How Can I Work on My Presentation Skills?

It doesn't matter whether you love the spotlight or break into a cold sweat at the mere mention of public speaking—we can all improve our presentation skills. Holding an audience's attention to convey a message is an acquired talent—especially when (as is often the case in business) your subject is less than riveting. Try these tips if you want to improve your presentation skills.

presentation skills

Watch Great Speakers—and Learn From Them

We all get chills when we hear Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. His message would have been powerful if it had remained on paper, but a big part of what made the speech so potent were the rhetorical devices he employed: alliteration, parallelism, and metaphors, to name just a few. Of course, comparing your quarter-end update to this seminal moment in American history would be ridiculous, but you can still take stylistic tips from great speakers. One place to start: the most popular TED Talks of all time.

Join Toastmasters International

More than 352,000 people in 141 countries meet regularly to develop their public speaking and leadership skills through Toastmasters. Club members have been gathering since 1924 to make speeches and offer each other supportive critiques. Someone at each Toastmasters meeting serves as the "Ah-counter," noting any "ums" and "likes."

Understand Your Audience

No matter how well you know your material, if you don't have a firm grasp of your audience and its needs, your presentation will fall flat. You run the risk of talking over their heads or talking down to them. Understand what information the audience wants or has to get from your presentation before you start an outline for your PowerPoint.

Put PowerPoint in Its Place

Your slide deck should enhance your presentation, not be your presentation. Look at PowerPoint as a visual aid to graphically illustrate concepts. Don't overload your slides with text in a tiny font. Better to offer headings and let the audience take notes. You can always prepare an auxiliary handout to pass out after the presentation. (And don't overdo it with clip art and animations. A little goes a long way.)

Practice, Practice, Practice

During your actual presentation, you want to appear conversational and in command of your material, not like you're reading from a script. You don't need to memorize it, but you should be able to work comfortably from an outline to keep things conversational. Give your presentation for a coworker who knows the material and to a friend who doesn't. Constructive feedback from both perspectives will be valuable. If you can stand to watch it, consider recording yourself practicing, so you can see your style for yourself.

What if your particular position at work doesn’t offer many presentation opportunities? Volunteer for them! Offer to facilitate a team meeting or present information about new company initiatives to your colleagues. Your supervisor might be happy to get a break from taking the floor. And don’t forget to look for presentation opportunities outside of work, too. Many volunteer roles—whether you’re leading tours at a local museum or presenting a report at a PTA meeting—require you to flex your public speaking skills. Volunteering can be a less-stressful venue in which to practice.

Practice Speaking Slowly

While presenting, make a concerted effort to speak slowly. You don't have to sound like your battery's dying, but remember, nerves will likely make you speak more quickly, so anything you can do to counteract fast talking will help with your audience's comprehension. You'll be less likely to insert those dreaded "ums" and "likes," too.

Adopt a Power Pose Before the Presentation

Think about adopting a pre-presentation routine to psych yourself up/calm your nerves. You might go for a quick walk, meditate, or even adopt a power pose à la Wonder Woman. (Hey, don't knock it until you try it.)

Make Eye Contact One-By-One

Instead of fixing your gaze into the distance, make eye contact with one audience member at a time, holding that contact for a complete sentence or point. It's a powerful way to connect and also feed off of audience energy.

Answer Questions As You Go

Be prepared to turn your presentation into a conversation, not a monologue. Questions prove you're holding their attention. Just stay in control and be ready to steer the conversation back on track.

Give the Audience Takeaways

Wrap up your presentation with the take-home message. This gives you a chance to repeat key points (an important rhetorical device) as well as remind the audience of the value of the information.

Leave Time for Questions

Aim to complete your presentation with five or 10 minutes to spare. This leaves time for Q&A or an audience member on a tangent. If you don't need the extra time, everyone will enjoy having a few minutes to relax or check email.

Above all, be yourself. Find the space within your company's culture where you can comfortably present in your own style. You need to feel as confident in your presentation style as you do in your knowledge of the material. Break a leg! You've got this.

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