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Giving a presentation can be stressful. There are just too many balls to keep in the air: an effective opening, audience engagement, body language, visual aids, anxiety management. The list goes on.
On a positive note, public speaking and presentation skills can be learned and refined. That’s why we put together a list of 14 dos and don’ts that will help you deliver a killer presentation. If you already have your presentation idea and are wondering how to effectively develop and deliver it, this article is for you.
Let’s jump right in and explore the basic rules of making and giving a presentation.
Focus on the Key Message
From the very beginning, the audience should feel that your speech is leading to something important. This is what will spark their curiosity and keep their attention focused.
Of course, to achieve such an effect, you should actually have something important to communicate. Otherwise, your audience will feel like they wasted their time (and would be right to think so). The material you present should resemble an arrow with a clear point, not an unending loop of words that leads to nowhere.
But having something worth telling is only part of the job. You also need to make sure that your entire presentation is woven around that key idea. From beginning to end, your core message should be your guiding light. Each sentence should move the audience closer to it, and by the end of the speech, leave them with a sense of illumination.
Plan the Structure
Planning your speech beforehand is the only way to avoid getting sidetracked. As you think about your message, try to structure it in a way that makes its delivery most effective for the audience.
So, how do you structure a presentation? Consider both the logical and emotional implications of your structure. First, you want to give your listeners enough background information to help them get better acquainted with the topic, but not so much as to get them bored. Once all the need-to-knows are out of the way, make a seamless transition to your main message and start laying out your arguments in a convincing way.
Also, think about the emotional effect you want to achieve in each part of your presentation. The best way to go about it is to capture your audience’s attention right off the bat, which is often considered to be the hardest part of giving a presentation.
“How do I begin a presentation?” is a question you’ve surely asked yourself. Once you’re done introducing yourself, you can jump into the presentation with a story or an intriguing question. Then, build suspense throughout the speech and release it at the end with a well-grounded closing statement.
Tell a Story
How do you present a topic? As human beings, we’re attracted to stories. This is why we go to the movies, read fiction and, yes, become all ears when hearing gossip. Thus, it’s always a good idea to begin your presentation with a story or even spice it up with one in the middle. This can make all the difference between an engaged and indifferent audience.
Need some proof? Watch this TED talk and see how the presenter wins the audience over in less than 3 minutes using the magic of a personal story (admittedly, a relatable one).
Keep a Conversational Tone
Many first-time public speakers try a bit too hard to make their speech expressive. As a result, their presentations appear showy and even pompous to the audience.
To prevent this, simply use a conversational tone. Feel like you are communicating your message to individual people, rather than a large alien audience. This will not only ease you up but will help the audience connect to you as well.
After all, when you really look at it, you are talking to individual people, not their aggregation.
Remember the Takeaway
What is the one thing you’d wish the audience to take away from your speech as they leave the room or the auditorium? Define it in a single phrase or sentence, using straightforward, accessible language, and present it at the end of your presentation. Keep that takeaway in mind when planning your speech, and put a special emphasis on it during the wrap-up.
Source: TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth
Time Your Speech
There’s probably a specific timeframe within which you should complete your speech. Even if it’s not rigidly set, the audience will have certain expectations as to how long your presentation will take.
Therefore, it’s important to plan beforehand the approximate time your speech should take and set a timer during rehearsals. If your presentation lasts longer than expected, make sure to leave the inessential parts out.
As you memorize your material, your speech will get smoother and faster. This will also shorten the time required for it. Thus, before making any adjustments to the length of your script, rehearse it a few times.
Do Your Rehearsals
Practice your speech as many times as necessary to build confidence. This is not to say you should memorize every single word or sentence, but you should know exactly what you need to cover at every point.
When you’re confident enough about your speech, there’s one less reason to be nervous during the presentation. You can now relax and focus on building rapport with your audience.
Perhaps, the worst thing you can do during a presentation is to read your script. Even glancing at a paper or screen far too many times is distracting enough. What’s more, your audience will find it difficult to connect to your message, as it will all feel mechanical and staged.
The solution? It’s fairly simple: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Don’t Rely on Slides
A slide should never be the main source of information for the audience. Use it as a mere extension that makes your speech more engaging or credible. Always keep in mind that your audience needs to learn from you, the speaker, not from your slide.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t stuff any slide with text. Or include so much information (whether textual or visual) that your audience gets overwhelmed and stops following your speech. When it comes to slide design, minimalism is your best friend.
To know if you’re relying heavily on your slides or not, ask yourself this question: “Will my presentation still make sense without the slides?” If the answer’s no, then you should rethink your script. But, there’s also a fun side to this. When you free your slides of the burden to inform, they can now be used creatively and even enhance the effect of your speech.
Notice how the presenter in the video shown above only turns to slides to highlight or demonstrate a point she made. And if you remove all the slides? The presentation will be just as complete and impactful.
Don’t Use Fancy Slideshows
How a good presentation should look like? Nowadays, there are lots of advanced presentation software and screen-sharing tools one can use to “wow” the audience. The problem with them? “Wowing” your audience with something as trivial as slides is hardly why you’re making your speech. The fewer distractions there are in your presentation, the better. Keep this in mind, and avoid using anything showy.
Don’t Talk Too Fast (or Slow)
While presenting, it’s recommended to maintain a consistent pace that’s neither too fast nor too slow. Talking fast might cause unnecessary tension in the audience, and excessively slow speech is sure to annoy them.
While different people naturally speak at different paces, it’s still something that can be worked on and modified with enough practice. You can refine your pacing during rehearsals until the preferred pace is second nature to you.
Don’t Forget Backup Slides
You’re about to start your presentation, but the internet connection is too slow, and your slides won’t load. On top of it, you didn’t follow our advice about not relying on slideshows. What do you do?
Well, if you’re considerate enough, you will have a USB flash drive with backup slides. Next time you feel like forgoing this little step, recall this scenario.
Don’t Neglect Body Language
The way you move your body on stage tells a story. And if that story is incoherent with the one you’re telling with your words, disharmony arises. Imagine a speaker is talking about peace and tolerance, yet their every movement is abrupt, hasty, and aggressive. Sure, this might be the result of nervousness, but would you still be able to connect to their message? The answer’s likely to be no.
When rehearsing your speech, don’t neglect body language. Practice standing tall, keeping your hands open, and your movements relaxed. Avoid pacing on the stage during your presentation, as it may distract or, worse yet, annoy your listeners.
Check out this TED talk by Emily Esfahani Smith. Pay attention to how her empathetic facial expressions and open hand gestures help to reinforce her message.
And, of course, don’t skip eye contact. Instead of glancing over the entire audience, pick a few individuals from different parts of the room, and establish your eye contact with them. This little trick will help you feel like you’re speaking to one person at a time. And that’s far more manageable than speaking to everyone at once.
To emphasize a point, sometimes, what you need is not words but their absence. Take a pause after you ask a question or make a strong statement. Spare your audience a moment to think, reflect, and ponder. Or leave a gap of silence right before you present something exciting to build suspense and anticipation.
No one expects you to go on talking for 10-15 minutes without a pause. Take a few seconds once in a while to breathe. Draw in deep breaths to collect your thoughts and calm your nerves if the situation calls for it. This is one of the most effective ways to relax when presenting.
To Sum Up
These were the things good presentations include. Hopefully, you’ve learned enough from our tips and are now ready to get to work. Delivering effective presentations is not an easy task, but definitely, one that’s worth the effort. If you’d like to create a presentation for your speech or even online platforms, give these customizable templates a try.