‘Even for the most talented public speakers, most of their skill in presenting comes from practice. ‘
Four Ways To Improve Your Presentation Skills
A common phrase we often hear from people when they are preparing for a big speech or a meeting is ‘I’m not a natural presenter’.
If you feel nervous speaking, you’re not alone. One study has shown that 77% of people experience some anxiety about public speaking, also known as “glossophobia”.
It’s easy to think presenting is a gift that a lucky few are born with. The truth is that even for the most talented public speakers, most of their skill in presenting comes from practice. The best presenters put in enormous amounts of work behind the scenes to achieve real presence and gravitas on stage.
It’s something that you can do too. Here are four techniques that you can start practising right now to improve your presentation skills and make you look and feel much more confident on stage.
Stand like a presenter
One of the quickest ways to improve your impact as a presenter is to stand well.
At Body Talk, we created one of the most extensive academic studies on communication and influence. We discovered that a simple change in posture could increase your audience’s trust in you as a speaker by 42%.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart to present yourself as a confident speaker. It’s is a strong stance in which gravity works with your body, helping you stay grounded and confident.
Resist the temptation to sway from side to side, rock back and forth or pace around the stage, which can happen when you’re nervous. These movements come from our’ fight or flight response’, but for your audience, it’s distracting. Instead, try to achieve ‘dynamic stillness‘.
Dynamic stillness is the method of standing in one place while you speak powerfully. When you stand still and grounded, people pay more attention to you. If you’re not moving, your audience can concentrate much more on your message.
You can practice this at home. When you’re rehearsing your presentation, stand on a piece of paper or sheet of baking foil. If you hear rustling, then you’re moving around too much! Do this every time you practice until your muscle memory helps you achieve a strong, confident stance, every time.
Speak like a presenter
Vocal variety is always a great way to keep your audience engaged. When you’re speaking, don’t just rely on the same tone of voice for every sentence – vary it! It helps an audience understand how to feel about the information you’re giving them and makes it more engaging.
Two techniques you can practice are varying your pitch and pace to communicate your message. Use a higher pitch and faster speaking pace to excite or motivate your audience. Use a lower pitch and slower pace if you have something more serious or important to say. If you have a crucial point to make, consider pausing before you say it so the audience sits up and pays close attention.
When you’re nervous, there’s a tendency to speak at a higher pitch and speed up your speech, hoping you’ll get to the end quicker – but this shows the audience that you’re feeling nervous. Slowing down will make you appear calmer and more confident, and it will also give you time to think about what you’re going to say next.
Practice delivering your presentation aloud and use a watch or mobile phone to time yourself so that you’re not going too fast. Get used to the sound of your voice, and you’ll soon become much more comfortable speaking to any audience.
Don’t use slides as your script
Slides can be a real false friend for presenters.
You know that feeling when you have a lot to say and are worried about forgetting something? It’s tempting to write your key messages in the form of bullet points on your slide deck and read along to avoid losing your way.
However, reading word for word from slides or bullet points is incredibly dull to listen to and a sure-fire way for your audience to switch off.
Instead, change your relationship with how you use slide decks. Slides should be a visual aid to help your audience to understand your message. Remove lines of bullet points or other superfluous text that you’re using as an aide-memoire and, instead, use strong, clear images. Your slides are not your script!
So what can you do if you are worried about losing your way?
The best way to avoid losing your way is to practice your presentation repeatedly until you’re comfortable with it. Practising out loud is beneficial. You can do it in front of a mirror, to a family member – some of our team members even practise speaking to their pets!
All major slide presentation programs have sections for ‘presenter notes’ – a place to write text that’s visible to the presenter but not the audience. This can be a helpful tool to note down the key points you need to land for each slide. Avoid copying and pasting your whole script here, as you may become too tempted to look down and read from your laptop rather than addressing the audience.
Alternatively, you can use a printed ‘trigger script’ to remind you of the key points of your presentation. Condense these onto one side of A4 paper that you can have in front of you for easy access. A quick glance down will soon help you to find your place again.
And here’s a top tip: write out your bullet points or trigger script by hand, rather than typing it. Studies show that writing notes by hand forces the brain to become more deeply engaged with the information, making you more likely to remember it!
Visualisation and positive mindset
A final tip is to use visualisation techniques to help train your brain for success.
Muhammed Ali, the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, coined the phrase’ Future History’ to describe how he visualised his own success before boxing matches. As well as undertaking the intense physical training needed, he would also visualise every detail of how he would win that match, picturing it with complete conviction and belief in the outcome. By the time he stepped into the ring, he was physically and mentally prepared – and the results speak for themselves.
A positive mindset can transform your belief in yourself as a presenter. There are many different techniques that you can practice which can help you to feel more in control and radiate confidence and competence to your audience.
If you’re feeling self-conscious about giving presentations, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team. We can help!