an a/v remote that they’re not familiar with. Another common mistake is not checking for hot spots (generally in front of or underneath speakers) where the microphone feeds back and deafens the audience.

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