Presentation skills. Women presenting to others

Presentation Skills

Presentation is a communication process with a specific objective. The objective of any presentation is to either inform something to your audience or to persuade your audience to act on something. To achieve the objective and to make your presentation successful, you need a few sets of presentation skills to prepare, design and deliver your presentation.

While there are many types of presentations, most commonly used types are delivering presentations with PowerPoint slides (ppt) at the workplace or delivering short talks (like TED talks). 

If you are thinking why presentation skills are important, your every communication is one type of presentation. When you want to persuade someone even during a casual chat and without ppt slides, you need presentation skills.

To know what presentation skills you need, You must know that presentation skills are not only restricted to the way of delivering your presentation.

“70% of presentations fail even before it starts”.

So you need to understand presentation skills required at 3 stages of a successful presentation. These stages are : Prepare, Design & Deliver.

presentation skills required for a successful presentation:

  • Prepare your presentation
    • Skills to define the purpose
    • Skills to analyse your audience
    • Prepare bullet points or storyboard making skills
  • Design your presentation
    • Skills to design your PowerPoint (ppt) slides
    • Skills to design the script
    • Rehearse
  • Deliver your presentation
    • First impression
    • Non verbal communication skills
    • Verbal communication skills 

These all presentation skills can be learned, improved and mastered with practice. 

Prepare your presentation

This stage is to brainstorm your ideas and to develop key points or a storyboard. In other words, do not to hit the PowerPoint software in your computer till you complete the first stage of “Preparing your presentation” . Further, To prepare your presentation, you need to work on three area:

Define the purpose of your presentation:

“Start preparing your presentation with the end in mind.”

Defining a clear objective for any presentation is the first step towards the success or failure. So it is always advised to start with the objective of your presentation. What do you want from the presentation when it’s over? Presentations are not about you. To clarify, presentations are always about your audience. Therefore, to define the objective or purpose of any presentation, think about what do you want from your audience. Ask yourself below questions.

  • Do you want your audience to just know what you are presenting, or
  • Do you want them to feel or act in a specific manner after your presentation. 

Key benefits of starting with the clear purpose:

Once the purpose of your presentation is clear with answers to above questions,

  • The purpose will guide you throughout, till the end to make your presentation a success.
  • It will help you to identify and prioritize key points of your presentation. 
  • Design the structure and flow of your presentation becomes easy when you know the purpose .
  • Being clear on your purpose will increase your confidence while delivering the presentation. 

Analyse your audience:

The most important factor of any presentation is the audience. It is important to know your audience better so that you can present a story which will have synergy for them. Know who all will be present. Who they are as a people. What are their likes and dislikes. Further, do your audience already have any bias for the topic you are going to present? What is the audience expecting from the presentation and from you or your team. So knowing your audience will help you to give them what they need from the presentation.

If the audience base is large, identify your priority audience within that and focus your presentation towards that priority audience. Your priority audience can be identified based on the purpose of your presentation.

For example, if you are giving a presentation about your department performance review and the audience includes your senior management team, sales team from various regions, your counterpart from other departments. You may identify your priority audience as a senior management team. Accordingly analyse what do they already know about your department performance and what do you want them to know after your presentation.

In the above example, if the larger audience is same, but the purpose of your presentation is to announce a new product to your sales team, now your priority audience is changed to the regional sales team and not the senior management team. This will further help you to decide what to add in your presentation.

In case of presentations, where your purpose is to talk about your research or to share your experience with a larger audience, you can not define a priority audience and the complete audience (doesn’t matter how large it is) becomes your priority audience. Accordingly you will be able to design the flow and key points of your presentation to make your story. 

Prepare strong bullet points:

Brainstorm how you support your purpose during the presentation. Do you need to support your ideas with data, gather all required data and organise it in a logical manner to drive your bullet points.

To drive your bullet points, again keep your audience and their needs in mind. Most people make the mistake of worrying about self needs from the presentation. Do not fall into that trap. Instead, think about what my audience will find interesting and what are their expectations. Accordingly prepare your strong bullet points for the presentation. 

At the end of this stage, you will be ready with the skeleton of your presentation. This can also be in the form of sketching a storyboard which will help to understand the flow of presentation. After working on the skill of preparing your presentation, it’s time to move further to the next set of presentation skills.

Skills to design your presentation 

After you are ready with the purpose, the structure and key points of your presentation, this is the stage to open PowerPoint in your computer and start designing PowerPoint (ppt) slides.

Your real presentation is your storyboard and your script, so use PowerPoint slides only as visual aid to your presentation. Key role of PowerPoint slide designs is to retain the attention of your audience. So use PowerPoint to help you to make visually appealing PowerPoint slides.

Keep it simple, short:

We all must have experienced tiring, endless presentations at some point of time. Similarly when you are presenting, do not exhaust your audience with complex data or large tables with small font size which takes them effort to read on single slides. Keep your slides as simple as you can. 

Eliminate what is not relevant:

If you do not want your audience to sleep when you are presenting, be relevant. Sometimes we come across content which we get tempted to add in a presentation because we like it. When the content is not adding up to your purpose, be harsh on yourself to eliminate it.

This sounds very easy but it is very hard to practice eliminating what is not relevant. You need to be ruthless about this. You might have a very good idea but if it doesn’t match with the purpose of your presentation, it may not be the right time for it. Take it out. 

“Make a choice about what’s important and let everything else go.” 

– Zen Proverb

6X6 rule:

6×6 rule of making presentation slides suggest that

  • you should not have more than 6 words per line and
  • not have more than 6 bullet points per slide.

This will ensure your slides are not overpacked with the data that your audience don’t want to look at it.

Use relevant multimedia like images or audio/video:

According to a study, the human brain can process images up to 60,000 times faster than words. So use relevant images wherever you can and replace it with text.

Going one step further, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a million.” Videos will not only increase attention, but also help to retain the message faster. 

Use icons:

Replacing most commonly used words with icons will visually enhance your PowerPoint. Icons come handy when you want to cover text which can not be displayed through image. 

Use Google:

You might not find this tip anywhere else, but this is a really powerful tool. You can use Google or any search engine in multiple ways to make your presentation.

Use Google image search or video search to get relevant content (do not violate copyright). Likewise, you can use Google search to find relevant points / data / News updates to build your case as per the purpose of your presentation.

Use shapes:

Make sure to use shapes provided by PowerPoint. You can also create your custom shapes by combining, intersecting or subtracting from existing shapes. 

Use PowerPoint template:

You can make Use of thousands of free and paid PowerPoint templates available on the internet. To select any templates remember not to select just because you like it, look for the one suitable for your audience and your agenda. 

Design your script:

Designing your presentation doesn’t end at just creating the slides. You also need to design your script for every slide.

“Talk to your audience and not to the slides.”

Have you ever experienced a presentation where the presenter is reading through slides. As a result, it becomes completely disengaged for the audience. So if you want to keep your audience engaged, do not go on reading the slides. Talk to your audience.

You can talk to your audience if you work on what to talk about at the time of designing your presentation slides. In other words, this is called writing script for your presentation. Along with the visual enhancement of your slides, also work on writing your script. Decide what will you speak to your audience for each slide and in what sequence.

Tell a story: Each presentation is a story you are telling to your audience. So, each slide of your presentation must add to the story. Align the structure of your speech with your slide sequence.

Include questions: Questions will keep your audience engaged and attentive. So wherever possible, include questions to be asked in your script.

Add humour: use humour in your script, if relevant, to keep your audience engaged. 

Rehearse:

Once the slides and script are ready, the last thing to do before the D-day is to rehearse. Most people ignore this tip but remember that rehearsing your presentation will improve your presentation skills. It will improve your confidence by helping you to remember your contents and slide sequence. You will also be able to time your presentation to ensure you don’t stretch it unnecessarily. Specially when you are allotted a specific time limit, rehearsing will help you to prioritize which points or slides to spend more time on.

Practice running the slides at the same time when you talk. Timing your speech with relevant slides will boost your confidence. 

Presentation skills to deliver your presentation:

Finally, these are the presentation skills, most of you are looking for. Skills to deliver your presentation. However, if you have done your homework as mentioned in above stages to prepare and design your presentation, you have already achieved 70% success in your presentation.

This is the stage to keep your audience engaged. So below tips will help you in the final lap of improving your presentation skills.

Strong first impression:

It takes only 3 to 7 seconds for your audience to create your first impression in their mind. That is surely not enough time for you to even introduce yourself. Still you can make strong first impression by following below tips 

  • Be on time (in fact before time if you are presenting)
  • Your appearance: Be well groomed, well dressed. 
  • Smile: Have a warm and confident smile. 
  • Body language: Use your body language to demonstrate confidence. 

Non verbal communication

Eye contact:

Making eye contact will give the sense of involvement to your audience. When the audience is large, divide your audience in groups and keep moving your eyes equally to each group. Do not keep looking at a particular person or at a particular group of audience for a longer time. Give equal attention to each part of the room.

While moving your eye contact form one group to another, move between groups randomly and do not follow a pattern, otherwise you will appear artificial.

Wondering how much time you should look at a single person? It should be long enough to make a connection and then move on. Usually 3 to 5 seconds are enough to make a connection with one person with eye contact and then move on to the other part of the room or other person. 

Facial expressions:

When the audience size is large and you can not make eye contact with each of them, your facial expressions help you to connect with each of them to convey your filling. 
If you are thinking about the confident smile as your facial expressions during your presentation, beware! You will look artificial with a smile as your permanent expression.

Theoretically using all muscles that control your face, you are capable of making more than 10,000 expressions. Most common expressions are happiness, fear, anger, sadness, surprise, disgust. Use your facial expressions to connect with your story.

Adapt your facial expressions to the size of your audience. Your facial expressions should become more pronounced if the audience size is larger so that the people in last raw audience are also able to read your face if you want them to feel connected.  

Gestures:

Gestures make it easier for your audience to follow what you are saying. There are few positive and few negative gestures when you are presenting. Avoid negative gestures like folding your arms, standing with legs crossed, putting your hands in your pockets, or clasping your hands behind or in front of you. These gestures signal discomfort.

Use your gestures to amplify or complement what you are saying. For example, open your arms wide to show something big. 

Avoid repetitive gestures, because once an audience spots them, they can’t stop noticing them. 

Movement:

Your movements during the presentation can either add the energy or it can distract your audience. It depends on how you are using the space available to your movements. Audiences are distracted by mindless, repetitive movement. 

Below are few tips to map your movements on the stage and use them to increase the positive impact: 

While delivering the core message, be at center and as close to the audience as you can from the stage. 

If the stage is large, divide is mentally in to 2 or 3 parts and use each part as segregation as per your story. For example you can use different part of stage for different timeline or for different characters or for different points (provided your point are not to short which make you keep running to various part of the stage)

Verbal communication 

Voice: Voice during presentation includes the tone, pace and volume of delivery. This can be used as the spice of your speech. Appropriately using these 3 elements of voice can bring life to your words.

Use your pace in a way that gives enough time to your audience to digest the content. For example slow down your pace while presenting a new concept or increase the pace while saying something they already know. This also gives you time to think and establish connection. Adjust your volume not only as per your content but also as per the size of the room and audience. 

In the end, remember each presentation is about telling stories. Be it one of the routine review presentations or a big event. Once you approach it like a storytelling and work on all three stages (Prepare, Design, Deliver) of improving presentation skills, you will rock your every presentation. Each of the presentation skills can be learned and mastered through practice.

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