An email from your boss pops in your inbox—-she’s asking you to give a talk at an upcoming conference. You groan and your stomach flips at the thought of speaking in front of such a large group.
Public speaking can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it doesn’t have to be. With good preparation, delivering a presentation is empowering. Not only are you sharing knowledge, but you’re also establishing yourself as an expert on your presentation subject.
Whether you’re giving a speech to hundreds or showing a PowerPoint to five co-workers, we’re here to help you deliver a powerful, engaging presentation. In this post, we’ll highlight 30 tips to help you improve your presentation skills. Read about how to plan, write, and deliver a presentation that is clear, thoughtful, and engaging.
Planning your presentation
Once you learn that you’re delivering a presentation, it’s time to plan what exactly you’re going to present. Figure out the scope of your topic early on, and you’ll make the most of your time when creating the presentation
1. Create a mind map to explore the sub-topics of your topic.
Rekindle your knowledge of the subject by creating a mind map, or diagram, that shows all of the different ideas relating to the topic. Refreshing your understanding will help you feel more confident about delivering the presentation and will give you ideas for points you want to make.
2. Connect your subject matter to audience needs.
Your presentation will be full of useful information if you connect your audience’s interests and needs to your topic. Identify the details of your audience—their profession, industry, interests, etc. — so you know how to frame your subject in a relevant way.
3. Avoid covering too much material.
Covering a long list of ideas will overwhelm, rather than educate, your audience. Decide whether you need to narrow the scope of your topic by considering the time you’ve been allotted for your presentation and the complexity of your subject.
4. Watch other presentations.
Observe how other professionals give talks — from their body language to their flow of ideas — to find tactics that you can use in your own presentation. You can watch more presentations by attending conferences or watching recordings of good presentations online. For example, the TED Talks channel on YouTube is an excellent free resource for watching great presentations.
This presentation “How to speak so that people want to listen” is one of the most popular TED Talks on YouTube with over 20 million views.
By doing this prep work, you’ll know what you want your presentation to cover and achieve and will be able to create it more efficiently.
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Writing your presentation
Writing for speaking situations is different than writing content that is meant to be read. To improve your presentation skills, you have to make sure the language you use flows when spoken without cutting down on its substance. Here are a few tips to help you assemble a rough script for your presentation.
5. Start with an outline.
Before you draft a full speech, jot down the main points of your presentation. Seeing a basic sketch of your ideas gives you an opportunity to quickly change or switch certain topics without investing much energy and time.
6. Include personal anecdotes to connect to your audience.
“Great stories expose our flaws and our struggles,” says Nancy Duarte, CEO and communication strategist. “This is what makes them inspiring, and not sharing them is such a missed opportunity to connect with your audience.”
7. Throw in some humor.
Besides being entertaining, a joke here and there reminds the audience that you’re human. The audience is more likely to listen if you seem relatable to them.
8. Say lines aloud as you write.
A compelling speech doesn’t necessarily follow the clear-cut grammar and usage rules of written language. Say your presentation aloud as you write it to maintain a conversational, yet engaging tone.
9. Build in repetition.
As you write, make sure that you’re planning to repeat the core ideas of your presentation throughout the talk. Frequently mentioning the key ideas of your presentation boosts your audience’s memory of these concepts.
10. Create several takeaways.
Great presentations are useful, so explicitly point out the valuable lessons of your talk for your audience. Along with writing these takeaways in your speech, you can emphasize these tips with visual aids (more on that later).
Spend time figuring out the words you want to say, and you’ll be able to express your ideas and expertise in a concise, clear way to your audience.
Establishing a presence
Beyond words, your presence as a speaker — body language, volume — has a huge impact on whether your audience pays attention and understands your ideas. Execute the following tips to enhance your presentation skills.
11. Be authentic.
Audiences can tell when a speaker looks or sounds insincere. You have to be yourself to connect with your audience and hold their attention. Imagine that you’re talking to your best friend, and you’ll appear natural and comfortable on stage.
12. Make eye contact with audience members.
This non-verbal tactic keeps you and the audience engaged with each other. They can see that you’re paying attention to them, and you can read their facial expressions to see if you need to adjust your delivery to boost their attention.
13. Demonstrate confident body language.
Maintain a straight posture with your hands out of your pockets to show your audience that you are at ease. Even if you’re actually feeling a bit nervous, this body language can reduce those anxious feelings and help you feel more comfortable on stage.
14. Interact with the audience.
Encouraging audience participation—whether it’s asking everyone a question or getting a volunteer on stage—is a simple, yet powerful way to connect with everyone watching. It makes each listener an active audience member rather than a passive one.
15. Articulate and project when you speak.
A great presentation is wasted if you aren’t heard by the audience. Not to mention, you will feel more confident and seem more confident to your audience if your voice is loud and clear. Present your speech with confidence, and the audience will see that you’re a subject matter expert who is comfortable expressing their ideas.
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Engaging with slides
Your audience is more likely to remember the information you share if they can hear it and see it with visual aids. Add slides to your presentation to help them retain more of your content.
16. Limit text.
Fill your slides with words and bullet points, and your audience will be too busy reading to pay attention to what you’re saying. Minimize your text and share knowledge by saying it aloud. The audience will be more likely to stay engaged, and you’ll be able to showcase your expertise.
17. Use high-quality graphics.
Grainy, low-quality images on slides hurt your presentation — they’re difficult to see and they make the presentation seem unprofessional. Aim for the highest image resolution possible, especially if you’re presenting on a large screen.
18. Create your own theme.
PowerPoint templates are used so frequently that they aren’t worth using. Show that your presentation is original by creating your own background theme, or you can browse online to find custom templates created by others.
Here at Vyond, we adapted a conference’s custom template to fit our branding:
Add movement to your slides with video and your presentation will be more eye-catching and engaging. For example, you might introduce yourself in an early slide with a video bio, or turn dry statistics into an animated GIF to capture attention.
20. Keep your slides simple.
If you include too many elements on each slide, your audience won’t know where their eyes should focus. Guide your audience seamlessly through each slide with a simple, minimal design that has a clear focus.
21. Coordinate audio-visual (AV) support beforehand.
Whether you’re speaking in your office or at a conference, figure out the technical details of showing slides beforehand. Preparing for the set-up process will help you avoid hiccups when you need to present. With visual aids, your audience will be more likely to understand and remember your presentation content. Rehearsing your presentation will minimize any stress or fear you feel around public speaking. The more you’ve practiced, the more confident you’ll feel in your ability to deliver the presentation.
22. Don’t read your slides.
If you’re constantly turning back to see your PowerPoint, your audience won’t be able to see your face and you’ll seem less knowledgeable. Practice your presentation facing forward with your content memorized, and your audience will be able to see your expressions and feel more confident in your expertise.
23. Write cue cards.
Remember what you want to say in your presentation by writing your main talking points on flashcards. Include a limited amount of text and write in large letters to make your notes easy to read on stage. As you practice more, try to look down at your cards fewer times and focus on keeping your gaze on the audience.
24. Time yourself.
Most conferences have time limits for each talk, and if you’re giving an internal company presentation, your boss will have a sense of how long your meeting presentation should last. Make sure you’re within these time frames by timing your presentation as you practice. If you’re consistently running over, review your presentation to find areas that you can cut.
25. Slow down.
People tend to talk more quickly when feeling nervous during public speaking. However, rushing through your sentences can make your presentation difficult to understand as an audience member. Focus on speaking at a steady pace as you practice your presentation.
26. Have a practice run in front of someone else.
Find someone you trust — a friend, family member, or co-worker — who can watch you deliver a practice presentation. Delivering in front of someone else will prepare you for facing an audience, and they will be able to provide useful feedback for improvements as an observer. Start practicing a few weeks prior to your presentation. By the time you’re ready to give the talk, you’ll have ingrained these tips in your delivery style. Delivering your presentation Even after practicing your presentation, standing in front of an audience can still be nerve-wracking for some. Use these tips to relax and feel comfortable right before and during your presentation. Feeling calm, you’ll be able to share your expertise with poise and confidence.
27. Take deep breaths.
Right before delivering a presentation, it’s normal to feel a bit nervous — your heart beats quickly and your palms may even feel a bit sweaty. Calm down by taking several deep breaths. Inhale for three counts and exhale for three counts for each breath. Slowing down your breath and becoming aware of it will help you relax before presenting.
28. Think positively before it starts.
Take a moment before you deliver your presentation to imagine it going extremely well. You showcase your knowledge beautifully, and your audience stays engaged. Picturing this positive vision will boost your confidence before you begin, so you’re more likely to deliver the great presentation that you imagined.
29. Drink water
Your mouth may get dry after speaking for such a long time. Bring a bottle of water on stage in case you need to refresh yourself during the presentation.
This is a simple, yet essential tip. Smiling makes you seem approachable and friendly to your audience, so they’re more likely to pay attention. For those with a fear of public speaking, putting on a grin can even help lower your stress levels, according to research. Using these tips, you can calm your nerves and keep your cool throughout your presentation.
Giving a great presentation is a process
Public speaking isn’t an inherent talent—to improve your presentation skills, you have to practice. Brainstorming and rehearsing your presentation well in advance enables you to deliver it in a powerful, memorable way. Use the tips in this guide to plan your content and practice your delivery, and you’ll be ready to showcase your expertise on presentation day.
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