by Maria Lahiffe
Effective presentation skills are critical to individual success, and to the success of your organization. Your first presentation for your job was probably the one that got you the job in the first place – your interview. Now that you’re doing important work for an organization you believe in, you need to be able to explain your ideas and why they are important, to your managers, your board, funders, and the public.
Are you scared of presentations? Join the club! Our primitive ancestors certainly never needed to make any speeches about the dangers of sabre-toothed tigers! But like anything, presentation skills can be learned, and the nervousness diminishes with training and practice.
A good place to start is with the ten required communication skills:
Dress appropriately for your listeners and the occasion. This may mean wearing a business suit or jeans. Dress just a little bit better, or neater, than your audience. Think about how you want to come across. High-contrast colours show authority, while low-contrast colours are more friendly.
Use a neutral position when standing or sitting. Stand or sit up straight with your arms and hands relaxed by your side, on the podium, or on the table. Get someone to take a picture or two while you are presenting; that is the best way to get a sense of what you are doing right and what you can work on improving.
Move with purpose. You can do this by linking it with eye contact: look at a person, then move a few steps in their direction. Then plant yourself for a while and look at everyone in the audience in turn while you say what you need to say.
The important thing is to look natural. Use the same gestures you would in a normal conversation. It can help to focus on one person at a time in the audience, and speak directly to that person.
These should correspond to what you are saying. Similar to gestures, use the same expressions you would in normal conversation.
Think of your presentation as a series of random one-on-one conversations with individuals. Go for about 3 to 5 seconds of eye contact with each listener. Include everyone, even people in the back and sides of the room.
You definitely want to fill the room with your voice. This is not an intimate conversation. Breathe from your diaphragm to fill up your lungs, and support your voice with your diaphragm to increase your projection. Make sure you vary the pitch and tone you use, to keep things interesting for your listeners.
Do your best to eliminate filler sounds like um, so, ok, and you know. Replace them with pauses. Silence can be very impactful: it gives people time to digest what you’re saying. Make sure you use language which is appropriate to your audience. Be especially careful with jargon. If you are presenting to a group of experts, then by all means use the jargon you all understand. But if in doubt, then use plain language.
Humour is an extremely effective tool in presenting; people remember things better if they have laughed. Be very careful, though: what is funny to you may be offensive to someone else. If in doubt, leave it out. You can make your presentation personal and memorable by including personal stories.
There is no “right” presentation style. It is very important to be your own natural self. This can be really tough if you’re trying to think of everything I just told you about! There really isn’t a secret – practice makes perfect. Do presentations and get honest feedback, then use that feedback to do something different next time.
Remember, nobody becomes an expert overnight. Pick one of these things to focus on for your next presentation, and ask a trusted friend or associate to give you honest feedback on that one thing you were focusing on. Focus on it until you get it, then pick another thing to work on.
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