Presenting effectively: a valuable skill
I’m a web publisher, language teacher, consultant and author of numerous English as a second language (ESL) textbooks. I’ve been addressing audiences all my professional life.
Giving an effective presentation is a valuable skill for any type of business person – like myself, a new employee of a company or its CEO.
Speaking effectively in public is also important for freelance consultants. They may need to give a 10-minute presentation at a networking meeting to attract new leads. Or they may need to deliver a day long workshop before a group of trainees to show how a particular software works.
When I speak in public, one of my goals is to appear confident and even charismatic. In addition to running an Internet business, I teach college level English to young francophone adults. A few years ago when I gave my opening college literature class, one fellow wrote to me.
He confessed he was knocked off his feet by how confident and how passionate I was about the subject. Mission accomplished! That should be your goal too.
Some people have a natural talent to speak confidently and inspire confidence in their audience. Others learn the skill through practice. So projecting a confident look is one key skill.
Another important skill is knowing how to structure the presentation in an effective way. I’ll handle this point in the next article: Structuring a Presentation: Clearly express your ideas. In a follow-up article, I’ll dig deeper into the topic in How to Express Your Ideas.
My first big presentation
Even though I have always spoken publicly, presenting in front of groups – both large and small – was not easy for me. I remember with amusement the first time many years ago I delivered a presentation in front of about 150 people. I was sharing the talk with my co-authors on the first ESL textbook I wrote.
I was absolutely scared to death. In fact, before getting on stage I had to run to the men’s room several times to calm down. I was totally stressed out. I’m pleased to say that the presentation went exceptionally well and launched a very successful publishing career.
If I can learn how to speak effectively in public, so can you.
My five favorite presentation tips
1. Know your subject and your audience
One of the hallmarks of a good presenter is knowing his or her subject well. A colleague once told me that knowing your subject is 90 percent of delivering an effective talk. That may be an exaggeration, but the more you know about the topic the more confident you feel.
You also want to know who you are talking to. Who is your audience? Generally, there are two types of audience. The first is the people who “need-to-know.” They know very little about your topic and want lots of information.
When I gave my first book talk, most of the teachers fell into this category. So I used visuals to illustrate WHAT the book would look like. And I used bullet lists to explain WHAT were some of the innovative activities in the book.
Second, there are people who “know-it-all.” They know a lot about the topic. Some of the teachers in the audience were very experienced. They just wanted to know how the materials would fit into their current teaching approach.
2. Look your best
According to experts, it takes only a few seconds for someone to size you up. Within three seconds, people can often form a judgement of you based on your body language, appearance, mannerisms, and dress style. First impressions based on non-verbal communication last a long time.
Do you smile or frown? Do you look neat or sloppy? Do you appear friendly or shifty? Are you confident or condescending? Do you seem stressed or relaxed?
You want to look your best by transmitting favorable impressions from the beginning.
3. Make eye contact
From a North American and Western European viewpoint, making eye contact with your audience is extremely important. As soon as I begin my presentation I try to make eye contact with everyone in the room.
It is a way to develop rapport with your audience and receive visual feedback. It may be positive – listeners enjoy and understand what you’re saying. It can be negative when listeners are bored or confused. Or the feedback may be neutral. You’re not quite sure what people are thinking.
It is critical to look at your audience to get a reaction from them.
4. Use gestures
I would be speechless if my hands were tied behind my back. In fact, I use my hands, arms and shoulders as naturally as I breathe.
I try to make my gestures meaningful and expressive. This gives me energy and energizes my audience.
I always keep my hands away from my face, hair, neck, ears and nose. I also avoid touching my tie or any jewelry I’m wearing not to distract people.
5. Move around
Finally, I like to move around the front of the room during my presentations. I’m never motionless. Sometimes I move left, than right and even closer to the audience when I’m in a small room.
I find movement works best when it is done moderately, smoothly, purposefully, and naturally.
Although it may seem counter intuitive, I move away from someone in the audience asking a question or making a comment. I find this puts greater focus on that person rather than on me.