Giving presentations can be slightly nerve wracking or incredibly fun, depending on who you are.
If you’re part of the group that dreads a presentation or giving a speech, you’re not alone. According to the Washington Post, America’s biggest phobia is the fear of public speaking – 25.3% of people in the US are afraid of speaking in front of large groups of people. This may not sound like too big of a group, but to put it in perspective, the fear of public speaking beat out fear of heights, bugs, snakes, drowning, and blood/needles.
Whether you jump or puke at the chance to give a 30-minute presentation in front of thousands of people, these tips for giving better presentations can serve you well.
1) Body Language
Body language says a lot about someone – from posture and gestures to facial expressions and eye contact – it can shape the way he or she is viewed.
When we feel powerful, we “open up” by raising our arms in victory, standing tall, or sitting up straight. However, when we feel helpless, we tend to shrink down or close up.
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy says that “our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behavior and our behavior changes our outcomes.” To that end, she suggests striking a high-power pose, such as standing with your hands on your hips or leaning back in a chair with your hands clasped behind your head. Do this for two minutes the next time you’re about to enter a situation that might be uncomfortable for you.
When people pretend that they’re powerful, they are more likely to actually feel powerful. Take Amy’s advice and “fake it ‘til you become it.”
2) Ditch the Memorization
Many times, when asked to memorize something, we adopt the “drill and kill” method. We simply focus on the words in a sentence and the exact order, repeating the sequence numerous times until we can recite the exact sentence in order. Memorization sometimes hinders understanding a sentence and really understanding the message you are trying to get across.
When coupled with public speaking, memorization can contribute to anxiety and can take away from the overall effect of the presentation. Communication coach Preston Ni says not to memorize every word of a speech to avoid unnecessary stress and increase your presentation's impact.
Of course, you’ll want to be familiar with your presentation before you deliver it, but memorizing it word-for-word can add extra stress on you, potentially taking away from the value of your presentation.
3) Tell Stories
Everyone loves a good story. Why not incorporate one into your next presentation? Todd Kashdan, professor of psychology at George Mason University, suggests adding a well-told story that has motive and contributes to the point you’re trying to make, as long as you avoid unnecessary details.
If the story aligns with your presentation, it provides you with the chance to connect emotionally with your audience and will also make your speech more memorable.
They say that practice makes perfect. Now, we’re not promising complete presentation perfection, but we will tell you that practicing is key.
According to Medical Daily, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests practicing your material in the same room you’ll be delivering your presentation. This will allow you to get used to your surroundings.
Additionally, doing a run-through with any technology that you’ll be using the day of will help you avoid difficulties with unfamiliar software, projectors and computers.
5) Provide Supporting Visuals
Skip the bullet points and detailed charts – your supporting slide show should be just that. Support your presentation with easy-to-understand visuals that don’t take your audience’s attention away from what you’re saying.
Greg Stephens found that an audience that listens to a presenter speak is more strongly affected than an audience who reads a presenter’s slides. As an audience continues to listen to a presentation, their brain patterns sync with those of the presenter. The longer the sync, the more the audience comprehends. To that end, engage your audience, don’t distract them from listening to what you have to say.
So, the next time you’re tasked with presenting, take these five tips into consideration and remember to let your personality shine through. Interested in listening to one of our presentations? Check out our latest on-demand webinar. And remember, the more you present, the more comfortable you will become.
Originally published Feb 20, 2015 11:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017