Whether you’re addressing your employees or trying to close a huge new deal, you won’t wield a tool from your arsenal that’s more important than killer presentation skills. Here are a few tips to help you nail your next presentation or public-speaking engagement.
1. Use PowerPoint judiciously. There’s truly nothing more boring than sitting in a dark room listening to someone drone on while he mindlessly clicks through a PowerPoint. The PowerPoint shouldn’t just be the closed-captioned version of your prepared remarks. An effective PowerPoint slide simply underscores a particular point you’re trying to make.
If, for instance, you want to illustrate the revenue growth in your company, show a graph with a nice, visible upward trend. Nothing too detailed, no words required. Remember, most of the people in the audience won’t be able to see any sort of detail on your PowerPoint slides, so skip anything tedious, like spreadsheets or anything with small type.1 The same applies to sound and video clips. If members of your audience can’t make out what they’re supposed to be seeing or hearing, you’ll lose them entirely.
Better yet, break out of the mold and skip the PowerPoint altogether. It’s been done to death. Try to think of a more compelling and creative way to communicate with your audience. Often, just a handout with pertinent details will suffice.
2. Enough about you—what’s in it for us? Please, don’t bore the audience with meaningless details about yourself. Many people think it’s a way to built rapport, but really it alienates audience members who will determine in the first 30 seconds of your presentation whether you have anything to say that might be useful or interesting to them. Reciting your résumé or life story is not the way to connect. Nancy Darling’s blog post on Psychology Today offers more tips about creating an audience-focused presentation.2
Give the audience a couple of pertinent details about who you are and move on to why you are taking the audience’s time. Better yet, have a colleague, event emcee, or host give you an introduction that gets all of the formalities about your credentials out of the way so you can get on with the presentation.
3. Use the right body language. In and of itself, the art of using body language to communicate in business is incredibly important. The Total Communicator agrees.3 Remember, when you’re giving a speech or presentation you’re an actor, an entertainer. Even if you’re reviewing tax figures, walk into the room ready to give an Oscar-worthy performance. And as any stage actor would tell you, how you carry yourself on stage is everything.
Posture is the single most important element as you walk in front of your audience. Stand up straight, shoulders back, with your arms relaxed at your sides. Crossing your arms or excessively touching your mouth or face is a common sign that you’re lying, so steer clear of those sorts of ticks and fidgets.
Eye contact is a delicate dance. You want to make eye contact with as many people in the audience as possible. Try not to focus too much on any one person, even if she’s the primary audience member or decision maker. Spend too much time focused on one individual and you’ll lose the rest of the room. But you also don’t want your eyes to dart around the room and glaze over. Then you might lose your connection with your audience. A good rule of thumb is to maintain eye contact with various individuals and hold their gaze for two to three seconds, then move on.
A smile is the easiest way to put people at ease and draw them into what you have to say. But not just any smile. A forced, mouth-only smile is a subconscious turnoff for people. Genuine smiles use the eyes and the mouth to communicate. So before you put on a happy face, make sure it’s convincing or people will assume you’re a big phony.
4. Know your audience. Not only will knowing your audience help you avoid putting your foot in your mouth; knowing the nuances of your audience members’ characteristics and motivations will also help you get their attention. It’s a common icebreaker to open with a joke. But let’s face it: Not that many people are funny, and a comment in the name of being funny can easily come off as inappropriate or unprofessional.
Instead, try engaging the audience by illustrating that you understand their challenges and are there to make their lives easier. Whether you’re selling advertising to a local restaurant owner or holding a symposium on nuclear physics, showing your audience members respect and concern is the best way to win them over. Paul Brown elaborated on this point in his 2006 New York Times article.4
5. Know when to shut up already. Regardless of the setting or the nature of your presentation, go in with a point and a plan, and once you’re done, stop. Sure, this sounds simple enough, but countless strong presentations have been ruined with meandering, pointless, redundant closing statements.
Remember the “Seinfeld” episode where George Costanza started using the old Vegas showmanship trick of walking off “on a high note?”5 Structure your presentation according to this rule and you’ll never go wrong. Make your presentation clear and concise, and close on your own version of a “high note.” There’s a reason why it works in Vegas.
For more information, visit:
1. “Tips for Effective PowerPoint Presentations”
2. “How to Give a Presentation Part I: It’s Not About You”
3. “The Eyes Have it, and They’re All on You … and Your Gestures”
4. “Listen Up. Know Your Audience.”
5. “The Burning” (“Seinfeld”)