Presenting is tough even for the most confident amongst us. For those not born with natural eloquence, speaking in front of your peers or even in public can be remarkably nerve-racking. But practice makes perfect.
There are lots of small things you can do prior to your presentation that will help calm your nerves and set you up for a better presentation. Here are our 12 best tips to improve your presentation skills.
Naturally, you’ll want to rehearse your presentation multiple times. While it can be difficult for those with packed schedules to spare time to practise, it’s essential if you want to deliver an inspiring presentation. If you really want to sound great, write out your speech rather than taking chances winging it – if you get nervous about speaking, a script is your best friend.
Try to practise where you’ll be delivering your presentation. Some acting strategists suggest rehearsing lines in various positions – standing up, sitting down. The more you mix up your position and setting, the more comfortable you’ll feel with your speech. Do a practice run for a friend or colleague, or try recording your presentation and playing it back to evaluate which areas need work. Listening to recordings of your past talks can clue you in to bad habits you may be unaware of, as well as inspiring the age-old question: “Is that what I really sound like?”
2.Transform Nervous Energy Into Enthusiasm
Studies have shown that an enthusiastic speech can win out over an eloquent one, and I make sure that I’m as enthusiastic and energetic as possible before going in front of that room.
3. Arrive Early
It’s always best to allow yourself plenty of time to settle in before your presentation. Extra time ensures you won’t be late and gives you plenty of time to get adapted to your presentation space.
4. Adjust to Your Surroundings
The more adjusted to your environment you are, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Make sure to spend some in the room where you will be delivering your presentation. If possible, practise with the microphone and lighting, make sure you understand the seating and be aware of any distractions potentially posed by the venue (eg a noisy road outside).
5. Use Positive Visualisation
Many studies have proven the effectiveness of positive visualisation. When we imagine a positive outcome to a scenario in our mind, it’s more likely to play out the way we envisage.
Instead of thinking “I’m going to be terrible out there” imagine yourself getting lots of laughs while presenting with enthusiasm. Positive thoughts can be incredibly effective.
6. Remember That Most Audiences Are Sympathetic
One of the hardest fears to shake when speaking to your peers or in public is that the audience is secretly waiting to laugh at your missteps or mistakes. Fortunately, this isn’t the case in the vast majority of presentations.
The audience wants to see you succeed. In fact, many people have a fear of public speaking, so even if the audience seems indifferent, the chances are pretty good that most people listening to your presentation can relate to how nerve-racking it can be. If you start to feel nervous, remind yourself that the audience gets it, and actually wants to see you nail it.
7. Take Deep Breaths
When we’re nervous, our muscles tighten – you may even catch yourself holding your breath. Instead, go ahead and take those deep breaths to get oxygen to your brain and relax your body.
Smiling increases endorphins, replacing anxiety with calm and making you feel good about your presentation. Smiling also exhibits confidence and enthusiasm to the crowd. And this tip works even if you’re doing a webinar and people can’t see you.
9. Work on Your Pauses
When you’re nervous, it’s easy to speed up your presentation and end up talking too fast, which in turn causes you to run out of breath, get more nervous, and panic! Ahh!
Don’t be afraid to slow down and use pauses in your speech. Pausing can be used to emphasise certain points and to help your presentation feel more conversational. If you feel yourself losing control of your pacing, just take a nice pause and keep cool.
10. Don’t Try to Cover Too Much Material
Yes, your presentations should be full of useful, insightful, and actionable information, but that doesn’t mean you should try to condense a vast and complex topic into a 10-minute presentation.
Knowing what to include and what to leave out is crucial to the success of a good presentation. If it feels too off-topic, or is only marginally relevant to your main points, leave it out.
11. Actively Engage the Audience
People love to talk and make their opinions heard, but the nature of presentations can often seem like a one-sided proposition. It doesn’t have to be, though.
Asking the audience what they think, inviting questions, and other means of welcoming audience participation can boost engagement and make attendees feel like a part of a conversation. It also makes you, the presenter, seem much more relatable. Consider starting with a poll or survey. Don’t be put off by unexpected questions – instead, see them as an opportunity to give your audience what they want.
12. Admit You Don’t Have All the Answers
Very few presenters are willing to concede that they don’t actually know everything because they feel it undermines their authority. However, since we all know that nobody can ever know everything about a given topic, admitting so in a presentation can actually improve your credibility.
If someone asks a question that stumps you, it’s okay to admit it. This can also increase your credibility with the audience, as it demonstrates that, no matter how knowledgeable a person might be, we’re all learning, all the time. Nobody expects you to know everything – they just want to learn from you.