10 Tips to Step Up Your Presentations
There can be a lot of pressure in today’s world of business, especially for a young professional trying to prove their worth. However, there are just as many ways to go above and beyond expectations, impress colleagues and build confidence in your professional self.
One of those ways is giving stellar presentations.
When you’re assigned a presentation, your boss is trusting you to influence the entire team for the better. As a presenter, your goal is to get needed information to your audience. As a young professional, your goal is to show that, until your presentation is over, you’re the authority figure in the room — and rightly so.
The next 10 tips will teach you how to create that impression.
Become a Subject-Matter Expert
Nothing builds more speaker confidence than feeling as though you’re the most knowledgeable person in the room about the topic of discussion. But don’t just seem like the most knowledgeable. Make it true.
For example, say your boss asks you to present the company’s budget report for this quarter. Are you simply going to walk into the room and throw out the latest numbers? Not if you want to be trusted as the subject-matter expert.
Instead, look into the company’s history to determine whether these numbers are promising or discouraging:
- Calculate the projected numbers for next quarter.
- Theorize as to what could make these numbers even better.
- Spend some time anticipating what questions may arise during your presentation
- Do more research to prepare for answering those questions fully and accurately.
This is what a subject-matter expert does, and this is the type of presenter your colleagues feel they can rely on.
Act Like a Subject-Matter Expert
Now, you may have already done all you can to make yourself a subject-matter expert for this presentation, but there’s a difference between being an expert and acting like an expert.
If, despite all your preparation, you’re still nervous when the time comes to present, take comfort in the fact that your jitters just mean you’re human.
If necessary, give yourself a little pre-presentation pep talk. In this talk, remind yourself that
- You know what you’re talking about. You’re a subject-matter expert, after all.
- Your audience is interested in what you have to say. Their work is connected to your findings.
- Your audience — they’re just people. Whether bosses, colleagues, strangers or friends, they’re just as human as you. Instead of sputtering at them as though they’re unforgiving, merciless overlords, talk to them like the regular people they are.
Pick the Right Attire
There are countless websites to help you learn how to dress the part for a presentation. If you’re nervous about your wardrobe, look to the internet for helpful hints.
Simply put, though, you want to choose an outfit that looks highly professional for your company — even nicer than what you generally wear on non-presentation days. You want to limit anything too flashy or distracting. And you want to choose clothes that make you feel confident.
Create Effective Visual Aids
Once you’ve done your research, you of course need to put your actual presentation together. You’ll need notes for yourself and visual aids for your audience.
Your visual aid needs will depend upon your presentation needs. You may decide to incorporate a PowerPoint or Prezi, handouts, infographics, photographs or any number of other visual aids. Always start by considering which visual aids are right for your presentation.
In addition, it’s wise to know what makes a visual aid effective and what makes one ineffective.
Here are some of the basic rules:
- Visual aids that serve a clear, relevant purpose
- PowerPoints/Prezis that highlight key points
- Infographics that are clear, simple and concise
- Infographics that are relevant
- Flashy, distracting or pointless visual aids
- Wordy or unnecessary PowerPoints/Prezis
- Cluttered or complex infographics
- Irrelevant infographics
As infographics go, it’s sometimes tempting to throw one in just for flare. However, it’s always much better to choose or create infographics that perfectly demonstrate your point. Whenever you can’t find a perfect preexisting infographic for your presentation, don’t be afraid to try out some free infographic creation tools to make your own.
As the table above shows, overly complicated or wordy visual aids are distracting to audiences. When given the option, they tend to focus more on the flashy images or long-winded PowerPoint slides than on you, the presenter.
That’s why it’s important to design your notes and visual aids with triggers instead.
This means rather than writing yourself an eight-page speech and reciting it word-for-word, you instead treat your notes’ and presentation’s key phrases and images as triggers that remind you what to say.
Having simple triggers rather than paragraphs to refer to keeps your presentation more fluid and conversational. In addition, the triggers on your visual aids will pique your audience’s interest, and they’ll have to listen to you in order to learn what those triggers mean.
Practice in a Way That Works for You
Once you’ve gathered your data, put together your visual aids and chosen your wardrobe, it’s time to get very familiar with your material.
A lot of people will tell you to practice in a mirror, read your notes aloud or rehearse your lines to a friend. These strategies ensure you really know your stuff and will be less likely to stumble over the material during the presentation.
Others will tell you not to over-rehearse for fear that you’ll sound more robotic than conversational when you present. If you share this fear, you may prefer to spend more time reading your notes silently than out loud, but it’s still wise to do at least a couple of timed vocal run-throughs before the big day.
When in doubt, always over-rehearse. It’s better to lose an ounce of conversational style than to be in any way unprepared.
Vocalize the Plan for Questions and Comments
As you delve into your presentation, it’s okay to clue your audience in on how you feel about being interrupted. Letting them know at the start will put you and them on the same page about how this presentation is going to flow.
If you’re the type of presenter who likes to get your audience involved, feel free to tell them they can interrupt to ask questions or make comments at any point.
If, on the other hand, you’re the type of presenter who prefers to get through all their material without interruption, politely tell your audience you’ve made time for questions and discussion at the end of the presentation. You might also advise them to write down their thoughts so they don’t forget.
Stay on Track
Practicing at home is never quite the same as presenting in the office. At home, there’s little to no pressure, no one is staring at you — unless you’ve invited a friend or a pet to watch — and you can take breaks whenever you want.
In the office, you’ve got the opposite — pressure, audience and a strict schedule.
But fear not. There are a number of tricks to keep you on track, should you have a moment of panic. Some of these tricks include:
- Referring to, but not staring at, the triggers you’ve planted in your notes and visual aids
- Repeating your last point to help remind you of what comes next
- Taking a drink of water while you consult your notes
- Plainly admitting to your audience that you’re having a momentarily lapse and need a moment
Perhaps this last trick makes you cringe to imagine, and yes, ideally you won’t have to use it. But remember, your audience is human, too. It’s better to appeal to them in a human way than to act as though staring at them blankly was part of your plan.
End With a Call to Action
The worst thing you can do to your audience is throw information at them and then leave them asking themselves, “Okay, but what am I supposed to do with this knowledge?”
Sometimes you may feel the answer to this question is obvious, and you may be right. Still, it’s always better to give your audience clear instruction on what you think needs to happen next and what part they play in that plan.
Not only does this ensure your entire team is on the same page, but it also drives home the idea that you were well-prepared for this presentation from start to finish and you were right to be trusted as the authority figure on the material.
Encourage Post-Presentation Discussion
Whether or not you allowed your audience to interrupt with questions throughout the presentation, there should always be some post-presentation discussion. Rather than waiting to see if anyone will speak up, though, go ahead and provide a few encouraging words.
By declaring it discussion time, you’re not only showing your audience that you value their input, but you’re also maintaining your position as a prepared and trustworthy authority figure.
Present Like a Rock Star
Whether you’re brand new to a company or simply trying to show your worth, presenting like a rock star is a great way to stand out. Don’t stop there, though. Take that rock star mentality and apply it with confidence to all aspects of your work.