Many of our presentation-training clients ask us to guide them through refresher sessions when, months later, they begin preparing for another big appearance before a conference, shareholders meeting or public event. Coming into these second-time-around sessions, I usually can anticipate the tips that most executives will have retained, along with the ones that they will have abandoned—unwittingly, in most cases, simply out of (bad) habit.
Generally, they will have remembered to keep their energy levels up. They will have prepared their script or notes (if used) correctly, with copy only on the top two-thirds of the page. As prompted, they will ask for a clip-on microphone and will keep the lights in the room up, rather than dim, so that they can be seen.
Most of these tips, however, relate to the preparation for and environment of the presentation. The enhancements that tend to fall by the wayside relate to the actual delivery of the remarks—simply because it’s easy for us to slip back into our old, comfortable and uncommunicative ways unless we practice becoming comfortable with an improved, impactful presentation style.
So if you have had the opportunity to participate in presentation training, here are five tips that you may find yourself shedding but which you should never forget to use:
- Eye contact: Don’t scan the audience. Instead, look consecutively and directly at individuals or, in a large audience, small groups of individuals as you deliver your remarks. The impact of your presentation will be much higher with direct eye contact.
- Body position: Turn your entire body toward the people or sections of the audience to whom you are speaking. Walk toward the audience on occasion to tell a story or make a key point.
- Gesture naturally: Keep your hands apart so that you don’t make nervous gestures wringing them, playing with jewelry or offering
other distractions. Practice natural-looking gestures to emphasize the points you are making and to help the audience visualize your storytelling.
- Reduce the copy on your PowerPoint slides: Sure enough, training participants will gravitate toward sliding back to copy-dense PowerPoint visuals. Strive for no more than six lines per slide, six words per line. Ensure that your slides support you (after all, you are selling you, not the slides) and that you are not narrating a slide show.
- Don’t look at the screen: The most bothersome—and most recurrent—issue with presenters is their penchant for reading from the projection screen. Face the audience, use a wireless mouse and put a laptop out in front of you so that you can view the PowerPoint there without turning around. Change the slides surreptitiously by clicking the mouse and, if you really, truly need to point at something, use the mouse arrow on the laptop, not your hand and shadow puppets on the screen.
Practice will indeed help you become a more perfect presenter as you become increasingly comfortable with techniques to enhance your presentation style and effectiveness. And remember—nervousness is no reason to backslide. Proper presentation technique will carry you through the haze to a safe haven of applause and appreciation.
— Steve Friedman is the director of marketing communications at Airfoil Public Relations, a high tech PR agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.