Ten ways to improve your presentation skills and overcome ‘THE FEAR’

So what is your greatest fear? Flying. Spiders. Heights. Accidently calling your boss ‘dad’ … well what about public speaking?

If the mere mention of speaking in front of a crowd has brought you out in a cold sweat, then you are not alone. In fact, a number of surveys put ‘fear of public speaking’ (or Glossophobia) as a top ten fear and for many it is the number one, above dying!

Even if not a full blown phobia then it is estimated that 75% of us suffer from anxiety at the thought of speaking in front of a group or audience. Now as someone who has to regularly present and make pitches as part of my job, presenting comes relatively easily (although it wasn’t always the case). But every week I see evidence of just how stressful it can be for people who aren’t used to it.

  • At networking meetings where you need to introduce yourself and your business
  • As part of tender processes or when pitching for large contracts
  • To existing clients who want a presentation on the range of services you can provide
  • To the bank or potential investors

Presentation skills can be learnt

I have taught presentation skills and the one thing that is a common misconception is that there are ‘natural presenters’ and that if you do not have natural talents for repartee then you can’t be a good presenter. Rubbish.

Now I couldn’t ride a bike or swim until someone showed me the techniques and then I practiced. I may not ever be a fantastic swimmer or cyclist but I can do these ‘skills’ proficiently. Public speaking and presenting is no different. Learn the tricks and tips and then practice. Your nerves are because you are afraid of failing and making a mess of it. If you know what to do and have practiced enough, then that fear lessens because you start to believe you can do it.

So here are some tips

#1 Know your topic

Do research on your subject so you can speak authoritatively. Invariably there will be questions so you need to be able to answer them and talk around the subject. If presenting about your business, then this gives you a head start, after all who knows more about your business than you?

#2 Find out about your audience 

There is nothing worse than a presentation that is not pitched at the right level to its audience. Find out who you are presenting to and think about what they want to hear. What knowledge or experience do they have?

#3 A few clear messages

Think of a few clear messages you want your audience to come away with. This won’t be the detail but should be benefits or unique points. Give your presentation direction by making sure you cover these points and possibly even end on a summary of them.

#4 A beginning, middle and end 

I see many people go wrong because they waffle or go off at a tangent. Like a story, a good presentation should have a beginning – maybe some background, clarification of your brief, or what you were asked to present about. A middle where you cover the detail and an end that shows your summary or conclusions. This will all help keep your audience focussed and your presentation easier to follow.

#5 Be yourself 

This should maybe be number 1, if you are not naturally a witty, smooth talking urbane individual, then just because you are standing in front of an audience, you won’t become one. Unless very unlucky, most audiences want to like you and want you to do well. So be yourself, act as natural as possible and don’t try and be someone you are not.

#6 Be passionate

People will only remember a small proportion of what you say. In fact according to A Barbour (author of Louder Than Words: Nonverbal Communication), the total impact of a message breaks down as –

– 7 percent verbal (what you say)

– 38 percent vocal (how you say it – your tone, pitch and rhythm)

– 55 percent body movement (your facial expressions and body language)

So be positive and passionate in what you say, how you say it and how you present yourself and his will be remembered.

#7 Avoid ‘death by PowerPoint’ 

I love PowerPoint – in fact I do hold the title of ‘PowerPoint Queen’, yet I loathe most PowerPoint presentations. Slide after slide of bullet points that are read from the screen will turn off any audience.

It may seem like a comfort blanket but think about using visuals, pictures and even props rather than text. After all people can read faster than you can talk so they will be at the end of the slideof bullet points before you have even got half way through.

#8 Actually, props are really good 

I know I have just mentioned props but they deserve a whole point to themselves. Props can be used to grab attention, to leave a lasting impression or to dramatise a point. A business colleague who provides Business and Personal protection insurance, recently dramatised his presentation with condoms as a metaphor for the differences in protection insurance. Never has such a potentially dull subject got such attention, nor, I am sure, been as memorable for the people in that room!

#9 Practice, practice and then practice some more 

The more you practice the easier it will be. You should know your presentation and be able to present the gist of it (if not the detail) without your notes or slides. If there is one thing I can’t stress enough it is that reading your presentation is not practicing it. That is why actors have live rehearsals and dress rehearsals. Reading and saying are two very different things

Ideally you should rehearse in front of someone who can give you feedback. If this is too daunting then at the very least say it out loud to yourself. You can be in the bathroom, in the car as you are driving or you can even rehearse t the dog (at least they can’t heckle).

Rehearse not only what you are going to say, but also the connections between the different subjects. How are you going to link one part of the presentation to another (these are often the awkward silences and ums and ahs that throw your confidence).

#10 Don’t let the audience put you off 

All your practice and hard work can fall apart when faced with someone who looks bored or in danger of falling asleep! Try and catch the eyes of people who look more interested and engaged (although don’t focus entirely on them or they may become freaked out).

An audience you don’t expect can also be very off-putting. I once had an important pitch and when we got into the room, not only did we have double the number of people than we expected, but half were in fancy dress (including a large man in a pick velour tracksuit) as it was Breast Cancer Awareness day. A tad off-putting, but if something like that does happen, just keep your shoulders straight, head up, a smile on your face and remain focussed and whatever you do don’t let them smell your fear!

If you would like help with your presentation skills or would like the services of the PowerPoint Queen to jazz up your presentation, call Alison Clynes on 01472 269 016.