Work examples

Make the most of your presentation skills

This blog post was originally posted on the North East HUB blog but is all my own work. Enjoy!

When I was asked how I felt about making presentations, this is how I responded…

For me, the fear I feel about giving a presentation depends very much on the audience (who they are, whether they actually want to be there…), what I’m speaking about and how long the presentation has to be. After a few years of treading the amateur boards (very amateur in my case), I do feel a little more prepared for speaking in public than might some. But the fact remains that, for many people, presenting is something to be feared, avoided, shied away from.

So what happens if presenting to groups of people, large or small, is part of your business plans, your career, your every day life? If the thought of standing up in front of people, known or otherwise, fills you with fear and dread, you’re definitely not alone. But there are, according to Anna Dorward of Learning Solutions Ltd, ways in which you can overcome these fears and become an accomplished presenter in your own right.

At least, that’s what she told me (and a group of other interested ladies) at a recent networking event at which she was the speaker (and a very confident, engaging one at that). We were asked to represent, with a small doodle, how we felt about presenting before she’d even imparted any of knowledge – hence the earlier photo of the slightly nonplussed face (yes, that’s what it was OK? I write, I don’t draw).

Anna pointed out that, in order to be an effective speaker one must forget about trying to ‘tell’ your audience anything. As Confucius said: “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand” – and so, it seems to make sense that involving one’s audience is the best way forward should you, by any chance, wish them to understand what you’re trying to explain.

Throughout the 30 minute presentation, Anna involved us all in a discussion or two, which covered the following areas of presenting and becoming an effective presenter:

Your attitude to presentations: It’s no good approaching a presentation with the attitude that you’re going to be rubbish, that your audience will be bored and it will all be an enormous waste of time for everyone involved. If you do take that attitude, the chance are that’s what will happen. Instead, look upon presentations as an opportunity to make yourself heard, to spread the word and meet new people. Try to feel confident about presentations and inject some enthusiasm and passion into your approach to them – it will pay off ten-fold in the end.

Effective preparation: Never an advocate of the ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ approach to presenting, Anna quoted Benjamin Franklin’s famous saying: “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail”. Preparation is the keystone of good presentation. Put some effort into finding out everything you need to know about a presentation, no matter how many times you’ve given that presentation before. Is there any new information available? Have times changed since you last presented? Make sure you’ve covered every aspect of your presentation before you get to your feet. But, according to Anna, the three main areas of priority in preparation are: 

  • Research your audience: find out who they are, what they already know about your subject and what they’d really like to learn about.
  • Research your topic: if there are any areas of your subject that you’re not absolutely sure about, research it before you give your presentation. If you think you’re likely to be asked about a given area and aren’t sure what the answers to the questions might be, endeavour to find the answers out before you step up to present.
  • Practice your delivery: find a willing audience or two (a close friend, partner or family member) who will also be comfortable providing positive feedback about your style, content and presentation skills.

Effective delivery: This is where it all comes together. Your hard work and preparation comes to the fore and you simply need to relax and try to enjoy the actual presentation. But before you blurt the whole thing out as quickly as possible to get it out of the way and find your seat again, consider just a few more pointers about what makes a good presenter, good:

  • Make your presentation relevant to the audience
  • Inject enthusiasm into your voice, body language and delivery
  • Use humour and personality (as long as the humour is appropriate – you don’t want to offend)
  • Try to appear approachable and friendly
  • Project your voice so everyone can hear you clearly
  • Engage the audience – try to make eye contact with as many in the audience as possible
  • Be inclusive – involve the audience in your presentation by asking questions if it’s appropriate
  • Demonstrate your subject knowledge but don’t tell them everything you know in an attempt to appear clever
  • Vary your tone of voice, pitch and pace
  • Deliver your presentation with confidence (even if you’re not feeling it!)

Anna’s no nonsense approach and simple philosophies where presentations are concerned made it all sound so easy. So much so that I think I detected a few rumblings around the gathered throng about actually hunting down presentation slots and presenting opportunities – not bad for half an hour’s work!

And so it was at the end of this session that Anna asked us all, once again, to illustrate our feelings about presentations following her insights. This is what I managed (a definite improvement on old misery guts up there, I’m sure you’d agree?).

4 thoughts on “Make the most of your presentation skills”

  1. Great post! Public speaking is such a common fear, but with practice and experience, everyone can definitely overcome it! You have a lot of good tips in this blog entry, and I love the smiley face at the end. 🙂

    Another trick that I tell people with whom I work is that if you look directly over the heads of the audience (just an inch or two higher), they will feel like you are making eye contact with them, even though you’re actually staring at the back wall. This lets you achieve that feel of “personal connection” without the intimidating prospect of actually looking directly at your listeners’ faces. It’s a great halfway step before you feel comfortable making real eye contact!

    Thank you! Have a great day!

      1. I find the simplicity of the drawings charming, and I love that you gave eyelashes to the happy face! They’re cute.

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