Having strong presentations skills – being able to share your ideas and point of view with several people at once – can make all the difference in a person’s career, or a company’s success. That’s because the men and women who make the blockbuster sales, get the big promotion or direct the organisation all have one thing in common: they can communicate their ideas and passions when it matters most.
What Blocks Your Presentation Skills
As powerful as a solid presentation is, most people are poor speakers. This is partly due to fear. Public speaking regularly ranks as the number one most common phobia across men and women of every age and demographic – one step above death. Given the terror that talking to groups incites in most people, it’s no reason they don’t excel at it.
Technology is another factor. Email, PowerPoint and other tools have decreased the amount of personal contact we make with our colleagues, and our face-to-face skills have suffered as a result. But with more and more organisations making decisions by committee, or consolidating their leadership into fewer layers, having the ability to say what you mean – and do it in a way that increases attention and respect – is more important than ever.
Sharpening Your Presentation Skills
Luckily, these aren’t tough skills to learn. All it takes is a little bit of practice, and a handful of basic tactics. So, as you prepare for your next presentation, keep these three tips in mind:
- Use a clear and distinctive speaking voice.
- Remember that your tone says as much as your words do.
- Project confidence.
Many people ignore the power of these three tips, but it would be hard to overstate their importance. If your audience can’t understand what you’re saying, then they’re never going to agree with you – much less act on what you’re saying. For that reason, it’s critical that you speak in a way that’s easy to hear and understand. This is especially true if you’re going to have people in your audience who don’t have English as their first language and might have trouble making your words out.
Along those same lines, many presenters have a tendency to take a sombre tone, with the idea that it makes their talk seem more serious. As a result, they sound flat to audiences, who have a hard time focusing on what’s being said. With that in mind, spice things up a bit. You don’t have to sound like you’re starring in an infomercial, but vary your inflection enough to let people know you’re interested in what you’re saying.
Of course, even if you speak clearly and with an interesting tone, you aren’t going to get far as a presenter without a heavy dose of confidence. The psychology is simple: how you feel about what you’re saying is going to go a long way towards determining how it’s received. If you convey that you’re shaky, or that you don’t deserve to be listened to, then your audience is going to reflect that; but let them know you’re going to knock their socks off, and they’ll give you their undivided attention.
This might sound like a chicken and egg problem – after all, how can you have confidence if you haven’t already given dozens of great presentations? – but it isn’t. One of the easiest ways to build confidence is by being prepared. If you have a thorough understanding of what you’re going to talk about – and know that you do – you’ll be amazed at how relaxed and confident you can become. Therefore, one of the best things you can do for yourself is realise that you are not there to impress your audience but instead to add value to them. If you think about your topic in terms of what they need to hear, versus what you need to say, you will go a long way towards talking with them rather than at them.
At the same time, realise that confidence is essentially a state of mind. If you feel a bit nervous, just think of things this way: you wouldn’t be presenting if your audience wasn’t at least a little bit interested in what you have to say. The value is not in how much more you know than they do but rather in showing them how much what you are saying is of value to them in their daily jobs and lives.
Remember, our thinking produces our beliefs. Our beliefs create our actions and our actions create our outcomes. It’s the circle of communication that helps you say the right thing at the right time every time.
Anne Warfield is speaking at the AFP Conference 2011 at 8.30am on Monday 7 November 2011 in the session entitled “Intensive: Growing Your Professional Presence – Saying the Right Thing at the Right Time” (room 205C).