Presentation Skills: Reading this means that you have some interest in improving your presentation skills and becoming a better presenter. You want your audiences to listen, learn and act. You want to be a more confident speaker. Great. You’re in the right place.
The key to becoming a great presenter, one who is comfortable delivering information in front of a live audience, is to focus on three critical areas. They are Audience, Preparation, and Practice. That’s it. I call them the “Three Magic Keys to a Successful Presentation.” Work on these three areas, and you’ll go from bullet point boring to picture perfect presentations.
Audience – With presentations, 80% of success is meeting your audience’s expectations. Address their concerns in your presentation and you’re off to a great start. Remember, it’s not about you. Your presentations should not begin with an agenda, a list of your company’s accomplishments, or other items that are of little interest to the audience. Focus your presentation on the concerns of your audience.
Audiences hope you’ll meet their expectations and respond to their needs. Nancy Duarte exhorts, “Realize that you’re not the hero of your presentation. Your audience is the hero of your idea.” An audience changes everything. They define your words. They frame your images. They set your worth. The audience is the final judge of your success. Without an audience, your words become a mere recitation of information, facts and stories. The audience IS the reason for your appearance. Perhaps Stephen Soundheim most aptly put it when he said, “When the audience comes in, it changes the temperature of what you’ve written.”
So, how do you attain that of “80% of success” plateau with your presentation? Meet the expectations of your audience. To create an audience-centered presentation, read the full text and learn how to know, meet and engage your audience in “Audience – Magic Key #1.”
Preparation — How many times have you listened to a presenter who went off on tangents, didn’t seem to have a point, or had too much information? Yes, I know that this would never be you. However, even if you know a subject well, spend time to thoughtfully plan the structure of your presentation. It will assist your audience and increase the memorability of your message.
Can you sum up your main message in one sentence? If not, you should spend some time defining the core of your message. Make sure that you clearly know the essence of your message and can convey it in a simple statement.
What’s your conclusion? It’s as important as your entire presentation. As you prepare your presentation, you should have a decisive conclusion in mind. At the end of your presentation, your audience should know why taking action is important. They should also understand the risk of not acting upon the information they heard. Regardless of whether or not they act upon what they hear, they will have the information necessary to take the next step.
Once you have established a clear message and a desired outcome, you can move onto the next phase – framing your message. One time tested structure that works is the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve just told them” format. One reason why this structure works so well is that it the repetition of your core message creates emphasis. People generally give greater importance to something that is repeated. This repetition also aids in making your message points more memorable.
To create a well-structured presentation, read the full text and learn how to know, frame, and refine your presentation message in “Preparation – Magic Key #2.”
Practice – Presenting well is a skill that can be acquired by most. Yes, some people are natural speakers. But some of the most memorable speakers did not start out that way. John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, overcame dyslexia. James Earl Jones overcame stuttering. All the greats got great by working at the basics and then applying massive hours of practice. If you want to be a better speaker, you must practice.
If you want to improve, you must practice. The best way to practice is to just start doing it. Don’t wait until the night before the big presentation to do a full run-through of your presentation. This is especially true if you are presenting with slides or technical props. Practice with all of your items so that you become comfortable with them.
So, how much should you practice your presentation? You should work on it until you know it like you breathe, without thought or hesitation. When you reach that level you’ll be speaking from a base of practiced technique instead of a base of casual preparation.
For practicing and developing your base of presentational technique, read these 10 practice tips, “Practice – Magic Key #3.”
Audience, Preparation, and Practice are the essential presentation skills. They are the basic elements of all successful presentations. You must pay attention to all three. As with a three-legged stool, remove one of the legs and the other two can’t stand on their own. Deliver a well-prepared and practiced talk to the wrong audience, and it will fall flat. Have the right audience, present a well-prepared message, and don’t practice and your nerves could cause you to fail.
Effective presentation skills are within your grasp. You can be a better speaker. With a little work and some extra time, the pay-off will be astounding. Focus on your audience. Prepare a clear message. Then practice. Practice. Practice. You’ll move from being a tentative presenter to a confident presenter who engages an audience, delivers a clear message, and gets rave reviews. Invest the time, follow the guidelines, and you’ll quickly improve your presentation skills and be seen as a great presenter. I promise.
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