Giving presentations, like public speaking in general, is a great fear for many. However, by taking steps to improve your presentation skills you can overcome a great deal of your fear and gain confidence in your public speaking abilities.
Giving great presentations requires a combination of skills, including writing, teaching and speaking. Which skills you emphasize may vary depending on what you are presenting or who is listening to your presentation.
The first step to improving your presentation skills is to go easy on yourself. In most cases, you are your harshest critic after a presentation. It is easy to fall into the trap of overanalyzing every detail of your performance. To improve your skills, you first have to improve how you perceive your presentations.
Confidence is important in a presentation. If you do not sound like you believe what you are saying, why would your audience? While confidence is important, it is only one of the necessary tools to deliver a good presentation. The sections below go over basic steps you can take to help brush up your presentation skills and deliver a solid performance.
1. Study Other Speakers
One way to learn what constitutes a great presentation is to watch other presentations and study them closely. Try to watch a variety of speakers to get a feel for different techniques someone may use when addressing an audience. It also helps to look up presentations on a topic similar to your own. Thanks to the internet, there is no shortage of videos and presentations available to watch.
After watching a few videos, you may notice certain trends or techniques appearing among the most successful speakers. Once you start noticing trends regarding what goes into a good presentation, apply these techniques to your own. Record yourself and compare what you see to the presentations you are using as a model. Record both audio and video and review each separately. If you spend too much time focusing on one area, you may overlook flaws in the other.
2. Identify Areas for Improvement
There is an abundance of presentation skills, and you may be lacking skills in one area but gifted in another. Find out what specific public speaking skills you need to work on and identify your weaknesses. You can give presentations to friends, colleagues and mentors to get feedback on your performance. Make sure your audience is comfortable giving you honest feedback. If your audience is too polite to criticize you, you may not get any helpful feedback.
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Once you receive feedback, figure out where you should focus your attention in order to improve your performance. A few questions you may ask yourself include:
- Do you stutter or slouch when you speak, or do you use a clear voice and stand up straight?
- Do you depend too much on your notes or overuse slides, or do you have the presentation effectively memorized?
- Do you look shifty and nervous, or cool and confident?
- Is your voice too low and your words slurred or unintelligible, or are you projecting and enunciating clearly?
- Does your outfit not fit your body or the setting properly, or do you look prepared?
By identifying specific performance weaknesses, you can develop a strategy for how to improve.
3. Focus Outward, Not Inward
Once you are giving your presentation, your attention must no longer be inward. This means you cannot focus on what you are doing, how you sound or the way you are standing. When you are giving your presentation, your attention must be fully on the audience. Not only does this keep you from making self-conscious novice errors, it helps you to deliver a better presentation by engaging with the audience and responding to the feedback they are giving you in the moment.
A presentation may be a one-sided conversation, but it is a conversation nonetheless. As the person speaking, you are solely responsible for the relationship you are forming. By putting your attention fully on them, you are inviting and encouraging them to put their attention fully on you, receiving and absorbing your message. As such, you are more empowered to focus on your message rather than your performance as its messenger.
The better you prepare for your presentation, the better your delivery. Like actors must rehearse their part for a role, you must practice delivering your presentation. Try delivering it in different ways. Get feedback from different private trial audiences. Change it as needed to fix parts you find do not work as well as you had hoped.
Most of all, know your material. Learn it inside and out so that the words you speak come automatically. You must not have to expend any energy during the presentation trying to recall any of the material. Knowing your material before the presentation allows you to focus your attention on the audience.
5. Classes and Groups
There are a variety of classes you can take and groups you can join designed to help you improve your presentation skills. Since your body language is a pivotal factor in the quality of the presentations you give, look for classes and groups that help you get into your body and feel comfortable standing in front of people. Such classes include yoga, dance and tai chi. There are also speakers’ groups such as Toastmasters specifically geared towards improving your confidence in public speaking.
Another key component of giving great presentations many people find intimidating and hard to confront is performance. On one hand, you do not want to come across as overly scripted and rehearsed. On the other hand, you do not want to meander and get off track by being too spontaneous and free-flowing. Actors walk this tightrope all the time, and to develop the skills needed, many actors take improv training.
By learning and practicing theatrical or comedy improv, you can better find this balance of preparation and spontaneity and improve your confidence in your ability to handle unexpected stimuli while you are presenting. Learning improv teaches you to be in the moment, flexible and able to respond appropriately according to the given situation.
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