There’s a whole industry devoted to presentation skills training. And many people find that proper coaching builds their confidence and presenting ability.
But if you have a presentation due later today and that’s not an option, there are still lots of small things you can do to make your next presentation leaps and bounds better than it would’ve been.
1. Memorize Your Opening Lines
You’ll feel more confident and you can make eye contact with your audience straight away. Plus, people’s first impression will be that you know the subject and are well prepared.
2. Make Regular Eye Contact
Don’t stop looking at the audience once you get back to checking your notes. Write in reminders to yourself to look up and engage with the people you’re speaking to at regular intervals.
3. Limit the Words on Your Slides
Are the pages covered with words? If so, commit to spending 20 minutes replacing sentences with any graphs, infographics, and images you already have on file. And remember this rule: If you’re saying it, they don’t need to see it. If you’re covering something out loud as part of your presentation, you don’t need to write it down on a slide as well. It often creates more of a distraction, than a reinforcement.
4. Use Separate Presentation Notes
Once your presentation no longer includes each and every word you had planned to say—again, that’s a good thing—you will want those ideas somewhere for your own reference. Put them in the notes section of the program you are using or in a simple text document.
If you opt for a separate program, be sure to include reminders for when you need to flip to the next image. (I’ve seen presenters leave the same slide up for half of their presentation because they forgot to skip to the next graphic: You don’t want that to happen to you!)
5. Include a Shout Out to an Audience Member
Did someone help you create a chart, give you great strategic advice, or uncover a critical insight that’s included in your presentation? Publicly thank him or her! It’ll make everyone feel good and you’ll come across as generous and confident in your own abilities. Bonus: It’s yet another way to connect with your audience and seem like you’re talking with them, rather than at them.
6. Throw in a Rhetorical Question
Questions (even those that aren’t meant to be answered) are a great way to re-engage an audience that’s getting distracted by their smartphones or letting their minds wander to what’s for dinner. People will switch their focus if they think they need to respond.
Before you launch into fourth quarter numbers, try: “So, how do you think last quarter stacked up?” You don’t need to ask people to raise their hands and guess, just pose it as a question and wait a beat before you continue; it’ll keep people more interested.
7. Stand on Two Feet
People sometimes rock from foot to foot, sway back and forward, or pace up and down while they’re speaking. Unnecessary repetitive movement acts as a distraction from what you’re saying.
I’m not talking about people who can naturally and comfortably walk across a stage or the front of the room. I’m talking about fidgeting or bopping around because you’re nervous. Is this sounds like you, it’s perfectly OK to plant your feet before you start to speak and stay there, right to the very end of your presentation.
8. Decide What You’re Going to do With Your Hands
I’m very guilty of gesticulating wildly while I speak! So, I try and decide what I’m going to do with my hands before I get up in front of a group. Either have your hands by your sides, gently resting on a lectern or use them to draw attention to key points.
And never point directly at the audience, because it comes across as threatening. Next time you watch a politician speak notice how instead of pointing, he or she touches their index finger to their thumb. It has the same impact as pointing without coming across as aggressive.
9. Practice Just Once
Running through your presentation once will make you more confident in what you have to say and more fluent in your delivery. It could also help catch any problems that need a quick fix. You wouldn’t send an email to your CEO without reading it through once, so don’t stand up in front of your colleagues or a client without a quick run-through.
And remember, more isn’t always better. If you run through it too many times, you might start sounding like a robot. Once helps you make sure it all makes sense, and it’ll still sound natural.
10. Think Twice About Your Ending
Does your presentation trail off or does it have a strong finish? Lots of people are tired by the time they plan the end of their presentation and don’t realize they’re coming to an abrupt stop. But you want to end on a note people will remember.
Do you want to pose a question for people to think on afterward? Do you want to sum up why what you just said is so important? Give some thought to what you want that final moment to be.
11. Circle Back
If you aren’t sure how to end, an option that works almost every time is to remind people how you started and what you’ve said. Consider this example: “I started by saying that if we can grow our users to 100,000 our revenue for 2017 will be increase by 30%. I’ve shown you a plan for how to get there, now we just need to implement it.”
You won’t always have the time you’d like to spend on every presentation. But small things like a quick run through, a shout out to a colleague, and a proper ending can turn an OK presentation into one that people will remember for the right reasons.
Photo of woman presenting courtesy of Peopleimages/Getty Images.
Felicity Barber is a speechwriter and presentation skills coach. She loves writing speeches and helping people to give awesome presentations and pitches. Before moving to San Francisco from London and setting up Thoughtful Speech, she was an in-house speechwriter at the global insurer, Lloyd’s of London. Her claim to fame is that she wrote a book given as a gift to HM The Queen.More from this Author