Nervous about your next business presentation?
Anxious about delivering that speech at your friend’s wedding?
Worried what your boss, colleagues, or friends will think about you after you stammer through your next speech?
If you are considering presentation training or looking for a “trick” to build your confidence you need to read this post.
I’m going to talk about how much value you will get out of making a small change to the way you plan to deliver your next presentation.
Firstly, to presentation training: If you are considering presentation training as a way to successfully get through your next presentation then you’re getting ready to waste your money. I sincerely believe presentation skills training has value, but only if a large part of the training involves feedback and repetition.
Done right, in a group or one-on-one training session, you will learn many things about presentation style and get valuable feedback on your own good and bad habits.
The trouble is, if the presentation training doesn’t involve significant feedback and “opportunity to try again and improve” it is hard to remember everything you learned in the training session. Advice you received gets confused with the content you need to deliver as you try to remember the good practices from the training session and keep the presentation objective in mind. As a result the presentation often ends up being worse than it would have been.
Without the feedback and repetition, in my experience, the best way to improve your presentation skills is delivering live presentations as much as possible. The more often you deliver live presentations (in business or socially) the more chances you will have to succeed and fail.
Failing is important because it gives you immediate feedback on things that didn’t work in your presentation. For example, a joke you thought was hilarious that didn’t get a laugh; possibly because it wasn’t that funny, perhaps because the audience didn’t understand the context clearly, maybe because you rushed through the setup of the joke. Whatever it is, you see what doesn’t work so you can correct course next time.
Through both business and social presentations I’ve racked up hundreds and hundreds of hours of live speech time. Parts of my presentations work well because I have refined them over time after discovering what “clicks” with audiences. Other parts don’t go so well. The parts that don’t go so well are valuable feedback. The feedback I get from the audience allows me to think about what I need to either drop or do differently next time.
It is Kaizen… Realization that your presentation will never be 100% perfect and implementing a process of continuous improvement.
The one trick to improve your presentation confidence right now
This trick is so powerful, all the best presenters use it. Actually, for the best presenters it is something that just comes naturally; so naturally that they don’t even have to think about it.
For me, I delivered a lot of really bad presentations before I realized this trick worked and could instantly turn my presentation ability around. The trick works because it instantly improves your confidence, it engages your audience, and makes your delivery 100 times smoother.
Here it is:
Have a conversation with your audience
As simple as that!
Want to engage you audience and appear supremely confident at the same time? Then put yourself in your audience’s position.
How many work presentations have you been to where you felt you were being talked “at”? How many work presentations have you endured, all the time thinking, “I want to go home” or “I just want to get back to my desk”? Probably close to 100% of them, right? And the most likely reason is because not only was the topic presented in a boring manner, the presenter wasn’t interested in establishing a connection with the audience. He or she only had one goal in mind: getting through the presentation content so they could sit back down and get out of the spotlight.
To deliver a successful presentation we need to engage with our audience. The easiest way to do this is to have a conversation with them. Conversation engages people because you are talking “with” them rather than “at” them.
So the things you need to do to change from a boring delivery to a conversational one are as follows:
Writing out a script and memorizing it line by line is a sure-fire way to a boring presentation. When you take the stage you’ll be stiff, trying desperately to remember each line and chastising yourself internally when you realize you’ve forgotten something. Instead of memorizing line by line, know the topic very well and have a picture in your mind of the flow of the presentation, and work from that. If the flow, goes off course a little, don’t worry: natural delivery is better than flawless, stiff delivery.
Use questions to smooth the introduction and make it easy on yourself
The hardest part of your presentation is the introduction or opening.
Instead of doing a stiff, formal introduction where you memorize the common, “Good morning, thank you for taking the time to be here. Today we have three topics to talk about…” speech, immediately ask the audience a question.
Show the audience you are confident and in-control by throwing a question at them. This breaks the ice and keeps your audience on their toes, ie. engaged.
If your presentation is about the bad sales situation in the company at the moment and the plan to overcome it, start with something like “How many of you are concerned about our sales situation?” or “Who else worried when they saw last month’s sales figures?”
The question, and the answers that you get, don’t matter so much. The purpose of the question is simply to break the ice, establish the direction of the presentation, and give you some time to become comfortable being in front of the audience.
I suggest that as you ask the question, you raise your hand so that the audience understands that you actually want their input and are not asking a rhetorical question.
When I am delivering my own presentation training I often open with the question, “Who likes delivering presentations?”
Of course the answer to the above question is almost 100% “Not me”, but it allows me to get a feel for the audience and relate my delivery to the specific issue being experienced by the audience.
Please give this method a try. I would be interested to get your feedback on how you go, so please feel free to leave a comment.