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Make your mark: 4 tips to nail your next presentation

The thought of giving a presentation can be a terrifying one for even the most seasoned businessperson. Having to stand in front of colleagues, superiors, complete strangers or important clients – sometimes all at once! – can set the pulse racing, the sweat glands pouring and leave your tongue twisted, tied-up and uncooperative, to say the least. 

However, the real tragedy in this scenario is the fact that all your hard work and great ideas are rendered far less impactful by a poor presentation. You might have a game-changing idea or a report to blow your boss’ mind, but if your presentation is a mess it will leave your audience with a less than impressed perception of you and your work.

So, next time you’re required to give a presentation, try these tips that actually help, instead of imagining your audience naked and ending up queasy, uneasy, or on the wrong end of a sexual harassment workshop!

1)  Prep like a pro

Presentation preparation should extend beyond simply firing up PowerPoint, scribbling on some cue cards and dry-cleaning your ‘take me seriously’ suit. Although it’s crucial to ensure your props and visual cues are on point, you should spend time learning your presentation intimately – practice it in front of the mirror and really get comfortable with the content to ensure you aren’t just standing in front of your audience reading from a sheet of paper. If you really know your stuff, you’ll have some freedom to improvise should you draw a blank and the cue cards just don’t cut it. You will also come across as far more knowledgeable and genuine, and the audience will warm to that and the effort you’ve clearly put in.

Furthermore, it never hurts to get a feel for your audience before presenting to them. Are you talking to a no-nonsense boardroom of time-poor executives? They might not appreciate your ‘working hard, or hardly working, amiright?’ one-liner – whilst, conversely, it might go down a hit with the sales staff. Cater your presentation to your audience and you’re bound to make a more positive impression.

2)  Strike fast, reel ‘em in slow

The fishing analogy might not register with everyone, but the sentiment is rather apparent: start your presentation off on an exciting note, hook them, take your time winning them over, then land it on the right note.

When you first stand up in front of your audience they should hopefully be receptive to what you have to say, or at the very least, they will give you a fair chance to make your case. If, however, you stand up there and immediately start pouring over the latest sales figures, they will probably switch off before you even get through your first slide. Once you’ve lost the attention of your audience you aren’t likely to recapture it, and your presentation will fall flat.

It’s essential that you grip the audience as soon as you start speaking. Open with an insightful quote, an interesting fact or statistic or an entertaining anecdote to get them hooked, then proceed to spoon-feed them the less exciting stuff (though you would do well to spice this up too and present ‘boring’ information as concisely and passionately as possible to keep the audience interested). If you excite them from the off, you will have a much longer window of attention to work with.

3)  Talk to them, not at them

Don’t ever think of a presentation as, well, a presentation – it’s a conversation. You’re not standing up there to reel off monotonous facts and stats, you’re conveying important information in an interactive, engaging, and hopefully two-way discussion that allows your audience to feel like they are part of the performance.

If you just stand up there and talk at them unenthusiastically, without creating eye-contact, they aren’t really going to care about what you’re saying, even if they feign it. You aren’t a presentation bot reading out the daily news, you’re a fellow human being sharing something that you actually care about, and you want them to care too. Ask the audience questions, or for a show of hands, ask for their input or opinion; make them feel included and they will take a vested interest in the content of your presentation.

4)  Learn from the experience

You don’t exactly need to go as far as videoing yourself during the presentation, unless you’re that way inclined, but you should always be open to feedback from your colleagues and members of the audience. Don’t shy away from constructive criticism and try to take this information on board and use it to refine your presentation technique.

As with anything in life, the more you practice something, the better you get. Although you may not regularly give presentations, you will find that  improving your presentation skills not only makes you better at public speaking, but enhances your confidence, empowers you in the workplace, and allows you to assert yourself in a number of social situations.

So, next time you give a presentation, don’t fear it: embrace it as an opportunity to share your hard work, improve yourself and show what a powerhouse you can be!