Presentations are a great opportunity. They’re an opportunity to move your work forward and to build your reputation. But only if you have effective presentation skills.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
And if you’re nervous before a presentation, take a look at our practical tips to calm your nerves before a presentation.
Right, now we’re ready.
Effective presentation skills
There are 7 presentation delivery skills that you need to work on and continue to improve (more on that later).
1. Stand with a strong core
Effective presentation skills start with posture. And the good news is, this is simple.
Feet flat on the ground, space between them, your weight equally distributed. This will give you a strong core.
Hands by your sides or cupped lightly together in front of you. Don’t intertwine your fingers, don’t wring your hands.
Practice these aspects of posture: feet flat and weight equally distributed, strong central core, hands by your sides or cupped lightly in front of you.
Great! You have your natural resting place. Your launch pad.
And if you’re sitting, same principles. Feet flat on floor, strong central core, hands in an easy resting place (for example on the arms of your chair).
2. Be willing to pause
Do you want to make an impact? Be willing to pause.
Make an important point and pause. Let the audience take in what you’ve said.
A few important points to note:
- Pauses always seem much longer to you (the presenter!) than the audience. You’re going to need to practice!
- Hold the audience in the pause (look around the room with confidence)
- Don’t restart with a ‘filler’ word (such as ‘so’ or ‘ok’). Start back with another bold statement.
Take a look at the video below to understand these points in more detail.
3. Make eye contact, one idea at a time
The eyes are the windows of the soul
Too much eye contact and you’ll appear creepy. Too little eye contact and it will look like you lack confidence.
What is ‘good’ eye contact? Again, it’s simple.
Share an idea with someone, then move on.
Because we connect with people not just by making eye contact, but also by sharing an idea with the person.
Each line below is eye contact with one person:
it’s great to be here,
today I’ll be covering 3 topics:
effective presentation skills,
You’ve already connected with 6 people in the audience. You’ve made that connection because you’ve looked them in the eye and shared an idea, a point, with them.
4. Modulate your voice
This is a big one. Of all 7 effective presentation skills, this usually takes people the most work to master, because there are several elements. (We’ve already covered pause because it’s so important!)
The key principle around vocal variety is modulation.
Modulation of pace, volume and emphasis.
A monotonous voice, at the same volume, with the same pace, with no emphasis… zzzz zzzz zzzz… it puts everyone to sleep.
Practice modulating each aspect. And that doesn’t always mean talking more loudly. Sometimes the best way to engage people is to drop the volume a little, so that people lean in to hear what you’re saying.
5. Use clear, purposeful gestures
Gesture with purpose. Use gestures to:
Each gesture should be clean and clear, and then return to you natural resting place (see Posture, above).
Gestures that emphasize are quick and sharp. A fist into the palm of the hand, a chopping motion. Make sure you’re comfortable with it, something that’s natural to your style.
Gestures that visualize take the spoken words and bring them to life visually. Simply examples: holding up 3 fingers when you mention the number 3. Or raising your hand upwards as you talk about increased profits.
Gestures that engage are an embrace of the audience, for example, outstretched arms as you say welcome.
Gestures have many cultural nuances to them, Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands is a useful reference.
6. Use movement to engage
Movement around the room is very useful, if you’re in a face-to-face environment. Again, key principle, move with purpose. Take a few steps forward when you want to emphasize a point. Move towards a key decision-maker to engage them.
Don’t sway, and don’t move pointlessly from side to side. Again, a strong posture will help you overcome these problems naturally.
7. And smile!
The last in our list of effective presentation skills, remember to smile!
How often do you see people start a presentation with “I’m really excited to be here” and they have the most dull expression on their face and the most monotonous voice.
Put a little energy in your voice, put a smile on you face, and say it with meaning.
Or, if you can’t do that authentically, say something else. “This is a really important meeting and I’m looking forward to discussing the issues with you”.
Effective presentation skills, an example
This is a long video, you only need to watch the first few minutes.
The first minute is a young Barak Obama, giving a presentation. It’s not so good! Keep the 7 effective presentation skills in mind and evaluate his presentation.
After this first minute the video cuts to a much older Barack Obama, towards the end of his presidency. He’s speaking in Canada and does a far better presentation!
Did he use any different presentation skills, other than the 7 covered above? No, he did not. He simply made great use of the 7 skills that I’ve covered.
How to develop your presentation skills
Practice and ask for feedback.
If you can, record yourself giving the presentation. Then review yourself against the 7 effective presentation skills covered above.
If you’re delivering the presentation virtually, then join ‘meeting’ in advance. Record your presentation, look for opportunities to improve, practice, record, improve.
Presentation skills, in summary
Effective presentation skills are quite easy to master. When I run presentation skills training the participants always walk out the door better presenters, after just 1 day.
Focus on one skill at a time:
- Stand with a strong core
- Be willing to pause
- Make eye contact, one idea at a time
- Modulate your voice
- Use clear, purposeful gestures
- Use movement to engage
- And smile!
Apply the guidance above, practice and get feedback. That’s all it takes!