Bringing Your Best: How to Nail Your Next Presentation by @vmcntosh

by Victoria McIntosh | Featured Contributor

Photo Credit: pennstatenews Flickr via Compfight cc

“There are two types of speakers: those who get nervous and those who are liars.” – Mark Twain

Getting ready to present in front of a crowd, but afraid the cat will grab your tongue? You’re not alone: fear of public speaking is a common anxiety, and presenting in front of a group often means jumping out of our comfort zones. As the presenter, you’re in charge of delivering intelligence and insights while keeping your audience engaged and on-topic. It’s a tall order, and even seasoned pros are known to battle butterflies in their stomachs before stepping forward. There are however, very tangible benefits to giving presentations: presenting at conferences is a great way to go and meet other key industry players, while improving your own professional profile and making your mark. Presenting is also skill set that can be used in many different work environments: from standing before a crowd of strangers to training in-house staff. Knowing how to present well can help you virtually any time you’re asked to get up and speak, be it giving a sales pitch to customers, to spearheading new initiatives within your own company.

Here are a few ways to help you give your very best, and nail your next presentation:

1. Establish Your Main Objectives

When someone walks out of your presentation, what will they take away? A solid set of objectives is worth establishing early, creating target goals that can be used for development of proposals, a presentation synopsis, and eventually the talk itself. The key is to develop objectives that align with your audience’s goals: why should they come listen to you? What is the value your talk will bring them? Clear cut objectives make it easier for evaluations to determine if your presentation met its goals, and give the audience solid takeaways that will make them glad they attended.

Write your objectives down, and establish your intended outcome. Use action verbs: will audience members be able to explain a concept when you’ve completed the talk, or will they be able to compare different solutions to a problem? If you need assistance, consider look up learning objectives and outcomes online, such as Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning or Roger Mager’s Performance Based Learning Objectives. Educational resources are excellent for presenters: both for giving talks or when developing workshops.

2. Practice out Loud, and Rehearse like Crazy

Once you’ve got your objectives the bulk of the writing done, pull over your spouse, kids, housemate, friends, dog or a stuffed bear: time to practice with a test audience. Rehearsing presentations is a preparation step that should never be skipped. Practicing out loud helps identify weak points, and areas where you need different material. You won’t be able to redo a poor opening line or retell a joke when you take centre stage, but during rehearsals you can repeat as many times as you need to get the material down pat. By standing up and speaking your presentation out loud, you get comfortable with the delivery, and in hearing your own voice.

Practicing out loud, particularly with an active listener, can also improve the pace and production. What do they think of your delivery? Are you clear in the concept you want to communicate? Set a timer and go through a complete run-through at least once to check your talk against the allotted time. The last point is critical if presenting on a professional stage. No conference organizer enjoys telling the presenter they’ve run out of time, and no presenter enjoys cutting out final points, or worse, be left twiddling their thumbs with far too much time left over.

3. Dress for Success

Get an idea of what will be appropriate to wear for the setting, and find something that brings out the best in you. Picking out your selection ahead of time takes out a lot of stress, not only by helping you picture your presentation, but by providing a buffer zone if items need to be laundered, dry cleaned, or altered. The actual dress code will vary depending on whom you’re speaking to and the language of the industry, but as a rule pick something that will be in line with or a bit better than your audience. When I present, I often pull out some of my best heals; the kind that force me to stand tall and feel like taking on the world.

 4. Know That You Look More Confident Than You Feel

As Mark Twain acknowledges, it’s not easy to get in front of others and talk. However, want to know the real hitch? According to psychologists like Dr. Rob Yeung, your nerves are far more obvious to you than the audience. In his book, “How to Stand out: Proven Tactics for Getting Noticed”, Dr. Yeung asserts what he calls “the Confidence Con”, the reality that even the most self-assured person on stage can actually be a bundle of nerves and anxiety; but majority of the time, the audience can’t tell. Yeung advises presenters to work with nerves instead of trying to will them away, to take anxiety and convert the energy towards excitement, or pull out quick confidence-boosting tricks before you go on. Some examples include writing a paragraph listing your accomplishments, listening to a power playlist of favourite music, or taking a few moments to stand in confidence poses, hands on your hips and ready for action.

5. Things Happen, Especially with Technology: Always Have a Plan B

Word to the wise: no matter how prepared you are, no matter how much effort you give, at some point technical problems will happen. The number of times I’ve seen technology issues, the number of times I’ve given presentations with technology issues is staggering, including conferences where everyone in the room has a high level of I.T expertise. Murphy’s Law loves projectors and power point: all it takes is the wrong cable, an unruly laptop or connection glitch, the system is locked down with an admin nowhere to be found, and those awesome visuals you expected to blow everyone away with are out. What do you do?

Dust yourself off, take a drink of water, coffee, or whatever steels your nerve, and move forward. The show must go on at conferences just like in theatre, and it’s your job to bring things back on track. If you feel confident when practicing, work towards being able to give a talk without cues, or bring in cards with an outline and important points. Avoid using a full printout of the presentation for your backup: talks where the speaker does nothing but read are rarely engaging, and you’ll want to avoid spending time trying to re-find your place after looking away.  Some of the strongest presentations I’ve seen have been given with virtually no aides or visuals, just the speaker standing tall and giving out as much energy as they can muster. Hope for the best, but take a moment to prepare for the worst, and watch how far you can go!

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