As an entrepreneur and business owner, you need to be comfortable presenting the plans and visions for your company to sizeable groups of people. While some business leaders may make it look easy (hint: they've practised – a lot), public speaking is a far from simple process for a lot of people. As a result, you may find yourself dreading these occasions.
This is normal, of course; fear of public speaking is hugely common. However, when you are addressing people – be they employees, investors, or potential clients – you want to inspire confidence, authority and self-belief. Therefore, if you're not a natural at holding a room, you will need to practice.
Delivering a Presentation
To help, we've compiled an in-depth guide on the things that you can do to improve your presenting skills, including how to overcome nerves.
This is how to deliver a presentation in six steps:
1. Practice, Practice, Practice
Did we mention that practice is hugely important? As with all skills in life, you won't become a public speaking expert overnight. Indeed, many people spend so much time fretting over the thought of public speaking that they forget how much it can be improved with a little preparation.
If you're extremely self-conscious, start by reeling off a few lines in your bedroom mirror; this will get you used to speaking out loud. Then enlist family and friends to observe you and to give suggestions. If you have the resources and the inclination, it's a good idea to hire a body language coach who can give you specific guidance and techniques to improve your delivery.
By practising repeatedly, you should know what you want to say and have the course of the presentation mapped out. This way, you'll have an idea of how long it should take to get through the information you have to share, and you can adjust if things go awry.
2. Have Material Prepared
If your presentation relies on a visual component, be sure that everything is set up and ready to go. However, don't stop with just having a slideshow prepared. You also need to have something ready to help you keep on track with what you want to say.
There are two basic approaches on prepping to deliver a speech: memorising it or writing it down, and both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. For instance, having your presentation written down is the best way to ensure that you won't forget a key point or fumble important statistics, but it can be easy to let prepared material take over your delivery. In addition, reading material from a card often robs your delivery of enthusiasm and vigour, giving it a monotone quality and keeping you disconnected from your audience.
On the other hand, memorising a speech takes more work, but it is an excellent way to demonstrate your knowledge of the situation and keep your employees engaged. However, no matter how much effort you put into learning the material, relying on your memory makes your speech much more susceptible to being derailed by the unexpected. A surprise question might cause you to lose your place and leave out key details, or lead to momentum-killing backtracking
Often a dual approach works best. Put some time into committing to memory the most important parts of your presentation so you can deliver them off the cuff and with confidence. But jot down some notes or a general outline that you can glance to make sure that everything you need to say gets said.
3. Emphasise the Key Points
While you are preparing material to deliver in the presentation, take some time to establish the key points and structure your speech around them. Even if there is a lot of ground that you need to cover with your audience, the best way to make yourself understood is to establish some core elements and identify how your strategy works in relation to those aspects.
This is even more important if you are delivering a presentation with other members of your team. You should all have a goal of emphasising the most important point, which should be agreed upon before you step on the stage. Nothing undermines a presentation more than an unfocused, disjointed delivery.
Furthermore, take time to pin down what each presenter's role is. This is a great way to make sure that the person who is the most qualified covers the appropriate subject and eliminates any redundant topics.
4. Frame Your Presentation with a Story
If you've spent any time watching successful business leaders give TED Talks, you'll notice that a lot of the featured presenters use stories to introduce the concepts that they are sharing. This is a common approach because, as human beings, we understand the world in a narrative way. Stories with a beginning, middle, and end are structured so that we understand them better, and adopting this concept will enable your team to retain the information after the presentation has finished.
Indeed, using a story to highlight your points helps to create context for the issue at hand. Furthermore, sharing a good story can help you establish a rapport with your audience.
5. Handle Your Nerves
As mentioned, nerves are often an issue in a public speaking environment, and this may be the case even if you have a long and familiar history with your audience. Unfortunately, there is no one foolproof way to eradicate nerves, but you can control them by ensuring that you are fully prepared. There are also several other techniques you can utilise to help you keep calm during the presentation:
Pause – We all have a terrible tendency to use filler words when we get nervous such as "um" and "er", and this can damage the impact of your presentation. Practice taking natural pauses during your speech to catch your place and eliminate words that don't add anything.
Breathing – Nerves can cause you to breath quicker than normal, which can end up making you even more anxious. Take some time to practice some breathing exercises beforehand and employ these during the presentation to control your anxiety.
Take a Drink – If you are giving a lengthy presentation, it's a good idea to keep some liquid nearby to keep you from getting parched and your voice from cracking. Try to avoid anything too hot or too cold, as these can constrict your throat and may hurt more than they help.
Make Eye Contact – Avoiding eye contact can often make a presentation seem unnatural and more uncomfortable. Therefore, try to find a few friendly faces and make eye contact while you deliver your material. Don't linger, though; spend no more than one or two seconds on each person before moving on.
Everyone faces a different challenge when trying to keep calm on an important day, and you'll have to experiment with which one of these methods works best for you. Try to focus on what has challenged you in the past and take steps to stay ahead of those problems.
6. Be Ready for Questions
When giving a presentation, make sure you are prepared for the questions that they are likely to have. If you are presenting with other senior members of your company, you also might consider adding a moderator who can direct those questions to the individual who is best qualified to answer them.
A presentation may be a nerve-wracking experience, but it is vital to demonstrate your leadership and authority, and to make your audience understand your points. With a little preparation, practice, and confidence, you can deliver a speech that will make a strong impression on everyone present.
If you want to improve your public speaking skills further, then don’t forget to take a look at our in-depth guide on pitching to venture capitalists, either!
What do you think? Was this article helpful? What tips and techniques work for you when delivering presentations to your team? Let us know in the comment section below!