One of the hardest things for anyone to do, myself included, has been to give live presentations. They are a pain to do, however over the years I’ve found that as much as I’m nervous (I start to talk too fast, my knees shake and sometimes my voice cracks) I’ve been told over and over again that I don’t show any signs that I am nervous.
In fact, in situations where I’ve been in an interview position and the requirement was to prepare a presentation — I’ve been offered the job or consulting stint. I’ve found it more difficult to participate in traditional interviews — though again, I’ve always been offered a job or consulting work after coming out of them.
The one key area that will help you is your communication skills. By this I mean, how well do you use words. How to you express your thoughts and ideas, can you pass along your ideas to the other people? How well do you handle visual cueues from your audience?
The one way to increase your vocabulary and learn how to use words is to read. I read a lot of professional magazines, in particular those aimed at my current career path (Operations Director/Customer Service Manager) and in general interest areas such as IT (software management and development), Business, and Parenting.
But in addition to reading magazines, I do read science fiction as well and from time-to-time some general fiction.
Any type of reading will help you enhance your speaking skills.
Most recently I was asked to give a 20 minute presentation on “Best Practices for Employee Retention” to a group of 4 people for a consulting position that I could do on my own time.
I was asked only the night before to prepare. Believe me, it was difficult. In preparing the presentation to a group of individuals that are involved in the industry, I had to ensure that I answered several questions. Now I wasn’t told that I had to, but when you are giving a presentation on any topic — your mindset has to be that you must answer the question of the presentation. In my case the topic was “Best Practices for Employee Retention”.
Can you guess what question I had to answer? There are several, but the main one was this “What is considered Best Practice” – not an easy question to answer but if you do a little research, the answer will amaze you.
Want the answer? What works.
Seriously – that is the answer. I’ll let you think about why that’s the answer.
So how do you go about preparing for a killer presentation?
The first thing is that you must know the topic you intend to speak about, or be willing to do A LOT of research to understand it and know it inside and out. You may need to “fake it” if you’re asked questions — but if you have done your homework then you won’t have a problem, even if you do have to “fake it”.
When I prepare for a presentation, I rehearse. Sometimes I’ll rehearse out-loud, with all the actions that go with it as if I’m presenting at that moment and other times, I lay back and rehearse in my mind.
I’ve tried tricks with cards – but find them distracting, so have never used cards. However I will use visual cueues, especially if my presentation involves using PowerPoint or something similar. That’s when I’ll use keywords to trigger points that I would like to make.
Another key element in giving presentations is eye contact. Admittedly when you are presenting in front of a small crowd, it’s easy to maintain eye contact with everyone. You just ensure you make the rounds – as you speak look at the individuals that are listening - you can bet that they will be looking at you, so return the favor.
Even in large crowds, you can still skim the crowd and try and make eye contact with a few people.
Next up – speak clearly. Don’t mumble, and sound out your words correctly. If the crowd you are speaking to knows the subject and slang used – you might get away with using it, but generally you should not. For example at least the first time, you may want to use the whole word or phrase then shorten it for future uses. Using “Key Performance Indicators” might be OK the first time, but not 15 times in a presentation. You can shorten it to KPI. When you’re making a particularly important point then you may want to use the full word again to stress the point.
Posture Does Make A Difference
Stand tall, don’t slouch. Should be common sense. Standing straight will help you breathe better and will help you maintain eye contact with the crowd.
Water… Water… Water…
Now BEFORE your presentation, don’t drink a lot of liquids. Last thing you want (or need) is an accident on-stage or to be excused in the middle of a presentation. If you feel your mouth is getting dry, suck on a candy before your presentation starts – and please NO GUM while speaking! Nobody wants to see a cow on stage.
Dress For Success
Regardless of the type of presentation, ensure you are dressed for it. Most business presentations will require suit and tie – but if you are not sure – ASK! You could opt for business casual that borderlines a more formal attire. If you must wear shirt and tie, make sure that the clothes are comfortable and that you can move around in them. NOTHING tight, but just right.
I’ve also got to mention this because I see “newbies” break this rule all the time. DARK SOCKS! Please, no white socks. I’ve gone to dozens of presentations over the years and while most participants are dressed well (including the socks) I still see so many business folks that insist on wearing white socks on dark pants. Even on jeans, you should be wearing dark socks.
Make sure your shoes are shined and polished, and look good! Just because you may only give one presentation per year doesn’t mean you look like a slouch.
Oh keep a hanky in your pocket. Nice CLEAN white one folded into a 3″ or 4″ square. That’s to wipe your brow should you start to sweat.
The Biological Stuff…
Go to the washroom before your presentation starts. Wipe off any sweat building on your forehead, loosen yourself up. Ensure your shirt is tucked into your pants and that the zipper is up. Ladies do much better as they are more aware of these things than guys are… so I don’t need to give them any tips (don’t believe me – ask my wife, she runs through a list with me before I leave for any presentation).
Check your face, and eyes. Make sure they are clean! Check your teeth also. It would be pretty embaressing if you’ve got something stuck in your teeth all through your presentation. I usually keep toothbrush, toothpaste and floss in my pack along with any items I need for the presentation.
In short ensure you are in TIP TOP physical appearance!
If you are prone to overheating (aka sweating) well before the presentation see if a fan can be placed on stage and set to the lowest setting. You could even ask for ice water – but make sure the ice is crushed otherwise a sip of water could end up all over you.
It is OK to keep a glass of water handy, but don’t over do it – you are only using the water to moisten your mouth.
Now as you start presenting – try not to get nervous. As you get nervous, you will start to sweat – you don’t want to look like you’ve just taken a shower and you don’t want to be wiping your brow every 5 minutes.
Remember to breathe! If you breathe regularly it will keep you calm and relaxed and minimize how much you sweat.
Work through your presentation – ENJOY it! The more you enjoy what you are doing, the easier it will be. The first few minutes will probably be the worst, then as you get into it and your audience also loosens up the time will go by so quickly that you won’t even realize it!
Presentations are easy to give, with a little practice you will be able to give them without any difficulty. Although I hate giving presentations, every time I’ve given one I’ve had great reviews of how it went.
Do you have some tips that you’ve used that have worked for you? Please, share them with us!