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How to Improve your Presentation Skills

Updated: Feb 24

With the rise of AI - to help us create slides and craft talking points for our client meetings - I am here to remind you that yes, you do still need to know how to improve your presentation skills. Because right now, the machines won’t do that for you!

 

Why are presentation skills important?


The way that we speak and express ourselves in these ‘1: many’ moments can make or break the business outcomes. Will we make the sale? Will they approve the budget? Will they trust us to deliver on our promises? The presenter’s use of energy, eye contact, enthusiasm, and facial expression (to name a few!) play a vital role in getting a Yes from the audience.

 

How can I improve my presentation skills?


What can we do to improve in all of these hard-to-reach areas? Whether it’s you or your whole team who need to impress and influence an audience with your presentations you might be wondering where to begin. How do you become more engaging? What is the secret to being a great speaker? How much eye contact? What about my voice? Improving presentation skills is certainly an art form, rather than a science. In this article I will guide you through the most important things to practise before presenting in front of a crowd.


3 Things to practise to improve your presentation skills


a man standing up to give a presentation

1. Practise saying it out loud – when preparing to present you really have to get up and do it. You cannot think your way into being a great speaker. I am from the world of theatre where rehearsals are a full time job for weeks at a time in the lead up to a performance. Why so much practice? Does it just take us 4 weeks to memorise our lines? No! We spend most of our rehearsal time playing around not with what we are going to say, but how we are going to say it.


So once your material is prepared you must stand up and talk through it out loud.

This takes care of a few key concerns:


  • Standing – yes, many of my clients report that standing up to present makes them so much more nervous. If you always rehearse in this way, then it takes the fear out of it.

  • Speaking – rehearsing out loud helps you to get used to the sound of your own voice. It may feel strange at first to be talking to yourself but in the long run you will be more comfortable hearing your thoughts come out of your mouth and travel through the air! You may even start to feel more confident and credible as the expert on this topic.

  • Memorising – while practising this way you are creating muscle memory. Your mind, mouth and body are working together to do these rehearsals, and this creates a blueprint for the real thing. So, on presentation day, your mind, mouth and body will understand what is happening (hey, yeah, we’ve done this before, everything is cool!) and won’t be sent into shock!


post it notes and light bulb representing new ideas


2. Practise saying it in different ways – contrary to what you might think, there is more than one way to talk about your topic. I’m sure the script, slides or bullets you have prepared are great but they are not the only way of getting the point across.


So when you are practising your presentation try this –


  • Put all of your notes away and run through the whole thing. Yes ,there will be a few details or data points that you won’t remember exactly, but you will surprise yourself when you are able to get from start to finish and cover all of the core take aways.

  • Now do it again, in a different way. Use different phrasing, change the sequence if you like or add a new example that makes your point succinctly. This is your presentation and you are in the driver’s seat. The possibilities are endless.

  • Let’s run it again, this time try different things with your voice. Do some of your points need a slower pace? A heavier, serious tone? A smile and a pause foraudience input?

  • Repeat for as much time as you have.

 

Play is the key thing to keep in mind here. Play with different ideas and styles. Build up a whole bank of options with which you can communicate your points. This gives you flexibility and security knowing that you have lots of story strategies rather than being tied to just one. You will be able to flex according to the response you see in your audience and you won’t be gripping onto your script like an oxygen mask!

3. Practise in front of a colleague or a coach – now that you have become more comfortable as the presenter and you know that you have lots of potential ways to tell the story it is time to try it out on another human. Ideally, you would have someone watch a couple of your rehearsals to provide that outside eye and valuable, constructive feedback.



woman recording herself on a smart phone

 

Should I talk into the mirror when practising my presentation? Would that have the same effect and be less embarrassing?


  • Sure, do you feel really thrilled about doing that? Do you love staring into your own terrified face? Go for it, but consider…

  • When we watch ourselves in the mirror our brain is trying to take on two roles at the same time – presenter and audience. It is really difficult (impossible!) to execute both roles successfully at the same time.

  • Do you really need more of your own criticism? The chances are you are already critiquing yourself throughout the above process. I’m not good at this. My presentation is so boring. No-one is going to listen to me anyway. So before you choose a smartphone recording over a supportive friend ask yourself – who will give the fairer feedback? Who can really, objectively advise me on what message is landing well and how my style is connecting with an audience?

  • Are gadgets sometimes good to help me prepare a presentation? Yes, sometimes - when I am in the ideation phase and styling new stories - I speak them out loud into a voice memo. This forces me to rehearse properly and allows me to work through a few drafts before I recruit someone to watch a rehearsal.


Conclusion - How to Improve your Presentation Skills


By now you can see that a key pillar to improving your presentation skills is practical rehearsal. So often this element is missing from presentation skills training programmes. We get given the theory of how to close a deal but we don’t get the chance to practise it.


Spoiler alert: things don’t always sound like they did inside our heads when we speak them out loud!

That’s why I created training programmes that guide teams through all of the practical elements of presenting, pitching and public speaking. A big chunk of that training time is dedicated to seeing people practise their material and providing my honest, detailed feedback, coupled with guided exercises to improve.

 

Now that AI can take care of our slides we have (in theory!) more time to stand up, speak out and gather that all important feedback. Use your time wisely. Stumble through your material in the company of someone you trust (not in front of your clients!). Play around with it. Get it into your muscle memory.

 

 Practise doesn’t always make perfect… but it does make sense!

I wish you every success for your presentation.

Break a leg!

Victoria


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