Whether you’re a seasoned professional, an intern or a student, giving a presentation can be a stressful experience, especially if it’s not in your native tongue. But with a little effort – and these 10 tips – you can take your presentation from good to great.
With years of practice in presenting – it’s a big part of my job as an English teacher – and seeing students present almost every day, here are my tried and tested tips for giving a great presentation:
1. Use silence
Generally, people don’t like silence. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward (hence the term “awkward silence.”) But during a presentation, silence can be your friend. When you take the stage to begin, all eyes will be on you. And what should you do? Just stand there. For a moment or two, simply bask in the silence. Take a deep breath. Be still. It may be uncomfortable, even awkward, but do this.. .and watch your audience lean in with anticipation, eager to hear what you are about to say.
And utilize the power of silence throughout your speech. Use silence to build suspense. To add emphasis. And to avoid using those nasty “filler words” such as um, uh, er, ah, like, etc.
2. Understand body language
Experts say that 55% of all outbound communication is non-verbal. When presenting, you’ll need to have strong body language. Try not to move around too much. Don’t click your pen. Don’t shuffle your feet or tug at your clothes. Don’t yawn (if you can help it). And try not to stand in front of your visuals when presenting. It seems obvious, but remember… if you’re standing right in front of the visual, your audience can’t see it. And when you do move, make it deliberate.
3. Tell a story
Humans love stories – we love to hear them and we love to tell them. Everyone, without exception, loves a good story. So, when considering how to start your presentation, why not start with something that resonates so deeply with each and every one of us… a story. “Hello ladies and gentleman. Today, I would like to share a story…” And the story should be personal in nature. It can be about you, or someone else. It can be historical, or futuristic. But paint a picture with words that engages the senses and take your audience on a journey.
4. Be visual
A picture says a thousand words. Images are stronger than text. Perhaps the most common mistake during a presentation is the excessive use of text. This is so problematic for one simple reason. During a presentation, you are speaking. With too much text on the slide, your audience is reading. If your audience is reading, what are they not doing? Listening to you.
Additionally, people are more likely to remember things if they have an image to go with it – this is a scientific fact. It actually doesn’t matter what it is: a fact, statistic or story. If you link it to an an image they’re more likely to remember it.
5. Make eye contact
Eye contact is another important aspect of body language. If you’re using notes (which is perfectly fine), don’t look down and read the entire time. Make sure that notes are key words to jog your memory, and keep your eyes up as much as possible. For notes: keep them succinct.
And while interacting with the audience, scan the room. Lock eyes with some audience members, and then continue to scan. This makes the talk seem more like a conversation. As if you’re talking with them, not at them. And never focus on only one audience member (ie – the professor, interviewer, judge, etc.). That can be awkward.
6. Engage your audience
People are good at a lot of things. Paying attention may or may not be one of them. The average adult has an attention span of somewhere between 8 seconds and 20 minutes, more or less. Having your audience do something during your presentation is a great way to break things up and keep them engaged. Perhaps you pose a question and solicit responses. Or ask for a show of hands. Perhaps you say, “close your eyes, and remember a time when…” Maybe you tell a joke, and make them erupt in laughter.
Whatever you do, be unpredictable. Your audience might want to get bored, reach for their phones, or close their eyes, but engaging them directly can prevent them from doing that and help them focus on what you’re saying.
7. Slow down
Simply put, it is nearly impossible to speak too slowly during a presentation. Slow down, and then slow down some more. Enunciate. And don’t worry about having perfect pronunciation or flawless grammar. Your audience is less concerned about that than you think.
This is particularly important to remember if you’re doing the presentation in a language other than your native tongue (in English, for example) – you might feel insecure about your level of English, but you really shouldn’t. What you say is what matters in the end, so make your point clear and focus on being confident in delivering it.
8. Less is more
With the exceptions of weekends and holidays, most things in life are too long, not too short. Think about it… Your last class, meeting, lecture or flight. Did you leave any of those experiences thinking “That was too short.” Probably not. So keep that in mind. The more information your audience hears, the more they forget. The more they forget, the less they remember. So keep it simple and offer one, clear idea in your presentation. Less is truly is more here.
9. End it well
How you end your presentation is almost as important as how you begin. So ask yourself, what’s the number one gift you’re offering? What’s the underlying message of the entire presentation? Create a sentence that captures it. And make it something worth sharing. Conclude with one powerful idea that will echo in the minds of your audience.
10. Say thanks
The audience members have just given you something very valuable: their time. Thank them for it.