Presentation skills are a very specific set of skills. They’re often confused with public speaking skills, and in fact there’s a lot of overlap here. But public speaking skills are more general, they involve the general skills you need to speak in front of other people on any topic and in any setting. In contrast, if you’re giving a presentation you’re probably talking in front of a much smaller audience. You have a specific agenda during a presentation, with visual aids that reinforce that objective
If you’ve ever presented your ideas at work, talked about your skills in front of a potential employee, or tried to win a new account, then you’ve given a presentation. There’s usually more give and take during a presentation, with the possibility of audience participation. When you give a presentation, you’re trying to convince someone that your way is right. A public speaker might talk to a huge audience for half an hour to motivate and inspire them. But someone giving a presentation will give a quick speech and try to convince their audience to agree with their ideas.
Do you need to give presentations at work to convince others to buy-in to your ideas? What could change in your career if you improve these skills?
Common Mistakes People Make During Presentations
There are a number of common mistakes that people make during their presentations. These mistakes may confuse the message, alienate the audience, or just result in the audience being bored and restless long before the end of the speech. The best way to avoid these mistakes is to know about them beforehand. And to help you with that, here are some of the most common ones:
Make sure that your visuals aren’t boring when you’re making a presentation. Obviously there are times when you’ll have to focus on graphs or data, and this might seem boring to some people. But this is relevant data that’s probably easier to understand in picture form. Boring visuals are images that aren’t really necessary and are just there so you have something for people to look at. They’re usually something mundane and typical for the type of speech you’re making. Make sure that your visuals are necessary, and make them as interesting as possible with colors, commentary and even cartoons if you can get away with it. Anything unexpected that’s relevant to your topic is good.
Not focusing on connecting emotionally
No matter what type of presentation you’re making, you should be focused on making an emotional connection. The human brain is wired to pay more attention to emotions and to make decisions based on them. So if you really want to grab the right kind of attention and be remembered, focus on bringing emotions to your presentation.
Try to stay away from jargon as much as possible. If you’re making a presentation for a particular industry, you’ll probably have to use some jargon to prove that you know what you’re talking about. But overusing jargon can confuse your message, because you can’t guarantee that everyone present will understand every word you use. Instead, make your words as universal as possible.
Talking too long
No matter how good your speech is, people will get bored and restless if they have to sit still and listen to you for too long. Generally speaking, your audience will listen to you attentively for about 20 minutes at best before their attention begins to wander. So plan your speech around this time period. If you have to go longer, plan a small activity at the twenty minute mark. Anything that gets people moving, allows them to use different skills, or even talk themselves will give them a break and allow them to focus once you start talking again.
Going off topic
A sad thing about making presentations is the fact that your audience won’t remember very much of what you say. Every member of your audience has their own problems, concerns and thoughts, and your words have to really make an impact to get through that. As a result, they’ll probably only remember your main point and maybe a story that you told if it was particularly funny. When you’re making a presentation, make sure that you aren’t compounding that problem by adding unnecessary points. Keep your speech concise and to the point.
Not knowing the audience
Writing and planning your speech without knowing your audience is a guaranteed way to lose their interest. Your audience has an agenda for your presentation just like you do. But if you don’t bother to learn about them, you’ll won’t know what that agenda is and probably won’t be able to help them achieve it. Making presentations is about adding value to your audience in some way. And one of the best ways to do that is to help them achieve their agenda.
What Skills are involved in Making Presentations?
There are a number of skills involved in making presentations, some of them you would expect and others that may surprise you. These are the skills that you need to work on if you want to make presentations that grab attention and help persuade your audience to your point of view. The main skills required for presentations are:
Obviously you need to be able to speak well to give great presentations. If you mumble, tend to talk off topic, or just have trouble talking in front of others, this is one of the first things you need to address.
A big part of giving a great presentation is learning to prepare properly. This means more than simply getting your facts together. You also need to think about what your audience needs and make sure that your speech meets those needs. This should be the primary aim of your presentation, and it’s something that a lot of speakers need to work on.
Organizing visual aids.
You should have visual aids when you give a presentation. This gives your audience something else to look at, which can aid understanding and retention. It also helps the people in your audience who learn visually and might not get as much value from just listening to you talk.
Your body language is vital to the success of your speech. Only about 45 percent of your message is conveyed through your words and tone and the rest of it comes from your body language. So work on your body language before your presentation to ensure that you can convey the right messages.
How to Improve your Speaking Skills
The first thing you need to do to improve your presentation skills is to work on your speaking skills. This might seem like a waste of time, after all most people speak all the time, but giving a presentation is different than chatting with friends. You need to be able to speak when you’re under pressure and to do it in a way that holds other people’s attention. You also need to avoid common mistakes that can completely derail your objective and result in your audience losing interest halfway through. To work on this aspect of your presentation, try the following ideas:
As a general rule, you should always speak more slowly than you want to when giving a speech. If you’re nervous when you give a presentation, you’ll be tempted to speed up and get it over and done with. But speaking too quickly means that your audience will have trouble understanding you, and can result in you making mistakes. Instead, deliberately slow down. It also helps if you pause after important points, this will give your audience a moment to think about what you’ve said.
Remember to breathe
This might sound stupid, after all if you don’t breathe you’ll die in the middle of your speech, but the truth is that your breathing patterns can change because of nerves. And because they govern the strength of your voice and the pace of your presentation, this can seriously influence your presentation. So when you practice your speech, make sure to breathe slowly and steadily. This will encourage you to get into the habit so you do it during your presentation as well.
Vary your tone, pitch and speed
Do your best to vary how you talk, otherwise the whole speech will come out as a long and unchanging drone that puts the audience to sleep. You do this naturally when you talk to friends, but if you’re nervous it can cause your tone, pitch and speed to change. Practicing before the speech can help you identify if you have this problem, and then it’s just a matter of deliberately letting your emotions color your speech once more.
How to Prepare for a Presentation
Properly preparing for your presentation is vital if you want it to go well. And it isn’t just as simple as writing the speech the night before. This might work sometimes, but most of the time it just results in a lousy presentation. If you want your presentation to have the impact that you want, follow these steps:
- Assess your audience, make sure you know what they want from the presentation and what they’re expecting.
- Define your objective, this is what you want to accomplish in your presentation.
- Research your subject, this is probably closely related to your objective, but can vary as well.
- Write the body of your presentation, this is the main points and is where most of your research will go.
- Prepare your visual aids making sure they relate to the main points of your presentation.
- Write the introduction and conclusion. Both of these should state the same points as the body, just more memorably and forcefully.
- Practice and refine all of the above where necessary.
A Guide to Visual Aids
Make sure you prepare your visual aids with the same focus you use to practice and give your speech. Good visual aids will illustrate your points, help the audience engage with your material and relieve boredom. But there are a number of ways they can harm your presentation as well.
For starters, never just read the material off your visual aids, your audience will get exasperated because it’s a waste of time. If your speech can be given in visual form, you should just email the file to them. Secondly, if your visual aids are too cluttered or you have too many of them it will distract the audience from your speech and put too much pressure on them. No one wants to try to read pages of writing and try to listen at the same time. These are some of the biggest mistakes that people make with their visual aids, and there’s a lot of advice out there on how to better organize this aspect of your presentation.
One of the most popular is the 10/20/30 rule. This visual aid guideline comes from venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki. Every day he deals with people who are trying to sell him ideas and products, and sees a lot of bad pitches. He claims that people tend to use too many visual aids, cluttered visual aids, or just visually unappealing ones. The 10/20/30 rule is his way of overcoming that and setting boundaries on visual aids. According to this rule, there should be no more than 10 slides that can be shown in 20 minutes and use a 30 point font. Keeping to these restrictions will ensure that you don’t overwhelm your audience and that everyone can read the slides easily.
Quick Guidelines for Body Language
Your body language should be congruent with what you’re saying during a presentation. If you’re trying to project confidence but your arms are crossed in front of you it will clearly signal the lie. This will make your audience lose confidence in you because they’ll be so focused on your obvious nerves that your speech will completely pass them by. Try to keep your body language open, relaxed, and confident. The following ideas can help with that:
Watch your posture
The general rules of good posture will help you convey confidence and ease. Keep your shoulders back, your head up and your chin parallel with the floor. This will make you feel more confident too.
Use your hands
It can be hard to know what to do with your hands when you give a presentation. Leaving them hanging at your sides can feel unnatural, and you should avoid crossing your arms, putting your hands in your pockets or clasping them behind your back. Instead, use your hands to gesture. The more you use your hands, the more effective you’ll be as a speaker, so use descriptive movements that fit with the content of your speech.
Smiling is one of the most effective things you can do when you’re making a presentation. It relaxes your face muscles and instantly makes you look more confident and more appealing. It’s also essential for making a connection with your audience, so when in doubt, smile.
More Tips to Improve your Presentation Skills
Improving your presentation skills is an ongoing process. You will never be a perfect speaker and you will never stop learning things that will help you give better presentations. With that in mind, here are some more ideas that can help:
Your audience will remember the start of your speech more than any other part so you need to start strong if you want them to retain the important points. To do this, use a thought provoking quote at the start of your presentation or just state your primary point or aim. As the old saying goes, in a speech you should tell people what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you told them. And this is pretty good advice.
Go in logical order
Listening to a speech isn’t like reading a book. If your audience loses their place, they can’t go back and work out what’s going on. That’s why it’s important that you follow a logical progression in your speech. Start at the beginning and move to the end without jumping around a lot. This might seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t do it.
Watch the experts
One of the best ways to pick up ideas for making your presentations better is to watch the experts. YouTube is an amazing tool for this, you can literally choose the best speakers in the world and watch them give speeches from the comfort of your own home. This isn’t the same as watching in person of course, you can’t really gauge the atmosphere in the room during a speech or watch the audience’s reactions. But you can watch how the speaker moves, how they use the stage, and how they connect with their audience. And these are some of the most valuable skills you need to learn to give an amazing presentation.
You need to practice your speech at every opportunity. Practice it in front of friends, in front of family and in front of a camera at home. Getting feedback from all these sources can be the key to discovering your weaknesses as a speaker and to solving any problems you have with the content of your presentation itself.
Get to know the room
Make sure you know the room before you start a presentation. Get there early, check your resources and rearrange things if necessary so they work for your needs. This will make you feel more comfortable in the space and it will help ensure that you don’t have to pause awkwardly while you try to put your visuals up or shuffle people around so they can all see the screen.
Get to know your audience
This will help with your nerves and help you tailor your speech to the audience at the same time. If you’re making a presentation at work, you probably know everyone already and don’t need to worry about this tip as much. But if there are strangers in the audience, put some time aside before your presentation to meet them, get their names, and exchange small talk.
Pay attention to your audience
No matter what kind of presentation you make, you need to pay attention to your audience. If they seem bored, if they look confused, or if they’re just not paying attention, then you need to make changes to your speech if it’s going to be effective. Your role during presentations is to give your audience what they need. How can you do that properly if you ignore all the input they offer during your speech?
Don’t try to say everything
No matter how fast you talk, you won’t be able to say everything that you really want to say. And it probably wouldn’t help even if you could say it all. Your audience can only take in a few points at a time. So make sure you cut down your speech to focus on your key ideas.
The human brain is wired to listen to stories and to remember them. That’s why, for so many years, morality was taught to children through fairy tales. Adults are just as susceptible to a good story. So if you can rework your speech to tell a story, from start to end, you’re much more likely to get the attention and the response you want from your audience.
Presentation skills are essential in a lot of career paths. You can use them to present your ideas or to convince your boss to give you a raise. You can even use them to explain that new strategy that you’re convinced will save your company time and money. These skills can also be useful outside of work. Basically, you can tap into them any time you have to convince someone else about your ideas. But despite how important they are, presentation skills aren’t always easy to cultivate. Presenting your ideas in front of a group probably taps into your fear of public speaking and makes you feel as if you’re on display. Overcoming these fears by working on the separate skills will allow you to shine when you have to present your ideas. And this may be the key to fast-tracking your career success and advancement.
Have you ever lost out on a promotion or other work advantage because your presentation skills weren’t good enough? Share the story with us in the comments below.