You know the basics of a good presentation already: dress appropriately, make eye contact with all sides of the room, and don’t just read from your notes the entire time. But great talks aren’t formed simply from an absence of bad habits. In addition to practice, practice, practice, the following tips can help you improve your presentation skills and earn high marks in business school and high praise in the business world.
Accept your style: There are as many different speaking styles as there are speakers in the world. There’s no sense telling you to go out there and be humorous, poignant, or passionate if none of these are traits you naturally possess (or if the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to them). Capitalize on your strengths, whether it’s your sense of humor, your charm, your storytelling ability, or your passion.
Study great presentations: Crafting an excellent presentation can be a bit like writing a film script — you know a good movie when you see one, but actually creating one yourself is tough. Just do what any fledgling director would do: ape the greats until you find your own voice. Check the “most popular this month” search option on the TED website and see for yourself why these talks get millions of views each. Or, if you know you want your presentation to be persuasive or inspiring or informative, search by one of those terms.
Keep it simple: In their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, brothers Chip and Dan Heath used the example of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign to illustrate the necessity of having a simple, core message you want to communicate to your audience. James Carville and Clinton’s other advisers told the often verbose candidate, “If you say three things, you don’t say anything.” Instead, the team began to focus on their top issue with the blunt phrase “It’s the economy, stupid,” a phrase that has stuck in people’s minds long after helping Clinton win the election. That’s the power of simplicity.
Keep it concise: A perfect way to help you edit out superfluous info is to give your presentation PechaKucha style. An origination out of Japan, PechaKucha limits speakers to 20 slides and 20 seconds to spend on each, giving each six minutes and 40 seconds to get to the point. Eleven years after appearing, PechaKucha Nights have caught on around the world as events where creatives can share their ideas without a few speakers dominating the stage. The reason these events are popular is the same reason you should keep your presentation as brief as possible: people love hearing new ideas, but their attention spans are short.
Engage the audience throughout: Historically, presentations have been one-way streets with perhaps a token segment at the end when the floor is opened to questions. That format has trained audiences to zone out until then when they get a chance to actively participate. To combat this, you have to be constantly interrupting their daydreaming by getting them involved. Poll them with a show of hands. Stage a demonstration and ask for a volunteer. You can even “buy” their attention with questions that you award with something as simple as a chocolate candy or a dollar bill (if you’re desperate).
Embrace new technology: Even great singers don’t want to have to perform a cappella all the time; a little accompaniment is a good thing. The right tools can elevate an average presentation to a good one, and a good one to a great one. Of course, PowerPoint is the old standby, but a solid crop of fresh programs is available for you to try. For example, we recently broke down the presentation program Prezi, which replaces clicking through slides with a 3D flight around a mind map of sorts.
But that’s just one example. PowToon brings fun animated presentations within the grasp of non-experts. Critics also love Haiku Deck for its beautiful templates and ability to draw on 35 million Creative Commons images for free use. Also for the iPad, Perspective by pixxa helps you turn your presentation into an audiovisual story populated with data from apps, blogs, websites, and even Excel and PowerPoint files.
- Record yourself: Grab a good free recording app and practice your speech with it running. It will help you edit your speech, and you’ll probably be shocked by how often you use filler words like “like,” “you know,” and “um.”
- Power pose: Recent research proves just striking a particular pose like raising your clinched fists in the air can increase your testosterone level and thus boost your confidence. Try it before you go on.
- Hydrate: Not only does a long period of talking dry your mouth out, being nervous exacerbates the problem. Drink plenty of water before your speech and keep some on hand as well as a good excuse to pause and gather your thoughts.
- Treat your audience as equals: Motivational speaker George Torok recommends you forget about salary, experience, age, titles, grades, and everything else that might cause you to talk down to or be intimidated by your audience. Consider them your equals, and don’t even think about picturing them in their underwear.
Written by Jared Luck
Reprinted by permission.
Image credit: Flickr