Whether you’re pitching your services to potential clients or speaking at events to raise your profile and build your business, public speaking is an important part of your business skill tool box. You need to be able to speak to an audience with confidence and creativity, whether you’re on camera or ‘in the room’, so here are my nine tips to help you nail your next presentation.
- Don’t just try and do what you do offline, online
Even the most experienced public speakers have had to adapt to online delivery and you should be writing your presentations with the camera in mind. Don’t just try to deliver your usual ‘in the room’ presentation or pitch to camera. A different channel requires a different approach to both your content and the way you present.
Good rules of thumb for online presentations: shorter, more engaging, bolder visuals.
- Make it shorter
“That presentation was too short” said no one – ever. An offline 40-minute presentation should be a 20-minute online presentation. People are less willing to sit through waffle, background and exposition online – it only takes a few moments for them to lose interest and be checking their emails or posting on Instagram and you’ve lost them.
Be ruthless with your editing – take out anything that isn’t 100% necessary for you to tell your story, make your point or persuade someone to your point of view.
- Make it more engaging
Listening to someone talking online (especially if they’re talking to slides) can be even more dull than watching a presentation in person. Attention wanders and distractions intrude, so don’t give people time to get bored. Make sure there’s some form of audience engagement (such as asking for answers to a question in the chat box) at least every 10 minutes – ideally every 5. Use polling, whiteboards and all the other tools at the online presenter’s fingertips.
- Use bolder visuals
Most people load way too much information onto their slides and it’s obvious when a presentation deck designed for a big screen at the front of the room has been deployed on Zoom. When designing your slides, every single piece of information or data has to earn its way into the deck – if it’s not 100% needed, get rid of it. Ideally illustrate what you need to say with an image rather than writing it up in words. Bear in mind that some people may be watching your online presentation on their phone so wordy slides will be illegible.
Aim for one thought or idea per slide. Don’t spend too long on one slide, either – you may need to have more slides but then spend less time on each one, which will make your presentation look and feel more dynamic.
- Know what you want to achieve.
The starting point for any successful presentation is understanding what you want it to achieve. When you step off the stage (or sit down in the meeting, or log off the call), what do you want your audience to DO? How do you want to change or influence their thinking or behaviour? Be really specific about your objectives for your presentation and review those objectives regularly while writing, designing and rehearsing it. If you deliver it as it currently stands, will you meet those objectives? If not, what needs to change?
- Open – and close – with a bang
<Insert cliché here about never having a second chance to make a good first impression>
Most presentations start the same way. “Hello, my name is Jane/Joe Bloggs and today I’m going to talk to you about blah.” Bored already. Aim to surprise and engage your audience with your opening – a startling fact or statistic, a question, an image, a story. You may not even say ‘hello’ but just dive straight into an opening that gets your audience thinking and engaged with your message right from the outset rather than listening to a preamble.
Same goes for the close. Don’t just end with “Thank you, do you have any questions?” but end with something that leaves a strong, positive impression that reinforces your key message – again, a startling fact, a question, image or story can work well.
- Don’t tell me you’re passionate. Be passionate.
Too many presentations (especially pitches) start by telling the audience how passionate you are. Or how creative. Or dynamic, customer-focused or how you like to do things ‘differently’ to your competitors. Yet all too often those claims are made during a presentation that is exactly the same as any other presentation and most certainly isn’t passionate let alone creative, dynamic or any different.
Make sure your audience knows you are passionate/creative/different – not because you’ve told them you are but by living those values. Take risks, be bold, don’t do the same as everyone else. Your audience will thank you for it and you’ll be more memorable and thus more effective.
- Remember the 3 E’s of presenting
Eye contact: Make eye contact with your whole audience. If you’re in a room, let your eyes slide around the audience regularly. If online, look straight into your webcam, not at the screen – this takes practice.
Energy: Think of yourself as having an ‘energy’ knob that controls your body language and voice and turn it up when presenting. If you’re in a small meeting room, turn it up by 10-20%. If you’re in a conference hall, turn it up by 40-50%. This isn’t about shouting, it’s about being a bigger, more energetic version of your ‘normal’ self.
Engagement: Audiences want to engage with speakers and presenters now – the days of sitting and listening passively are over, thankfully. Whether online or offline, give them voting rights, give them questions to answer and give them regular opportunities to ask their own questions. Q&A is now part of your presentation, not something that happens only at the end.
- Then rehearse again. And again.
An actor would never get up on stage without rehearsing their lines and movements. A barrister would never get up in court without rehearsing their arguments and statements. Yet many presenters will get up in front of an audience and that will be the first time they’ve uttered their ‘script’ out loud.
You MUST plan the time into your preparation for rehearsing your presentation. Out loud, as you’ll say it to your audience, not just muttering it under your breath while you’re doing the dishes. Video your rehearsal and watch it back – hideous to do, I know, but it really is the best way to understand how you come across to your audience. Critique it, hone it and rehearse it again. You’ll thank me afterwards.