Giving a presentation can be stressful. There are just too many balls to keep in the air: an effective opening, audience engagement, body language, slides, anxiety management. The list goes on.
On a positive note, public speaking is a skill that can be learned and refined. That’s why we put together a list of 12 dos and don’ts that will help you deliver a killer presentation. Let’s jump right in!
1. 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).
But having something worth telling is only part of the job. You should also make sure that your entire presentation is woven around that key point. 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.
2. 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.
Image: Magnetic Speaking
Consider both the logical and emotional implications of your structure. First, you want to give your listeners enough background information, 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 point, 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 the attention of your audience right off the bat with a story or an intriguing statement. Then, build suspense throughout the speech and release it at the end.
3. Tell a Story
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 spice it up with one in the middle. This can make all the difference between an engaged and indifferent audience.
Don’t believe it? Watch this TED talk and see how the presenter pulls the audience in from the very first seconds.
4. 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 maintain a conversational tone. Feel like you are communicating your message to individual people, rather than a large abstract 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 congregation.
5. 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 remember 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.
6. Focus on 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. Keep that takeaway in mind when planning the end of your presentation, and put a special emphasis on it during the wrap-up.
Source: TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth
7. 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 last.
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, try to leave the inessential parts out.
As you memorize your script, 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.
8. Don’t Read
Perhaps, the worst thing you can do during a presentation is to read your script or slides. Even glancing at a paper or screen far too many times is distracting enough. What’s more, your audience will have a hard time connecting to your message, as it will all feel mechanical and staged.
The solution? It’s fairly simple: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
9. Don’t Rely on Slides
Slides should never be the main source of information for the audience. Think of them as a mere extension that makes your speech more engaging or credible.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t stuff your slides with text. Or include so much information (whether textual or visual) that your audience gets overwhelmed and stops following your speech.
To see if you’re relying heavily on your slides or not, ask yourself this question: “Will my presentation still make sense if I remove the slides completely?” 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.
10. Don’t Use Fancy Slideshows
Nowadays, there are lots of fancy slideshow programs one can use to “wow” the audience. The problem with them? “Wowing” your audience with something as trivial as slides is hardly what you’re making your speech for.
The fewer distractions there are in your presentation, the better. Keep this in mind, and avoid using anything showy.
11. Don’t Talk Too Fast (or Slow)
While presenting, try 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.
12. 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 would have brought with you a USB with backup slides. Next time you feel like forgoing this little step, recall this scenario.