keynote speaker giving a lecture to a large audience in a grand auditorium The speaker is confidently addressing the crowd, gesturing with their hand, under the spotlight on stage

10 tips to improve your presentation skills

Whether you’re new to presenting or a seasoned speaker, having the right skills to make an impact is the key to delivering a great presentation.

Here we look at 10 quick tips for improving your presentation skills.

1) Prepare, prepare, prepare

Whatever the presentation scenario you’re facing, it’s vital that you prepare thoroughly to ensure you’re ready to take full advantage of the opportunity.

Start with the big picture. What is the opportunity on offer and what are you hoping to achieve? Familiarising yourself with the content you’re going to deliver is an obvious priority. But don’t neglect the granular details, which can pay real dividends.

If you’re delivering the presentation in person what is the layout of the room? What will the tech set up be? Will there be Q&A and if so, how will it work? If it’s a virtual event, what backdrop will you use? Do you have contingencies in place in case of any technical hiccups?

Uncertainty will have detrimental effects on your focus and performance. So, the more comprehensively prepared you are, the more you can focus on making your presentation count.

2) Understand your audience

When you present, it’s not about you. Your aim is actually to serve the needs and motivations of your audience by being relevant and accessible.

Begin by understanding and acknowledging their perspective and then ask yourself some key questions to shed further light. These could include:

What do I want the audience to think, feel and do as a result of my presentation?

Is the audience starting from a place of sympathy, indifference or hostility?

What is their existing level of understanding about the topic I’m presenting on, and how could I calibrate my material to align with that?

3) Be authentic

It’s crucial that you find a presentation style that is authentic to you. If you’re a natural extrovert, a high-energy, interactive style is probably the right choice. For those who are quieter or more introspective, a more measured approach is likely to work better.

Audiences tend to have a sixth sense about whether what they’re seeing is an authentic representation of who you are. Get it right and you’ll build a stronger connection with your audience and make them more receptive to you and the messages and ideas you want to share.

4) Use structure

A strong structure will add clarity and coherence to your presentation, providing a roadmap for your audience to follow.

Different structures will be suitable for different presentation scenarios, but two evergreen structures you may want to consider are:

Option one: 

  • Problem/Opportunity
    • Establish the challenge or opportunity
  • Solution
    • Set out the solution your business provides.
  • Benefit/Action
    • Detail the benefit of your solution and the action your audience should take.

Option two: 

  • What?
    • Make your assertion
  • So what?
    • Explain why it’s important to your audience.
  • Now what?
    • Set out the action your audience should take.

5) Use questions

Asking questions of your audience to frame your presentation is a great way to foster engagement and connection. Questions invite your audience to participate by responding to or at least thinking about the ideas you are posing.

You could begin by taking a straw poll of the room, or posing a rhetorical question about the topic you’re presenting on. The key thing is to get your audience engaging with you right from the start and throughout.

6) Be aware of what your body language is saying

You’ve probably heard some variation of the ‘7-38-55 Rule’ – the idea that only 7% of communication is conveyed by our words, while 38% and 55% is delivered by our tone and body language respectively.

You want to project a relaxed confidence and authority in a way that builds connection and engagement with your audience. Getting the most out of your body language is a big topic, but these are some basic principles to follow:

  • Stand up straight, with your feet roughly shoulder width apart.
  • Maintain strong eye contact with your audience.
  • Keep your hands relaxed and either down at your side or gently clasped in front of you, one over the other, at navel height.
  • Deploy hand gestures for emphasis but use them deliberately and sparingly.
  • Use facial expressions to convey enthusiasm and don’t forget to smile!

7) Pay attention to your rate of speech

The speed at which you speak is crucial to delivering a great presentation. Too fast and the audience won’t be able to absorb the material and digest what you’re saying. Too slow and their attention will start to wander.

Analysis suggests the ideal rate of speech for effective communication is around 150 words per minute, but a good rule of thumb is to aim for a rate slightly slower than you would use in a normal conversation.

Equally as important as your base rate of speech is how you use variation. Speaking at the same speed throughout a presentation becomes predictable to your audience and makes it much more difficult to hold their attention.

For the sections of your speech that are less critical you can afford to talk more quickly to move things along and build momentum and anticipation. Then, when you get to a key point that you want to emphasise – slow down.

8) Vary your tone and volume

Delivering a presentation in a flat, monotone way is the quickest way to lose your audience’s focus.

As human beings we’re hard-wired to notice changes and variation in our environment. You can use this to your advantage, pulling your audience in by varying your tone and volume as you deliver your presentation. It’s also a great way to communicate your passion about the subject matter.

So, if you’re talking about an exciting opportunity – sound excited! If you want to grab your audiences attention try increasing your volume. And if you want your audience to listen intently, speak more softly to draw the audience in.

9) Filter out filler words

Filler words – ‘uhm’, ‘er’ – are a natural part of our everyday, conversational speech. In the context of a presentation though, they interrupt your flow, undermine your credibility and distract from the content and ideas you’re trying to communicate.

So, try to avoid filler words as much as possible and simply insert a pause in their place (pauses will, in any case, give your audience time to digest what you’re saying).

10) Practice makes perfect

Learning to be a great presenter is like anything else in life – the more you practice the better you get. So, be proactive and look for opportunities to practice your presentation skills as often as possible. The more experience you get, the more comfortable you’ll be when those big occasions arrive.

Here’s a simple but effective exercise you can do to sharpen your skills in four easy steps:

  • Prepare a short (c. 2 min) presentation on a topic. It can be any topic you choose, but preferably one where you already have a strong grasp of the material.
  • Record yourself delivering the presentation on your phone or laptop.
  • Watch the recording back several times. On each run through, focus on a different skill area, from your body language, to your rate of speech.
  • For each skill, make notes on what you did well, and what you’d like to improve for next time

Doing this exercise shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes but it can be an extremely powerful and efficient way of honing in on, and improving, the different elements of your presenting style.

If you’d like to find out more about our presentation training services click here or get in touch today.

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