Picture this: You deliver a fabulous presentation on a topic. Your audience hangs on to every word you say. It ends in a long, genuine applause. Your audience is happy because they can take a lot away. Break the ice with important people in the audience is easy because they already have a positive impression of you.
Tough? Yes. Unless you possess a natural flair for speaking publicly.
Impossible? Certainly not! Many have mastered the art of presentations despite being afraid of them in the beginning.
How can you achieve this? Read the rest of this post carefully.
3 out of 4 people are afraid of speaking in public. This fear of public speaking, which is the number one fear in humans, is called Glossophobia. Can you believe it? People fear public speaking more than they fear death! (Take this test to measure how comfortable you are with public speaking.)
However a survey reported that seventy percent people agree that presentation skills are critical to their success at work. Renowned communications expert and author Carmine Gallo believes that the other 30 percent don’t know it yet. Yes, effective presentation skills are critical to your success, in higher education and the corporate world.
You will have to present to professors and colleagues in college, seniors and peers at work, and potential investors and customers for your business. If 3 out of 4 people are afraid of speaking publicly, it presents an opportunity to you (no pun intended). It means that by improving your presentation skills, you can build credibility and a solid reputation faster than 75 percent of your competition.
Nine in-depth tips to improve your presentation skills and delight your audience every time are elaborated on below:
1. Peep into your audience’s mind
Remember the golden role of a captivating presentation: It’s not about you, it’s about them – your audience. For them to stay hooked, your words must be relevant and interesting. While searching for presentation topics, don’t ask yourself “What should I talk about?” Instead, ask “What problems does my audience face that I can address?” Find their concerns, challenges and obstacles. Build your presentation’s theme around these.
For Steve Jobs, this was the norm. All his amazing presentations started with challenges faced by users, and transitioned into how Apple’s new offerings would solve them. No wonder people paid extra to grab front row seats and witness his (often historic) keynote speeches.
2. Address emotions first
Facts and statistics are important. But you will agree that they are also boring. The most effective way to build a lasting connect with your audience is to cater to their emotions. Why? Because we humans are driven by emotion. We agree that features and benefits, facts and figures are useful. But the most significant factor when a human makes a decision is emotion.
Portray your audience’s biggest challenges as the enemy, and show how your product, ideas or suggestions will help them emerge victorious. Show them the promised land. It will strike a chord in people’s hearts. Facts and figures can be used to substantiate your idea.
You know when I am bored the most while listening to a speaker? When he start off about himself. His credentials, experience, his company’s size… in short, when a speaker tries to justify why he is there, instead of why I should care. It starts alienating people. Don’t you feel the same way too?
Instead, Simon Sinek suggests sharing what you know – your ideas, your perspective, or how your new product will enhance lives. This give you the luxury of making your presentation flexible and not having to memorize it. But it also makes your presentation more interesting. Once again, the golden rule of a captivating presentation is: it’s not about you, it’s about them.
4. Include Stories and Images
Which text books did you love most in school? I’m guessing that they were English and History, right? Why? Well, because they had stories. Lots and lots of them.
We may have grown, but will always be enthralled by stories and photos. Leverage this in your presentations too. To make a point, state it as the moral of a relevant story. Images further beautify your slide and compel you to insert less text. Using stories and images will empower you to communicate more effectively and add the element of surprise.
5. Use Aristotle’s ‘Rule of Three’
Let’s go back to our childhood for a bit. What did Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Three Little Pigs, The Three Musketeers and other stories have in common? ‘Omne Trium Perfectum’ – everything that comes in threes is perfect. We have a deep rooted, subconscious connection with that number.
Highlight three major concerns of your audience, three core areas where your product needs improvement. Offer three suggestions on increasing your existing market share, or provide three concrete solutions for your audience’s most pressing challenges. This not only lets your audience remember your points for longer, but also gives you more time to elaborate on them.
6. Use Less Text
The biggest mistake people make while presenting is cluttering their presentations with text. It shows three things
- You are low on confidence and want Microsoft or Keynote to help you build it
- You are too lazy to format your presentation
- You would rather be led by a software than lead it.
Your listener thinks “Well, I’m smart enough to read what’s written.” So she does. And she has already read the 7th point by the time you’ve started the first.
Avoid this deathtrap by following Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 principle. A presentation should have a maximum of 10 slides, shouldn’t be longer than 20 minutes and the font size should be 30. This make the text visible to the person even in the last row, and also forces you to put in less text. In each slide, work hard on keeping your bullet points (if at all) to a maximum of – you guessed it – three.
7. Close with a bang
People remember what they last heard. So make sure that you have an enthusiastic and effective closing which people will remember when they leave. The best way to do this is to summarize your presentation.
Closing with Q&As is the norm. But these sessions can drain the enthusiasm from your audience. People who don’t have questions start checking their phones, daydreaming, talking to others… they get bored. And boredom is contagious. Try something unique instead. Lesley Belknap suggests to solicit Q&As before your conclusion. Allot five to ten minutes for them. If your audience has further questions, assure them that you will be around after the session to answer them.
Following that, recap your presentation or close with a video. Let your audience walk away with what you want them to remember most.
8. Address FAQs in your presentation itself
Keeping your audience in mind while choosing a presentation topic will give you a fair idea of their questions. Include answers to those questions in your presentation itself. It will dispel audience doubts beforehand, free up Q&A time, and give you more time to close your presentation with a bang.
9. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Rome was not built in a day. Likewise, your presentation skills will not improve in a day or week.
Remember how you looked forward to writing an exam which you were thoroughly prepared for? You didn’t look forward to scoring well. You looked forward to the challenge, to testing how well you could do. The marks were a merely a metric. The same applies to presentations. The better your preparation, the lesser your fear. And with preparation comes remarkable confidence. Practice is the secret to Narendra Modi’s, Elon Musk’s, Tony Robbins’ and every renowned speaker’s success.
Often, someone designs our presentation, which we see a few minutes before we speak. Is it surprising that we are hopelessly underprepared? People can sense it too. They get bored. Trust me, that never ends well for a speaker.
Prepare your own presentation. And practice. Steve Jobs would start practicing two days before his keynote speeches – you can spend at least one night, right? Take inputs from trustworthy friends and family to know where you can improve.
10. Bonus: Read these books
Experts know a lot more about effective presentation skills. And they have elaborately shared their tips and insights in books. Five books which you must read on the subject are:
- The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
- Speak to Win
- Talk Like TED
- Presentation Zen
- The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (if you are a manager)
Do share your thoughts with me after you read one or all of them.
In a world of limited attention spans, you are competing with forever-buzzing smartphones for space in your audience’s mind. If your presentation isn’t gripping enough, the only reason your audience will clap when it ends is because they can get back to their smartphones.
I hope that this post has shown you that building effective presentation skills is not rocket science. It simply involves rigorously following the few key points mentioned above. Imbibing this skill, however, benefits you tremendously. As mentioned in the beginning, it helps you build a credible personal and professional reputation. And of course, the fear of public speaking means that competition in this aspect is much lesser than you imagine.
How do you overcome your fear of public speaking and design presentations to have an impact on your audience?
Header image: The Traveling Beard