The 5 Fundamentals of Fearless Presentations

You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.

  ~John Ford

Polishing Your Presentation Skills

Flickr/2012 Green Heart Schools public speaking competition/Brisbane City Council

There is a good chance that you will be asked to present information to your reports, peers, or someone higher up the management chain at some point in your career. In some roles, delivering presentations might be a regular occurrence: in others, an occasional dreaded necessity. In either case, stepping up to do a presentation is your opportunity to shine and demonstrate your value to the organization. More importantly, public speaking is a skill you can master with a deep breath, a little effort, and some practice. Here are some basics to get you started.

The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Presentations

  1. Know your audience.
  2. Do your homework.
  3. Be organized.
  4. Plan for success.
  5. Practice, practice, practice!

1: Know Your Audience

  • Be clear about your purpose.
  • Analyze your audience.
  • Be aware of the occasion.
  • Ensure you are knowledgeable about and comfortable with your topic. (You should know more than your average audience member.)

2: Do Your Homework

  • Check out the space, layout and equipment available to you in advance.
  • Ensure your content is relevant, accurate, and current (do your research!).
  • Narrowly focus the content of your presentation to:

    • prevent rambling,
    • stay on topic, and
    • aim your message toward a specific objective.

3: Be Organized

  • Plan what you want to say. At minimum, identify key speaking points in bullet form.
  • Be conscious of your language. Avoid jargon, unless appropriate. Use the vocabulary best suited to your audience.
  • Plan for…

    • a great opening
    • smooth transitions
    • a strong closing

Opening: When starting a presentation, your goal is to capture the audience’s attention, so they will look up from their smart phones and listen to you. Some effective methods for starting a presentation include:

  • asking a question
  • making a strong, possibly controversial statement
  • sharing an anecdote or story
  • reading a powerful quote
  • presenting thought provoking statistics
  • using humor appropriate to the event

Note: We’ve also seen arrival by parachute and a full-face pratfall work!

Closing: When closing your presentation, the objective is to be memorable. The last thing you say is likely to be the most remembered part of your talk, so give your closing the respect it deserves.

  • Restate the key message in a punchy, well-written sentence or two.
  • Memorize your close, so even if you get a little off track during the presentation, you have a solid finish.
  • If you are using slides, tie your final message to a powerful visual image for added impact.

Transitioning: During your presentation, make sure you transition smoothly from one idea to another, so you don’t leave anyone lagging or hanging.

  • Transitions serve as a bridge to move your speech from one point to the next.
  • Use transition words like: Therefore, Thus, So
  • Use transition phrases and sentences like:

    • On the other hand…
    • Looking at this from another perspective…
    • Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
    • Now let’s consider this from a different viewpoint.
  • Use a variety of transitions throughout your presentation.
  • Avoid “ahhh”, “ummm”, “like”, “and”.

4: Plan for Success

  • Know how long you will be speaking and prepare accordingly (typically, 4 planned minutes of speaking will take 5 minutes to deliver—more if you expect laughter).
  • For the most natural presentation style, it’s best not to memorize your presentation. To help keep you on track, put your main speaking points on cue cards that fit in your hand.

    • Make sure to number them, just in case!
    • Print large so you can read them easily without making it too obvious
    • Use a highlighter on points or words to be emphasized
    • If possible, avoid words you find hard to pronounce
  • Presentation slides should be used like cue cards, with just enough information to keep you on message.

    • Take advantage of the technology by adding visuals like charts, photographs and videos for emphasis rather than filling slides with words or numbers.
    • Use a remote to advance your slides
    • If you're adding video, download to your computer in advance to avoid technology letdown.
  • Be aware of how you come across to an audience. If you can view yourself on video before your presentation, it is a great learning tool. Watch for:

    • Posture and facial expressions
    • Any awkward habits, gestures, movements
    • Volume and pace of your speaking voice
  • Maintain good eye contact. This means consistently taking in your entire audience

    • Share your eye contact generously, but avoid scanning quickly from side to side.
    • Avoid continuously reading from notes, cue cards or slides—they should be prompts only.
    • Be careful not to get your eyes “stuck” on one person in the audience or on one side of the room.
  • Use your voice and face for emphasis and incorporate planned gestures that help convey your message.
  • Stand straight, keep your feet grounded, and hands at your sides (when not consciously gesturing with them).

5: Practice, Practice, Practice!

  • Familiarize, don’t memorize.
  • Play with words to help you decide where to place your emphasis.

    • You did a great job!
    • You did a great job!
  • Remember, punctuation is not visible. You provide the punctuation in your delivery!
  • Practice and refine your presentation as often as possible.

    • Ask friends, family & co-workers to be your audience and provide feedback.
    • Record yourself (voice or video)

If developing (or polishing) your presentation skills is one of your career development goals, join a Toastmasters Club for some of the best training, evaluation and “stage time” available.

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