Public speaking and presenting isn’t everyone’s forte, but it’s a valuable skill, regardless of your job. If you want your voice to be heard, you’ll need to master communicating your thoughts and opinions simply and politely.
It’s okay if you’re nervous; that’s completely normal. Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, affects anywhere from 15–30% of the general population. Social anxiety is also becoming more prevalent, seen in 12% more adults in the last 20 years, and it’s a key cause of glossophobia.
But presentation jitters aren’t necessarily bad. Nerves and excitement feel the same in the body, so reframing nervousness as excitement means you’ll feel more positively about your feelings — and the upcoming presentation.
Giving a speech may seem daunting, but many industries demand learning how to be a good presenter. Luckily, you can always implement new strategies to face challenges and deliver an engaging presentation.
What are the main difficulties when giving presentations?
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or first-timer, there’s always room to improve your presentation skills. One key to preparing a presentation is to define what you’re most worried about and address these fears.
The most common of worries in school or company presentations include:
- Fear of public speaking. Having a great idea doesn’t mean we’re comfortable telling people about it. Not everyone shines in front of an audience. Some people rationally feel fine about presenting but experience physical symptoms such as nausea and dizziness as the brain releases adrenaline to cope with the potentially stressful situation. The more public speaking you do, the less you’ll experience these symptoms and the more comfortable you’ll be pushing ahead despite any physical discomfort.
- Not keeping the audience’s attention. We all want to be liked, and this need for affirmation makes us worried people won’t care about what we have to say. But if you care about the topic, chances are high that others do too.
- Not knowing what content, and how much, to place on slides. Overloading PowerPoint presentations is a surefire way to lose the audience’s attention, while brevity may not communicate important information. Watch presentations and note the ones you find most effective to figure out a good balance between what to write on slides and what to say.
- Discomfort incorporating nonverbal communication. Standing still won’t engage your audience, and moving around constantly will distract them. Delivering an effective presentation means figuring out how much nonverbal communication to use.
Presenting and watching more presentations will help you know how to handle these issues.
How to prepare an effective presentation
Below are our top five tips to aid you with your next business presentation and limit associated stress.
1. Keep it simple
You want your presentation’s ideas to be accessible and easy to follow. As you prepare, ask yourself: what are the key points you want people to take away? Nothing is worse than watching a presentation that goes on and on that you hardly understand. Audiences want to understand and implement what they’ve learned.
Simplicity is vital if you’re looking to reach a broad and diverse audience. Try placing important points in bullet points. That way, your audience can identify the main takeaways instead of searching for them in a block of text.
To ensure they understood, offer a Q&A at the end of the presentation. This gives audience members the opportunity to learn more by asking questions and gaining clarification on points they didn’t understand.
2. Create a compelling structure
Pretend you’re an audience member and ask yourself what the best order is for your presentation. Make sure things are cohesive and logical. To keep the presentation interesting, you may need to add more slides, cut a section, or rearrange the presentation’s structure.
Give a narrative to your business presentation. Make sure you’re telling a compelling story. Set up a problem at the beginning and lead the audience through how you discovered the solution you’re presenting (the “Aha! moment”).
3. Use visual aids
Aim to incorporate photos or videos in your slides. Props can also help reinforce your words. Incorporating props doesn’t lessen your credibility or professionalism but helps illustrate your point when added correctly.
4. Be aware of design techniques and trends
You can use an array of platforms to create a great presentation. Images, graphs, and video clips liven things up, especially if the information is dry. Here are a few standard pointers:
- Don’t put blocks of text on a single slide
- Use a minimalistic background instead of a busy one
- Don’t read everything off the slide
- Maintain a consistent font style and size
Place only your main points on the screen. Then, explain them in detail. Keep the presentation stimulating and appealing without overwhelming your audience with bright colors or too much font.
5. Follow the 10-20-30 rule
Guy Kawasaki, a prominent venture capitalist and one of the original marketing specialists for Apple, said that the best slideshow presentations are less than 10 slides, last no longer than 20 minutes, and use a font size of 30. This strategy helps condense your information and maintain the audience’s focus.
After that, how do I give a memorable presentation?
Here are some tips to keep your audience actively engaged as you’re presenting. With these strategies, the audience will leave the room thinking positively about your work.
Tip #1: Tell stories
Sharing an event from your life or another anecdote increases your relatability. It also makes the audience feel more comfortable and connected to you. This, in turn, will make you more comfortable presenting.
Gill Hicks did this well when she shared a powerful and terrifying story in “I survived a terrorist attack. Here’s what I learned” In her harrowing tale of explosions, disfigurement, and recovery, Hicks highlights the importance of compassion, unconditional love, and helping those in need.
Tip #2: Smile and make eye contact with the audience
Maintaining eye contact creates a connection between you and the audience and helps the space feel more intimate. It’ll help them pay attention to you and what you’re saying.
Tip #3: Work on your stage presence
Using words is only half the battle regarding good communication; body language is also critical. Avoid crossing your arms or pacing since these gestures suggest unapproachability or boredom. How you present yourself is just as crucial as how your presentation slides appear.
Amy Cuddy’s talk “Your body language may shape who you are” highlights the importance of paying attention to stage presence. She offers the “Wonder Woman” pose as a way to reduce public speaking stress.
Tip #4: Start strong
Like reading a book, watching a movie, or writing an essay, the beginning draws your target audience in. Kick off your presentation on a solid note. Leveraging the benefits of humor increases the chance your presentation will be well-received.
Here are some ways to start strong:
- Use a quotation from an influential person. This provides subject context, situating the topic culturally.
- Ask a rhetorical question. This encourages listeners to actively participate in your presentation as they think of the answer.
- Start with an anecdote. Brief stories add context to your presentation and help the audience know more about you, in turn making them more interested in what you have to say.
- Invite your audience in. Begin your presentation by suggesting they join you on a puzzle-solving or discovery journey. If they feel involved in the talk, they’re more likely to pay attention and retain information.
Tip #5: Show your passion
Let your passion for a topic shine. The best presentations have a speaker who’s genuinely excited about the subject.
In “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance,” Angela Lee Duckworth discusses the importance of passion in research and delivery. She enthusiastically delivers her presentation to show — not just tell — the audience how this helps pique interest.
Tip #6: Plan your delivery
This step encompasses how you convey the information. What’s appropriate for the setting — preparing a PowerPoint presentation, using a teleprompter, delivering the presentation via Zoom? Should you memorize your notes or plan an activity to complement them?
The best TED talks are usually committed to memory, but there’s nothing wrong with bringing note cards with you as a safety net. And if your tech completely fails, you’ll have to rely on your natural charm and wit to keep your audience’s attention. Prepare backup material for worst-case scenarios.
Tim Urban, a self-proclaimed procrastinator, discusses how preparation helps us feel more capable of tackling daunting tasks in “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.” We often avoid preparing for scarier obligations, like a presentation, because of nerves and anxiety. Preparing removes many of the unknowns overwhelming us.
Tip #7: Practice
As the phrase goes, practice makes perfect! Practice giving your speech in front of the bathroom mirror, your spouse, or a friend. Take any feedback they give you and don’t feel discouraged if it’s critical or different than you expected. Feedback helps us continually improve. But remember, you can’t please everyone, and that’s fine.
Tip #8: Breathe
Take deep breaths. It’s better to go slow and take time to convey everything you need to instead of rushing and leaving your audience more confused.
How to connect with the audience when presenting
The best leaders are often some of the best presenters, as they excel at communication and bringing together ideas and people. Every audience is different. But as a general rule, you’ll be able to connect with them if you research your topic so you’re knowledgeable and comfortable.
Practicing your presentation skills and remembering that every opportunity is a chance to grow will help you keep a positive mindset.
Don’t forget to ask for help. Chances are a coworker or family member has extensive experience delivering professional presentations and can give you pointers or look over your slides. Knowing how to give a good presentation feels overwhelming — but practice really does improve your skills.