Let’s face it, presentations are one of the intimidating professional skills to master. The preparations alone take up a lot of time, from researching to putting together your presentation. Plus getting a few test runs in! And all that has to happen before you can even share the presentation itself! With people fearing public speaking more than death itself, it’s unsurprising that sharing your presentation is the biggest hurdle to overcome.
The most difficult part of mastering the art of presenting is learning how to deliver your information. All the research in the world can’t make up for poor presentation skills! These skills are best developed from experience. And unfortunately, not everyone has the learned experience early in their career. Sure, some people are natural presenters. But even for the gifted, it takes time to learn how to read a room, respond to criticism, and keep your audience engaged.
So why should you even care about your presentation skills? You have enough residual anxiety from your sixth-grade science fair project. Plus, you’ve gotten this far without ever having to care about them too much.
Therein lies the crux of the matter – imagine how much farther you could go once you improve your presentation skills. Your potential in both personal and career development can only benefit from developing these skills–they don’t just come in handy at presentations. Presentations are built on soft skills that matter a lot in modern business (and life in general).
5 tips to improve your presentation skills
Now, developing these skills doesn’t have to be difficult. The thing is, presentations are often overly complicated. With all the presentation formats and platforms available for use, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and feel like you’re at a loss.
We’ve put together a list of 5 simple ways to improve your ability to present. Each tip will cover an important piece of your overall presentation skill set. Keep these tips in mind when you’re putting together your next presentation. At the very least, your presentations will improve, but you’ll also improve your chances at impressing your boss (but we’ll get to that later).
1. Understand the limits of your presentation.
This benefits you just as much as it does your audience. Determining the scope of your presentation early on helps you focus on the important details of your topic. Additionally, it limits the amount of data you have to synthesize. A presentation is really just the live-action version of a research paper, so the same rules apply to both. Too large a scope and you find yourself struggling to keep everything in order. Too small, and you have a limited amount of information to share with the reader and are probably missing relevant connections to the business as a whole.
Create a robust outline, just like you would with a research paper. Great presentation structure is essentially identical to great essay structure:
- Introduce the problem.
- State your claim.
- Provide multiple examples that backup your claims.
- Refute differing arguments.
- Finish strong by showing how your argument is the most effective solution for the problem.
So start by delving into what problem you’re trying to solve at work. What do you want to talk about? What potential does your role have to fix the problem?
And even if you’re just presenting quarterly sales numbers, you can absolutely follow a similar structure. The goal is ultimately effective communication, not just convincing others to agree with you. Plus, there is still deeper probing that can be done on even the most mundane of presentations. Let’s got back to the quarterly sales report. Are numbers up? Are the down? By how much? Did the sales team try any new strategies this quarter? Determine if they are contributing to the numbers. Was it a market-wide change? Present your thoughts on how to adapt to this changing market. You have valuable insight. Share it!
2. Go hard on the data gathering and analysis.
Remember how we said preparation takes up a lot of time? Well, there’s a reason why. Your preparation informs your presentation; its general message and its flow. When you don’t do adequate research beforehand, it’s hard to craft a solid plan for your presentation – and even harder to sway your audience.
Skimping on data gathering and analysis will create gaps in your presentation. This is why it’s so important to make sure you know what you’ll be talking about. This means more time spent researching, but it’s time well spent.
And remember that you won’t be serving your data ice-cold. Your presentation will be more than just pie charts and line graphs. Your job as the presenter is to help your listeners understand the importance of the information you’re sharing. Use data to back up your points, and you’ll be able to site it as justification for your ideas if you get pushback. A great presenter offers background, new insights, and tells their listeners why they matter.
Think about it this way: offering these fresh insights (and their bottom-line implications) will have the added benefit of impressing your boss. That’s because the higher-ups can see how well you integrate and process information, and well as how much you can impact their overall business. Especially if your boss can synthesize your findings for his bosses. Making your boss look good makes you look good.
3. Know your audience.
Let’s go back to basics for a minute. Your presentation is, at its most basic, a communication tool. Your main goal is leverage your presenting skills so you can effectively communicate with others.
Communication is a double-sided coin. Your thoughts on a topic will differ those of someone with a different background. Not addressing these differences will only result in you not getting through to your audience. You can address these disparities in your presentation to nip nay-sayers in the bud, before they have the opportunity to derail your efforts.
This is just one reason why it’s so important for you to know your audience. We don’t mean knowing every little thing about them. What we mean is getting to know them through their information intake style and what they have to gain by listening to your presentation.
Let’s say we’re talking about getting a client on board. In this situation, you’ll want to know the client’s background. From there, work your way towards the reason he might benefit from your proposal. For example, from early interactions, you know your client is more of an analytical person. You should focus more on the hard numbers to win them over, rather than making an emotional argument about how you can help them better serve their customers.
4. Focus on practicality rather than aesthetics.
Of course you want your presentation to look good. But it’s important to dazzle your listeners, not distract. The problem is the number of options we have at our disposal. From design elements to animations, we tend to “overstuff” our presentations. And if you don’t have dazzling design skills, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep your presentation more bare-bones.
This is also why you shouldn’t be afraid to make use of free PowerPoint templates. These are ready-made designs so you can just plug in your information and not worry about making it look pretty. The templates do that for you! Plus, they can save you a lot of time. Just make sure that what you’re selecting will fit your needs.
Whether you’re making your PowerPoint from scratch or using a template, you’re going to have to keep an eye on the details. Be careful not to:
- Overload slides with too much text.
- Put in too many animations.
- Use hard-to-read or clashing colors that hinder readability and aesthetics.
- Add too many design elements.
The point here is to stick to what’s important to your presentation. This goes especially for animations and design elements. If you’re not sure you need it, you probably shouldn’t add it. Too much movement on a slide will distract your audience and take the focus off of you and in the formation you’re sharing.
5. Practice makes perfect.
Practice, practice, practice. We can’t emphasize this enough. No matter how well prepared you think you are, it always helps to do at least one run-through. Doing a practice run ensures you have what you need. With these practice sessions, you should be able to pick out any inconsistencies or mistakes you’ve made. Don’t worry about the mistakes, everyone makes them. The trick is finding them before the actual presentation. But if they happen during the real deal, do your best to shake them off. Crack a light joke to break the awkwardness if you want, but get back to the heart of your presentation ASAP.
For big presentations, like to a board of directors, (where you have the chance to impress both your boss and your boss’s boss’s boss) do a full dry-run of your presentation. You’ll want everything to be same as it will during your presentation. The only thing missing is the audience! Use the same meeting room, computers and screen set up that you will have access to when presenting. If it’s a virtual presentation, ask some friends if they’d be willing to hop into a group chat so you can get the hang of things. This way, you can troubleshoot any technical issues that come up before your presentation (not during).
It’s always helpful to practice in front of real people. Specifically, those that you trust and know will provide valuable feedback. Similar to a mock interview, a mock audience will be able to provide comments and criticisms. These will help you adjust your approach and smooth over any bumps in your presentation so you can wow your real audience.
The key thing is to remember that your presentation is for a particular audience. Your goal is to communicate effectively to that audience. Achieve that, and you’ll succeed at impressing them. Your focus should be on the presentation and the information you are trying to share and try not to get too nervous. And ultimately, the only way to get better at presenting is to do it (a lot). You’ll get more comfortable with your skills the more your practice them. Eventually, presenting will start to feel natural. It just takes time.
Package your presentation in a way that can be easily understood by the audience. Do that, and you can expect to have an appreciative audience – and a happy boss.