Improve Your Presentations

Almost everyone feels a bit nervous about delivering a presentation before a group. It seems that some people would rather undergo a root canal than experience the anxiety of giving a speech.  They must have a really good dentist!

If you can follow some basic guidelines for preparation and delivery, you can transform your nervousness into positive energy that will allow you to achieve the results you desire.

The secrets to successful presentations are simple and are based on common sense. Unfortunately, many people fail to discover these secrets.

Step One: Purpose

This first step is the most important step.  You need to ask yourself some hard questions, such as:

* What’s the purpose of your presentation? Why this topic?  Why you?  There are many reasons to make a speech or announcement, and you need to clearly define your goal.

* Do you have to deliver bad news to your department?

* Do you require a decision from your superiors on a problematic business situation?

* Do you have a solution and want to convince people?

* Are you trying to sell a solution or product?

The reason you are giving your speech is to persuade your audience to buy into specific ideas. You must sufficiently inspire and motivate listeners to take action or give the green light to act on suggested solutions.

However, unless they believe they “own” the decision, they won’t act upon it.  You need to lead your audience through the decision-making process so the audience members can go through it with you.

It’s critical to avoid spelling everything out for them. Let them “see” what the problems are and which decisions are needed. They will then be happy to engage in finding solutions and be enthusiastic about acting on them.

Step Two: Know Your Audience

Your audience includes those who may be influenced or affected by your proposal. Before you think about what to say, you must determine who your audience is and what they’ll need from you to buy into your argument.  Always focus on your audience’s interests.

Make sure you’re selling the benefits of your solution—not the features. For example, if your new program benefits the company by saving time and money, this is what you should emphasize. It will appeal to your audience much more than any discussion of actual program features.

Step Three: Structure Your Presentation

Most of the time, it’s a good idea to open with a story that reveals a picture of the problem at hand. Stories engage people, especially if they’re personal and real. They create an authentic connection and grab people’s attention. Remember: Your first 30 seconds are the most crucial.

Follow up your story with an honest analysis of the problem, and back it up with research statistics. The Internet makes this part of your task easy, but be cautious about spending too much time on stats.

Then, present the solution. This is the “good stuff,” as people want to know relief is in sight. Spell out the benefits to your audience.

Strengthening Your Presentation

Slides or PowerPoint graphics should supplement your talk and illustrate key points, not deliver the presentation for you. Don’t use graphics that contain every word you say, and never read directly off the screen.  After all, if people can read the information, why do they need you?

Limit text to subheadings, which should be large enough to read from the back of the room. Don’t talk to the screen instead of your audience. And always be prepared for the possibility of a power or technological failure; bring handouts and have an alternative way to deliver your speech in case there’s no screen.

Managing Anxiety

Some experts suggest memorizing the first 60 seconds of your speech. If you do this, make sure it sounds natural and authentic. Because you’re likely to open with a personal story, introduce yourself and explain why your topic is so important to you. This makes the first 60 seconds sound natural, even if you memorize your text.

Don’t draw attention to your nervousness by telling your audience about it. You can share your feelings, but not your anxieties. Your goal is to present yourself authentically, as a real human being.

Don’t fidget or fiddle with your hair, clothes or body parts.

Practice your speech in front of a mirror as often as you can, and minimize nervous tics by standing behind a lectern, if necessary.

Practice drawing a deep breath for instant relaxation.  Take two or three deep breaths before you get up to speak.

To your success in speaking!

Fran Watson


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