How to improve your presentation skills

Presenting: you either love it or hate it. Whether you like it or not, it’s likely that at some point in your career you will have to present – whether it’s to your boss, colleagues, clients, prospects or other stakeholders.

Good presentation skills make you stand out. They show that you care about your audience, their time and delivering value.

I recently attended the SheSays Sydney Perfect Presenting session – which covered everything you need to know from preparing, when you should (and shouldn’t!) use Powerpoint and how to get over your nerves and over yourself and just do it!

If you are keen to improve your presentation skills or looking for a refresher, here’s my tips for perfect presenting.

Understand your audience

Understanding your audience is something we often forget in our haste to write the perfect presentation. Often motivated by a fear of public speaking, it’s easy to get caught up in how quickly we can regurgitate everything we want to say.

Take the time to think about your audience, their background, position and any biases. Think about how they like to consume information, and write to their needs. Understand their seniority, concerns and if there are any specific metrics they need from your presentation.

Where appropriate, start your presentation with a story, insight or anecdote that your they can latch on to.

By taking the time to really understand your audience before you get stuck into preparing, you can laser focus your presentation, style and deliverables… saving you time and hassle along the way.

Know your end goal

With your audience in mind, now think about your end goal. A good presenter knows their objectives from the outset, and crafts their presentation around what they want to give to their audience. What’s the one thing that will help you connect with your audience? Focus on this and get rid of all the other meaningless information.

When you start preparing your presentation, avoid going straight to Powerpoint. Instead, start your presentation in a Word document and type it out from start to finish, just like you would say it if you were telling someone at a barbeque.

Once you have your speech typed out, then it’s time to start breaking it down into slides. Keep refining your presentation until you get each slide down to a key statement or proposition that you can talk to, with everything else going into your speaker’s notes.

Starting this way will change both how you design and present you presentation. It will help you present in your own voice, feel less awkward and showcase your passion for the subject matter.

Present the insight not the data

Chances are you have been in a presentation before where the presenter has squeezed large data dumps into every slide at 8 point font. Now, ask yourself: how much of this information do you remember?

I’ll hazard a guess you remember very little. In fact, one of the fastest ways to disengage our audience is to overwhelm them with large chunks of data.

Think of raw data as a dictionary. Next time you find yourself putting a big graph with lots of data into a presentation, think about your insight from this data. What is the key point?

Try to always present a story, and back it up with your data. Deliver messages. Remember, that you are presenting to human beings… not robots!

Be ruthless with your editing

Similarly to data heavy slides, including too much text on your will quickly disengage your audience.

Be ruthless with your editing. Remember that it is your role as presenter to narrate the story and deliver value – not just a bunch of wordy slides – to your audience.

If your audience looks at your slides in isolation, they shouldn’t be able get the whole picture without you filling in the blanks. To convey your points with clarity they need to rely on you and engage with you as a presenter. Also, if you put everything into your slides, why are you presenting it and not simply emailing the presentation deck to your audience?

Remember the old saying, when everything is important, nothing is important.Don’t be the person who marks every email as “URGENT” or you might quickly find your audience tuning out.

Practice makes perfect

Finally, always make time to practice. It goes without saying that the more you practice, the less you will need to rely on a script, freeing you up to engage with your audience.

If you are used to presenting with a full script, why not try just memorising one or two lines for each slide. Then, if you get stuck or simply off track, you have something to fall back on that allows you the opportunity to take a breath, stop and reset.

The best thing about practicing and getting comfortable with your presentation is that it will allow you to inject some of your personality into the presentation.

Finally, don’t forget to be confident and go get it!

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