Tips for giving an engaging presentation

Presentations can be a nerve-wracking thing even for the most confident of professionals. From the moment you stand up to your final few words, it’s not unusual to find that hiding a racing pulse and flushed cheeks is taking centre stage over the content and fresh ideas you are sharing with your audience, which can be a disheartening experience.

As almost every professional will be required to give a presentation at some point in their career, it’s an important skill to crack. Delivering numerous presentations over the course of my working life has equipped me with a simple set of guidelines that I find, when stuck to, can really help improve the delivery and reception of a presentation, as well as keep nerves at bay – to a certain extent anyway.

Businessman Presenting a Graph in a Meeting

My number one rule is to keep it simple. If you wouldn’t be able to sit through your presentation without fear of falling asleep, then neither will your audience. A recent survey by SlideRocket found that almost a quarter of workers would go to the lengths of forgoing sex, if it meant they could avoid sitting through a lengthy, drawn-out presentation. So, cut the unnecessary sentences and quotes, and keep the anecdotes to a minimum. Simplicity is key.

My second rule is more of a technique. Coined in the nineteenth century by US movement New Thought, Creative Visualisation has been used for centuries across numerous industries, and according to actor Jim Carrey, even helped him make his first $10 million. Visualise what you will be saying, where you will be, and who will be listening. Do this over and over again until the day arrives and remember – practice makes perfect!

My third rule is to work out if you’re selling or telling. Be clear on what the purpose of your presentation is. Is the purpose of your presentation simply to communicate a set of information to your colleagues, or are you trying to sell an idea to the audience? Each purpose requires a different approach, so it’s important you get this right from the word go.

My fourth rule is one of structure, or lack of it. Don’t let your presentation jump from pillar to post. If you’ve lost track of where you are and what you’re trying to say, it’s almost guaranteed that your audience has too. Having a set structure and sticking to it not only guides the audience, it also bolsters the message you’re trying to convey. Treat structure like you would a recipe; follow it strictly, keep it simple, and never let one stage jump ahead, unless it’s supposed to.

My fifth and final rule is to focus on your body language, particularly eye contact. 75 per cent of all face-to-face communication is body language, and surprisingly vocabulary makes up just 10 per cent! This means, even if you are offering the most in depth analysis of a deeply interesting topic, if you’re not moving or catching the audience’s gaze, they’re probably not going to take much away from it.  So get moving, work the floor and really capture your audience’s attention – I often find props come in useful.

Presentations are always going to be part of professional working, for the majority of us anyway. Although they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they are extremely useful and a powerful method for conveying both an individual and company’s message. With the right guidance and the right content, almost anyone can become a confident and engaging presenter.

David Saul – managing director for Business Environment

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