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20 Ways to Improve Your Presentation Skills

20 Ways to Improve Your Presentation SkillsPresentations help close sales, help impress senior management and obtain their approval for projects, and earn the respect of those you work with, and those you work for. Attendees at the recent 2018 SpecTECHular enjoyed Les Snyder’s presentation about presentations! Here we offer a synopsis of what was discussed for those who missed it, or those who didn’t take notes!


More people fear presenting to a group of people more than anything else. More than death. Seriously! Yet, being fully prepared and knowing your presentation will impress go a long way to reducing that fear. Here are 20 great ways to improve not only your presentation, but your presenting skills as well!

20. Analyze your audience and their needs

As with all things, it’s always best to follow Stephen Covey’s advice, one of his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and Begin with the End in Mind. What does your audience need to learn, or hear, or know about from your presentation? Where do they want to go in their journey with you? This requires that you know who your audience is. Imagine presenting information about butchering to an audience of bakers. Not what you’d ever want to do.

19. Write to the level of your audience

Part of knowing your audience is knowing their current level of understanding. Many attendees have complained that the presentation they just viewed was “too 101” for them, or too “juvenile”. What they mean is that it was beneath them. They already knew everything that was presented. At the same time, many have emerged from a presentation not knowing what the presenter was talking about. “It was way over my head,” is the popular complaint. Meet your audience where they are.

18. Ask yourself, "What do I want my audience members to walk out with?"

If you are indeed beginning with the end in mind, it’s important to know what that “end” is. Everything in marketing is designed to provoke a response, get the audience to take a specific action. That call-to-action should be kept in mind at every moment of the presentation and everything must inevitably lead right to it.

17. Do an outline

Since you are taking your audience on a journey to a desired end point, it is important to know how to get there. The best way is to start out by mapping the journey in an outline that you can then use to design the sequence and content of your presentation materials.

16. Ask yourself, "How can I make it memorable?"

There are many, many ways to answer that question. As soon as the audience learns something they didn’t know before they will remember the presentation. That’s good! But your presentation may simply be designed to get them to look at something they already know, but from a different perspective. You can make it memorable based on the visual, auditory, and other sensory inputs you provide. Interesting facts can accomplish the same thing, as can the overall experience you create. You want your presentation to stick in their minds, so do what you must to make it memorable.

15. Are you selling? Are you teaching? Each one takes a unique approach

When people attend a presentation to learn something, they hate being sold. Presenting to teach focuses on the information and the value it provides to the audience. Sales presentation focus on the close. Everything builds up to it. When you give sales presentations, it is crucial that your audience clearly know that. From the start you position the answer, “Here’s why you want to buy… from us!”

14. What method?

While it seems to be universally understood that presentations are given using Microsoft PowerPoint, that isn’t necessarily the case. Before PowerPoint, people used “overhead projectors” and clear acetate sheets with printing on them that the projected enlarged on a screen. Some presenters use only a flipchart pad and markers, while others rely solely on themselves standing on stage talking. Other applications, such as MindManager, have a presentation mode that tours attendees through the entire presentation.

However you choose to support your presentation with visual aids, always remember that they are not your presentation. Your connection with your audience and the things you tell them are your presentation. Everything else just supports that. Use few words on slides to keep you on track. If there’s substantial detail in your presentation, consider handing out a “take-away” document to attendees containing all the details. If you do, consider giving it out at the end so you don’t have an audience reading while you speak.

13. Understand how your non-verbals come into play

Two very important studies were conducted way back in the 1950’s that are still very instructive to presenters today. The first is “paralinguistics” first described by George L. Trager while he was working at the Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State. Paralinguistics define how we communicate with far more than just spoken words. Everything from our tone of voice to our posture, hand gestures, facial expression, all add texture to our communications. Great presenters work to create an intimate, personal link with every member of their audience. How you look, sound, move, and speak all contribute to the full complexity of your presentation.

The second science, defined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall is referred to as “Hall’s Proxemics” which is a study of how communicators use space to contour their communications. Today we observe this when we describe “close talkers” who stand just too close to you when speaking. It’s not accidental. There is an intention to convey something to you. The speaker may simply want to intimidate or dominate you, or express their feeling of intimacy. Students of these sciences use them to amplify the impact of their communications.

12. Dress +1 of your audience

You always want to stand out in any crowd you’re presenting to, and dressing just a level above them accomplishes that without intimidating anyone.

11. Arrive Early

The last thing you want as you are preparing to present, is to be rushed. The closer you get to arriving at the time you’re scheduled to speak, the more rushed you will be. Arriving early demonstrates respect for the audience, and reflects well upon your professional conduct. It also gives you time to handle anything that might go wrong, so you’d better…..

10. Have a backup plan

“Redundant everything” should be your rule. Have a backup of your presentation on a USB memory stick in case your laptop fails. Carry your own projector in case the one provided by the venue fails. Have two presentation controls, duplicate cables, extra projector bulbs, sucking candies if your throat goes dry.

Murphy loves to show up at presentations and make all the worst things happen at the worst possible time. The best way to thwart him is to be prepared to give your presentation very effectively with no audio/visual backup whatsoever. Just you standing on stage speaking to your audience. If all else fails, you’re still fine.

9. Have a good opening line

Marketers, especially copywriters, know that they only have the first sentence of the first paragraph to capture their audience’s interest. It’s referred to as “the hook,” a provocative statement that revs the reader up to read the entire message.

The same is true in your presentation. You really do only get one chance to make a good first impression, so be prepared to demonstrate to your audience that you really do know and care about who they are, and they will appreciate the solution you’ve brought that they will absolutely want. More than a good opening line, have a great opening that hooks the audience and compels them to stay focused on your entire presentation.

8. Overcome nervousness

Given that more people fear presenting more than they fear death, “nervousness” may be putting it mildly. Remember that fear is apprehension of the unknown. The more you know your presentation, the more you have practiced it and become familiar with the content, the less you have to fear. Advice abounds saying you should “see your audience naked” and such, but perhaps its best to remember that presenting is simply a one-on-one conversation that you’re holding with many people. Connect with them. Meet their eyes while you present. You’ll find many of them nodding their approval to you, and that will prove very encouraging.

7. Practice communicating and practice your presentation

A great basketball coach once said that “Practice makes perfect, and perfect practice makes it even more perfect.” When rehearsing your presentation don’t just go through the motions. Practice as if you were in front of an audience. Think about your paralinguistics and proxemics. Rehearse your motions, your expressions, changes in your voice. Musicians like James Taylor practice their bands to perfection. The way they perform each song is exactly the same every time. This helps them get exactly what they want out of themselves when performing. Rehearse the entire presentation, every element.

6. Never turn your back on your audience

It’s hard to imagine having a conversation with someone and turning your back on them in the middle of it. Remember that presenting is just having a one-on-one conversation with many people. Apply the same rules. Don’t turn your back on them. Don’t allow your connection with them to be broken in any way.

5. Know SmartArt in PowerPoint

If you do use PowerPoint, consider using SmartArt to liven up the look of your slides. The few words you put up on the screen to cue you and keep you on track can easily become boring to look at. SmartArt gives you various shapes and graphic constructs that you can fill with words, animate, color as you like, and generally spice up the visuals. Worth investing time to experiment with.

4. Anticipate questions

After you’ve given your presentation a few times it will become easy to know what questions will likely be asked by new audiences. Even the first time you give your presentation you can very likely anticipate what some of the questions will be. As you rehearse your presentation with colleagues and friends, ask what questions they would have. Again, the more prepared you are the more comfortable you will feel and the more polished your presentation will be.

3. Understand transitions in PowerPoint

PowerPoint offers a wide selection of transitions from one slide to the next, with more being added at every upgrade. The one thing you don’t want to do is to startle your audience with a transition, unless that’s exactly what you want to do. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of using too many varied transitions which has the effect of making your presentation look amateurish. Stick to a few that work well with your message. Rehearse them to see how they “feel.” Remember, every element contributes to the whole.

2. Know how to animate in PowerPoint

It’s often much more lively to see a new bullet-point fly onto the screen, or slide on from the side. You can even move items around where you want them to go to illustrate processes and sequences. Experimentation is the best teacher here. Your goal, again, is to keep the visuals lively, but not so much so that they distract from what you’re saying, which is the real presentation.

1. Use the "Parking Lot"

Let’s close on the all-important issue of interactivity. Most presenters will say they prefer to keep everything interactive, but that’s often not as true as they’d like to think it is. An interactive presentation where the audience can pose questions at any point may sound wonderful, but you may never get to deliver all of your content. Questions can lead to tangential discussions that may become spirited, and too long. Make a decision before you begin, and let your audience know what your decision is. Telling them you have much to present and need to hold questions until the end is perfectly okay.

Of course, such an admonishment may fall on some deaf ears who raise their hands in the middle, sometimes very insistently. Having a flipchart, or at least a notepad, will give you a place to “park” any questions that may arise during your presentation. Then just come back to them at the end.


New Horizons

New Horizons offers a variety of useful courses in professional presentation, PowerPoint, and other useful presentation skills. Talk to your New Horizons Career Consultant for help figuring out which are best for you.

Posted on 11/6/18 10:16 AM by Get Schooled in moderating presentations, in How to improve presentation skills

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