Today, we’re continuing our series on communication. Over the past several weeks, we’ve been sharing insights, strategies, and tips for communicating during all kinds of circumstances. The valuable content we provide will help you excel as a communicator and gain a highly coveted skill that can see you rise in both your personal and professional life.
In our first installment, which you can read here, we discussed 4 ways to help you communicate more effectively in meetings.
In our second installment, which you can read here, we discussed communication strategies you can easily master to help you become a more charismatic individual.
Today, we’re going to discuss communication as it pertains to one of the most valuable skills in the workplace: being a good presenter.
It’s been said that the fear of public speaking for the majority of people is greater than even the fear of death.
There are some people in life who are natural born storytellers fair and square. They know how to keep an audience hanging on their every word. They capture the imagination of their listeners and keep them engaged for the duration of the presentation.
But the reality is not everyone’s skillset or gift is in presenting. And yet, giving presentations at work is a task many professionals (especially leaders) have to face throughout the week.
The good news is that presenting excellently is something that can be learned. If you’d like to sharpen your presenting skills so that you can excel as a communicator in front of audiences, the tips below are just what you need.
Know Your Audience
Remember, when you present, there’s a reason for it. You either want the audience to take an action or to receive a benefit. To put it another way, the objective of your presentation is either to educate or persuade.
So before you even write down your talking points, ask yourself this question: What do I want my audience to know once I’ve finished my presentation? What key points do I need to communicate?
After all, a presentation teaching employee engagement techniques is going to be organized very differently than a presentation to the executive team requesting a larger budget for the upcoming year.
You always need to consider your audience’s perspective and needs, i.e. what do they already know about the topic, what are their goals and objectives regarding the topic, what benefit will they get from hearing the presentation.
Tell a Story
More and more, organisations are starting to see the benefit of using storytelling in their marketing. Storytelling is essential in communicating (especially in presentations) for three reasons.
First, when the human brain hears a story, it releases oxytocin. Oxytocin increases feelings of connection and trust. In fact, it’s known as “the bonding hormone”. Simply by telling a story, you’re drawing your audience in and helping them to feel that you’re someone who’s trustworthy and relatable.
Second, our brains naturally want to look for patterns in things. This is because it’s easier to make sense of a pattern and follow it through from beginning to end. What’s a story if not a pattern? Stories are all about cause and effect. We want to know how a story ends.
Which leads us into our third point. The average attention span is said to be about twenty minutes for adults. However, when you use stories in your presentation, you’re better able to keep your audience attentive for much longer, since again, people like to know how stories end.
As you develop your talking points, think about stories that you can insert throughout your presentation to keep your audience engaged with what you’re saying.
Have you ever sat for a presentation where the speaker seemed as if the front of the room was the last place they wanted to be? Maybe the presenter was overly nervous, or maybe they just seemed bored to tears about their speaking topic, which only served to make the audience nervous or bored right along with them.
Remember: enthusiasm is contagious! If you’re excited, enthusiastic, and energetic about the content you’re presenting, then your audience is going to be a great deal more eager to listen to you speak. It’s easier for an audience to warm up to a speaker who’s clearly passionate about their topic.
Sometimes it may be difficult to figure out a way to make a mundane topic exciting, but get creative. What’s interesting or different about your subject matter? What is something people may not know about it? Think, too, about different ways to actually deliver the content. Can you involve the audience somehow? Can you include humorous anecdotes, eye-catching visual aids, or props?
Body language is especially key here. Remember to keep the smile on your face and to make regular eye contact with your audience.
Take Your Time
Going along with the preceding point, sometimes—due to excitement or nerves—presenters often end up speeding through their talks. Rushing through your presentation unfortunately lessens the impact that your talk has on its audience. This is because we often assume that someone who’s talking quickly is anxious, which makes us anxious for them. It also communicates a lack of experience and confidence.
Instead, take your time throughout your presentation. This exudes a relaxed, comfortable, and confident demeanor that will keep your audience focused on you. Deliver your talking points at the same conversational pace you might use in every-day life.
If you happen to blank out, let it serve as a natural pause in your talk. The fact of the matter is that your audience will need several pauses throughout your presentation in order to digest your content. You can also use these pauses to hydrate and have a sip of water.
If you still can’t remember your next line after that, don’t panic. Switch the focus to your audience by asking them a question you prepared in advance for a moment like this. Eventually, you’ll remember where you are in your talk and will be able to go from there.
Too many presents often stay behind their podium for the duration of their entire talk. Given just how many people are scared to death of public speaking, this isn’t all that surprising. Sometimes, the podium feels like a safe space, a protective barrier between you and your audience. The only problem is that it can be difficult to interact with and engage your listeners with this wall in front of you.
Instead, move around the stage. Not only will this make you appear confident and relaxed (which will in turn make your audience feel more comfortable), but you’ll find that any stage fright is easier to manage when you’re moving your body, as you’re giving the adrenaline something to do instead of keeping it bubbled up inside.
A good rule of thumb is to structure your presentation into key points. For instance, you might have an introduction, three supporting points, and then a conclusion. You would begin center stage with your introduction. As you’re introducing your first supporting point, you would move to the left of the stage. When transitioning into the second, you would move back to the center. When transitioning into the third, you would move to the right of the stage. And then to reach your conclusion, you would return to the center.
Our eyes are attracted to moving objects, so whenever you move during a presentation, you’re inviting attention—another trick for keeping your audience engaged. This also ensures that you’re making eye contact with all audience members and not favoring one section over another. Just remember to rehearse your movements in advance so that they appear natural and relaxed.
Not everyone’s born a natural presenter and public speaker, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s impossible to excel at this skill. Using the tips and strategies above, you’ll gradually improve your presenting abilities, and before long, you’ll become the type of presenter at work that keeps people interested and engaged. Remember: practice makes perfect! So keep at it, and continue striving for your full potential.