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
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.