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Developing Presentation Skills

Developing presentation skills: Tips to improve your skills

Artwork by: Katya Simacheva

  • Why are presentation skills important?
  • 5 Effective presentation skills
  • 1. Verbal communication
  • 2. Body language
  • 3. Self-awareness
  • 4. Active listening
  • 5. Confidence
  • How to improve presentation skills
  • 1. Prepare and know your audience  
  • 2. Structure your presentation for success
  • 3. Be passionate and tell a story
  • 4. Create engaging visual aids
  • 5.Practice, Practice
  • 6. Develop stress-reducing strategies  
  • 7. Invite questions and follow up feedback
  • Key takeaways

The ability to convey an idea to others in a compelling way is a skill we all need in our lives. Developing your presentation skills will deliver huge benefits to both your personal and professional life. It’s time to put the anxiety aside, and read our expert tips to become an outstanding presenter.

Being able to present your ideas effectively is essential to advancing in your career. Great leaders are great presenters that can generate excitement and passion for their ideas. In the business world, it’s vital to be able to effectively present to current and prospective clients, business partners, management teams, and company leadership. 

Many people have a fear of public speaking and dread being asked to speak in front of a group of people. However, as with any fear, this can be overcome. Applying some targeted strategies to improve your presentation skills will leave you feeling more confident, relaxed, and capable of  making a lasting impression. Who knows, you may even enjoy the experience! 

In this article, we explore:

  • Why are presentation skills important?

  • Effective presentation skills

  • How to improve your presentation skills

Statistical Insight

Research found that the fear of public speaking, known as glossophobia, affects about 73 percent of the population. The majority of respondents cited judgment or negative evaluation by others as the core reason behind this fear.  

Why are presentation skills important?

Having effective presentation skills is vital in both your personal and professional life. Whether you’re presenting at a conference, pitching to a prospective client, providing your input at a community meeting, or delivering a speech at a family wedding, having the ability to effectively convey ideas, build rapport, and convince others is extremely valuable.

Developing your presentation skills also enhances other skill areas, which can contribute to your success during a job search, in the workplace, and in your personal career development. Here are some examples:

  • Optimized verbal and written communication skills

  • Enhanced critical-thinking capabilities and leadership skills

  • Improved time management and negotiation skills

  • Increased confidence and self-awareness

5 Effective presentation skills

Think back to a time when you attended a presentation that left you feeling energized, inspired, and motivated. What skills did the presenter apply to create such a positive response?  Here are five effective presentation skills to sharpen your focus on:

1. Verbal communication

During your presentation, you need to be aware of the language you are using and how you are speaking. Speak clearly, use tone to emphasize your points, and project your voice so that everyone can hear you. Tailor your verbal communication to your audience and avoid the dreaded “um” or “uh,” which can make you look hesitant or unconfident.

2. Body language

Posture, gestures, eye contact, and expressions all fall under the umbrella of body language. Ensure that your body language is congruent with your message. Smile, make eye contact, and stand confidently with your shoulders back to bring some energy to your presentation.

3. Self-awareness

Self-awareness helps you communicate with others more effectively by enabling you to harness your emotions. Monitoring your emotions around a given topic, then using these to relate to your audience via pauses, inflections, or non-verbal cues will help to keep everyone engaged.  

4. Active listening

Active listening involves paying attention, showing interest, and thoughtfully responding to what is being said. When you engage with your audience during a presentation, using active listening skills will help you build rapport and respect as well as provide you with new perspectives.  

5. Confidence

Confidence allows you to speak with authority and connect with your audience. Stage presence can be a tricky thing to pin down, but, if you can project confidence, enthusiasm, and deliver interesting content, then you will be able to connect and engage with your audience.

Expert Tip

The 10/20/30 rule for presentations was developed by Guy Kawasaki (American marketing specialist, author, and Silicon Valley VC) to prevent the risk of death-by-PowerPoint! Essentially, a presentation should have 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain a font no smaller than 30 points. Try this tactic to minimize casualties.

How to improve presentation skills

Improving your presentation skills will help you feel less stressed out when it comes to your next public speaking gig. Whether you’re a fledgling or seasoned presenter, these tips will help you transform a good presentation to a great one:

1. Prepare and know your audience  

Presentations should be all about the audience. Knowing your audience—their interests, needs, and how you can benefit them—as well as knowing your material are the two key areas of preparation.

Start off by researching and gathering information about your main topic.Then, formulate a targeted plan of what you want to present, your goals (the desired outcome of the presentation), and specific topics that will support this outcome.

2. Structure your presentation for success

Adopting a clear structure, with a beginning, middle, and end, will keep the presentation organized and easier for your audience to follow. The Serial Position Effect,a memory research concept, posits that people typically remember information at the beginning and end of a sequence rather than the middle section. Driving home your key points and core messages in these sections will keep your message on target.

3. Be passionate and tell a story

When you speak passionately about a topic that is close to your heart, your audience can feel that. Storytelling is one of the most effective methods of human communication, much preferred over presenting a series of facts and statistics. Combining these two elements will bring your topic to life and hold your audience's attention.

Here’s how to structure your presentation with passion and storytelling at the core:

  • Write an engaging opening. Aim to gain the attention of your audience and communicate your core message. You can use questions, interesting facts, or a good story. 

  • Ensure the main body of the presentation is concise. Keep your desired outcome in mind, sticking to four to six main points/arguments. 

  • Present both sides. Discussing all aspects of an issue increases your credibility; however, explain why your argument is stronger.  

  • Create a memorable close. Summarize your key points and end with something the audience will remember, such as a call to action or a good quote.

4. Create engaging visual aids

Use PowerPoint, graphs, charts, and/or props not only as a tool to explain any complex concepts or ideas but to keep your audience’s attention. Visual aids should be eye-catching and enhance your oral presentation, rather than detract from it. You want people to hear what you are saying rather than focusing too much on the visual aid.

  • Learn how to use presentation tools, such as Canva and MS PowerPoint. This can take your presentation from standard to amazing!
  • Arrive early at the location where you will be presenting. This will avoid you being late and stressing as well as giving you the chance to test your equipment.
  • Forget to create some note cards to refer to during your presentation. Avoid reading from scripts as this can sound unnatural and robotic.
  • Don’t use garish backgrounds, lots of capitals, or overdo the animation on your slides. Keep it clean, simple, and professional.

5.Practice, Practice

The more you practice, the better you will become at delivering presentations. You can practice in front of your colleagues, friends, and family, or even by yourself;you can film this and watch it back to assess your performance. Focus on developing a more conversational approach when presenting to engage your audience more than delivering a memorized presentation. 

Here are some ideas for practicing your public speaking skills both inside and outside the workplace:

  • Toastmasters International. This organization helps members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.

  • Professional organizations. Organizations that relate to your industry expertise may offer opportunities for public speaking.

  • Community organizations. Your local school, church, sports clubs, city council, etc., may have events in which you can practice speaking before an audience.

  • Workplace opportunities. Ask your manager for opportunities to present either within the company or to clients. A lunch and learn program offers an opportunity to practice creating a PowerPoint presentation and presenting to your peers.  

6. Develop stress-reducing strategies  

Feeling nervous before and during a presentation is completely natural, but there are strategies you can use to manage your nerves. Before the actual presentation, use some stress-reducing techniques. You may want to stretch, take deep breaths, and visualize something that calms you. Keep in mind that the audience wants you to succeed, and this will help you to feel more in control and, in turn, relaxed.

7. Invite questions and follow up feedback

You have the option to take questions as they crop up during the presentation or you can address them at the end. Before presenting, let the audience know which option you have chosen. 

Carefully listen to each question and paraphrase it back to the questioner if you need any clarity. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s fine to say “I don’t have that information right now, but I can get that to you after this meeting.” This is far better than making something up or fluffing through your answer.

It’s also really useful to evaluate how you performed during the presentation so you can make changes in the future. Think of this like constructive criticism; it might feel a bit hard to take sometimes, but it will make you a better presenter. Ask your accountability partner, manager, or peers to provide feedback via an online form you can review.

Another situation where developing your presentation skills can provide huge benefits is during interviews. If you’re looking to make your next career move, check out Career.io’s Interview Preparation tool to be interview-ready.

Key takeaways

  1. Elevating your presentation skills will have a positive impact on your career. Not only will you enhance your communication skills, you’ll also hone other skills, such as leadership, problem-solving, and self-awareness.   

  2. Knowing your audience, creating a robust presentation structure, storytelling, and using engaging visuals are all strategies you can apply to deliver a killer presentation.

  3. Preparation and practice are essential to being an effective public speaker. It’s normal to feel the nerves, but with the right strategies and mindset, you’ll become a presentation pro.

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