How do you feel when asked to give a presentation?
For many people the answer to this question is ‘nervous’ (or something more extreme and possibly less polite…). Some degree of anxiety about a public performance is very common and that applies to presentations to peers, clients and management too. Importantly, feeling nervous does not mean that you are a poor presenter or performer. Often quite the opposite. Adele1 is reported to suffer from serious stage fright and we are not hearing many complaints about her sell-out tour!
Much presentation advice centres on content. What will you say? How will you make sure it’s relevant? How will you predict questions? Valuable as those questions are, they don’t get to the heart of what makes it possible for us to stand up in front of a group of people and engage their interest. So let’s get to the heart of the matter - here are four ways to present like a pro.
4 ways to present like a pro
Pace your delivery
We all tend to talk faster when we are nervous. Yet, a slower pace of delivery has been proven to increase the impact of what we say and to encourage people to take us seriously. So if your priority is the latter, rather than just getting the whole thing over and done with, it pays to slow things down.
Pay particular attention to your key points. Know what they are and give them emphasis by not rushing them. Allow a few seconds of silence after you’ve made a key point so that it doesn’t get lost in the flow.
Keep your voice pitch low
A lower voice pitch conveys authority. We can argue the rights and wrongs of how stereotypical that is, but it is a factor of human communication. So use it in your favour.
I’m not suggesting that you go for a comedy growl, memorable as that might be. I am suggesting that you practise your delivery and breathing so that you can manage your pitch. Breathing deeply before your presentation and keeping an open posture will help you to speak with a resonant voice. This has the added advantage of helping us manage nerves. As your nerves fade, you will naturally use a varied range of vocal tones and pitch. That variety will keep your audience with you2, so remember that keeping a generally lower pitch, does not mean that you are aiming for a monotone delivery. Anything but.
Establish your presence
Your audience will believe that you are confident if you look confident. Start your presentation by standing in a still, balanced stance as you introduce yourself and your topic. Maintain this for around 1 minute, with good eye contact with your audience as you talk. This enables your audience to focus in on you. Remove barriers to this focus by stepping out from behind a lectern. A lectern can seem like a ‘safe’ spot to present from, but it really isn’t – it gets in the way of people engaging with you and you with them.
Once you have established your presence, then you can… move! Use the space in the room to keep things interesting. With a larger audience, you can move up into the audience to take questions for example. On a smaller scale, using appropriate gestures will help you emphasise points and show your enthusiasm for the topic you are covering. That’s vital. If you are unsure how your gestures come across, take a video of one of your practice presentations and replay it at double speed. You’ll soon spot if you are using a suitable range of actions or in danger of being mistaken for a flapping penguin.
I’ve made the above suggestions because they work. Because is a powerful word when presenting. Use it at the start of your presentation. ‘The next 20 minutes will be useful to you because…’ We tend to be convinced by things if we believe there is reasoning behind them, so stating ‘because…’ taps into that natural tendency.
Good luck with your next presentation. You’ll be a pro. I know that because you’ll apply what we’ve covered here!
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2Why visual and vocal interview cues can affect interviewers' judgments and predict job performance. DeGroot, Timothy; Motowidlo, Stephan J.Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 84(6), Dec 1999, 986-99