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6 presentation skills guaranteed to win over your audience

Presentation skills are tricky to get right. But once you discover the valuable secret that lies at the heart of them, you’re halfway there. Tummy churning and knees wobbling, as you stand up – or log-in – you might feel a little uncertain. Presentation skills will always give you a protective shell, but hidden within them lies a pearl that can truly add lustre to your performance.

The objective of most presentations is to offer information to an audience and persuade them of its value. Whether you’re asking your audience to buy your product, put your bid through to the next stage or simply believe your data, persuasive content relies on bringing your audience round to your way of thinking. So where to start in winning them over?

Be interested in your audience

In getting your audience to trust you, trust yourself first. Calm any lingering nerves by preparing your material and practising it well. The audience isn’t an angry mob, out to get you with flaming torches and pitchforks. If you were sitting among them, listening to someone else, what would you be thinking about? Nothing worse than to-do-lists and lunch.

Time is important to your audience, they want you to make this moment meaningful. For this reason, they are ready to listen to what you have to tell them. They don’t want to be bored or ignored, all they ask is for you to remember them. The pearl at the heart of presentation skills is the fact that the audience simply want you to show them some interest and understanding.

Your audience are your new best friends forever

What does this mean in practice? To understand it better, imagine a smaller audience. Let’s start with one person, someone you need to do well with, perhaps your CEO, or the mother of your new partner or the person you’re selling your home to. What do we do when talking to such people?

As always, start by being yourself. Next, it helps to find or feign interest in the person we’re talking to – through eye contact, a smile or two, a little humour, a sense of respect. In a virtual world, we might look up into the camera rather than just down at a face on the screen. It’s important to remain conscious of the value of the person we’re talking to. This leads us to think about their needs. What do they already know? What additional clarity can we offer? What do they need to know, what do they want to know, what don’t they want to know? If we ignore these thoughts, we risk ignoring the person we’re talking to.

Speaking to more than one person is more reason, not less, to show similar interest – using the same skills in eye contact, warmth and humour. By regarding the audience as our new best friends, we’re more likely to hold their interest in us. This creates a sense of connection even before we’ve said much of anything at all.

Neglecting the audience leads to presentations that are too fast, too slow, too technical or read from a script, or delivered by someone who doesn’t look up (or into the camera), or a hundred and one other things we probably wouldn’t do when talking to one person.

6 skills that will help you deliver a glittering performance

Our Learnflix eLearning courses offer a range of presentation skills, from foundation level through to advanced. Here’s a taste of them:

1. If your objective is to persuade people of the value of what you’re saying, aim to win the audience’s understanding, beyond just walking them through your material.

2. Your strongest asset is you. By keeping up your energy and staying ‘in the moment’, you’ll remain familiar and accessible – which helps your audience relate to you.

3. Be interested in them – via empathy, smiling and eye contact. They may reciprocate and be equally interested in you. At that point, you’re halfway to winning them over.

3. Your audience are not an angry mob, they’re individuals. Talk to them as you would any individual. Knowing in advance who your audience are will help in preparing your presentation.

4. Your second strongest asset is your material. Practice it so that you can deliver it with authority, energy and emphasis.

5. Your third asset is time. Divide your material into sections and try to stick to your timings. Good pacing will help you decide which material needs to be included, and which doesn’t.

6. Let everything ‘breathe’ – you, your material and your audience. If you can avoid cramming your content into every available minute, your delivery will be more natural.

When you’re ready to take things further, take a look at these Learnflix courses:

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Strong storytelling skills help to unite your scattered team

Storytelling can be harder than it looks. Once, as a BBC radio journalist in a distant past life, I was sent to ask people about a nearby murder. “Did you hear anything?” I asked one lady, “nothing”, she replied, “apart from a gunshot. Is that relevant?” Knowing what to include in a story and what to leave out doesn’t come easy to everyone. Stories come in all shapes and sizes, from gossip to a presentation. For an audience in a room, there’s a sense of unity in listening to someone speak. However, teams are less united these days. Zoom can lack connection. Managers need strong storytelling skills if they are to cut through isolation and reinvigorate their scattered team.

There’s no mystery to storytelling. The storytelling course on Learnflix, our eLearning platform, offers techniques that will help you inspire and motivate your team. Ultimately, telling a story is a form of persuasion, helping people to understand and accept your line of thought.

3 steps to storytelling

The best way to begin is by finding empathy with your audience. What concerns do they have, what do they want to know? Your audience might not be as informed as you on the subject you want to discuss, they might not be particularly open to what you have to say, or you might not be able to tell them what they want to know. You have to acknowledge these things. It’s hard to win over an audience by ignoring them, as KPMG’s former UK chair Bill Michael discovered when dismissive remarks he made led to his untimely departure.

1. Ethos – your credibility

Show your audience you understand them, tell them that you’re aware of the concerns they have. You may well share those concerns yourself. Empathy and warmth will help to make them more receptive to the main points you want to focus on. In catching your audience’s attention, it’s important to show them why they should listen to you. As a manager, you may be privy to information they do not have, for example details on the company’s general direction of travel, or specific plans for the future. This information makes yours a story worth listening to. In our storytelling course, this is referred to as ‘ethos’.

2. Logos – logical structure

Having won their attention, keep hold of it. This is the trickiest moment in telling a story. Stay focused, know what you’re going to say. It always helps to have a beginning, a middle and an end to your narrative. At the beginning, set out clearly what your intentions are (better company performance, starting a new project etc). The middle needs to focus on how these intentions are to be accomplished. The ending might underline the value of these plans, the positive takeaways you want your team to come away with. Keeping things simple, direct and effective helps to build understanding. And know when to stop. In our course, structuring your narrative in this way is referred to as logos, the logical appeal to reason.

3. Pathos – the appeal to emotion

Structure must be supported by an emotional element too. Known as pathos, this involves injecting a little humanity into your words and thoughts, a little humour perhaps, or a sense of authority tinged by a wisp of humility. Too much pathos, and you risk losing the plot, literally. Too little, and you risk losing the audience.

A balanced approach to storytelling begins with a little pathos at the beginning (the word ‘empathy’ comes from pathos), before settling into a sense of structure – which is best expressed in a warm, human and engaging way. These days, a sense of unity at work is sometimes hard to sustain. It helps to have clear, positive messaging from those around us. For managers looking to brush up on their storytelling skills, a few basic techniques will help to ensure the audience are listening as closely as if they were in the room.