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Ten Tips to Improve Your Next Talk

Updated on July 28, 2017
Carolyn M Fields profile image

Lifelong learner, musician, author, world traveler, truth enthusiast, and all around bon vivant.

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On Your Way to Awesome

So, you have a presentation to make. Your hands start to sweat just thinking about it. Join the club. In survey after survey, people say that they fear public speaking even more than death! But it doesn't have to be that way. To that end, I have gathered what I consider to be some helpful and specific guidelines on how to make that presentation awesome!

1. Preparation

This may be obvious, but it can’t be emphasized enough. You can demonstrate thorough preparation by including an effective opening, a logically organized body, easy-to-follow transitions, and a comprehensive close. Minimally prepared presenters will include an opening, body, and close; however, some transitions may be unclear and not thought out. Rehearsal is essential. Video tape yourself if you can, or at a minimum, rehearse in front of a mirror.

2. Use of time

Know how much time you are expected to use, and stay within it. Never exceed your time limit (there usually is one), or fail to use your time effectively (e.g., making a rambling and unfocused presentation). Again, rehearsal will help you determine how long your presentation will last. And don’t forget to factor in “nerves.” People tend to talk more quickly when they are in the spot light.

3. Use of visual aids and humanizing elements

Good presenters use effective visual materials (e.g., illustrations, charts, bullet points, etc.). Make sure your visual aids are well designed and clearly visible from the back of the room. But don’t, for God’s sake, make the visual aid into the only thing happening in your presentation. It’s an “aid.” If all you do is read the lines off the PowerPoint, you might as well have stayed home. Also, good presenters use humor effectively; they tell stories, use quotes, and recall anecdotes to illustrate key points. They don’t however, just tell jokes – unless it relates directly to the topic.

4. Involvement/consideration of audience

Effective presenters involve their audience by asking questions and citing relevant examples. They invite participants to contribute ideas and comments, and respond to questions in a meaningful way. Again, preparation is key. Anticipate questions that your audience may have, and be prepared to answer them. Want to ruin a presentation? Make sure that audience involvement is limited or nonexistent, questions and comments are discouraged, and responses to questions show a lack of preparation by the presenter.

5. Summarization of key points

A summary of the presentation (key points, high strength message) should be included at the end of the presentation. You should demonstrate your analysis and synthesis of the material. Don’t just restate your bullet points. Remember that people remember what you said first the best, and they remember what you said last second best.


6. Accuracy

Your presentation must be realistic and factually accurate, i.e., it should not exhibit dubious or implausible scenarios. It’s okay to emphasize certain points and downplay others, but never misrepresent the truth. Enough said.

7. Balance

You should include a blend of “big picture” information, e.g., executive summary, as well as sufficient supporting detail. If you talk only in generalities, you will seem disconnected from reality. Conversely, if you get bogged down in the details, you will lose your audience. Find the right blend.

8. Persuasiveness

You need to convince your audience that your information is was feasible and viable. If it’s a sales pitch, they need to be “sold” by the end. Even if you’re not selling a product or service, you are at least “selling” your ideas. So be persuasive. Convince them that you, at the very least, believe in what you are saying.

9. Significance of content

Your material should be judged as a substantive and meaningful contribution to the understanding of the business opportunity or idea being presented. It should have breadth and depth. If your audience doesn’t feel that they have learned something new, they are likely to think you have wasted their time.

10. Delivery of material

As a presenter, you need to show sincere enthusiasm. Facial expressions, voice tone, and gestures should effectively add to the presentation. Dress and appearance needs to be appropriate to the setting. A good rule of thumb is to dress just slightly better than your audience. And of course, hygiene must be impeccable. That should go without saying, but I have witnessed too many times where the presenter’s appearance detracted from the message. Don’t let it be you.

Summary

This may seem like a lot, but it really isn’t. It all boils down to preparation, and demonstrating concern for your audience. If you do that, I guarantee your nerves won’t bother you nearly as much.


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