When giving a presentation, whether aiming to inform, influence or inspire, you want your audience to stay focused and take everything in. Many people assume this requires a lot of natural charisma and gravitas, but it’s much simpler than that. Just speaking with confidence and enthusiasm is enough to grab attention, and a good structure can elevate your performance to keep hold of that attention once you have it.
There’s no right or wrong way to present, as it should always be shaped by your own individual style and what you’re most comfortable with. However, we’ve put together a few pointers to help you increase the impact you have on an audience.
1. Be yourself
From politicians and celebrities to friends and colleagues, we can all think of particularly good public speakers. It can be tempting to try emulating their style when giving your own presentation, assuming that what works for them will work for you. But, trying to copy how they speak or stand, or even specific phrases, often does more harm than good.
While it can be useful to get ideas for things you can improve, you shouldn’t try to exactly mimic someone else’s style, because it’s exactly that – their style. You’ll come across as most comfortable and confident when you’re being yourself, with genuine emotions, warmth and enthusiasm. Understanding how to you maximise your style is much more important than looking or sounding ‘right.’
2. Know what you want to achieve
Before you start writing your presentation, or thinking about designing your slides, make sure you know what your aim is. This keeps you focused and helps you decide what to include and what to leave out. The two main things to keep in mind are: what you want your audience to leave knowing, and their level of existing knowledge and interest. These will help guide your key messages and the appropriate tone.
If you’re meant to be discussing your department’s plans for the coming quarter, then you probably don’t need to spend too long talking about the project you finished a few weeks ago. Avoiding unnecessary or tangential information will give your presentation a clear purpose, a better structure and much more impact.
3. Prepare thoroughly
Never underestimate the importance of preparation and practice. Of course, it’s important your slides look good and that the images are right, but these are not your top priority. The most important thing for your presentation is to make sure you know the topic well enough to talk about it and answer questions.
An impactful presentation is spoken with confidence and conviction, but if you don’t feel properly prepared then you’ll sound nervous and timid. The audience wants to hear you speak with authority on the subject, otherwise why isn’t someone more qualified presenting? Read, watch or research all the relevant information in order to learn everything you need. A little extra effort will go a long way.
4. Use minimal notes
The most effective and impactful speakers don’t rely on notes, or try to use as few as possible. They trust themselves to know their topic and have prepared enough to be able to follow the logical structure of the presentation.
Even without putting too much information on screen, you should know your slides well enough to be able to talk through at least the outline. Your slides will help you remember the next point. If you need to remember things like exact statistics or a quote, you may want to write them down for yourself, but try not to read off a page for too long.
By limiting your use of notes, you’re removing an extra barrier between you and your audience. This can be intimidating for some people, but it raises your impact by giving you more freedom in the moment to respond to your audience and what they want to hear.
5. Speak with passion and enthusiasm
Presenting with impact means presenting in a way your audience finds interesting, engaging and persuasive. It doesn’t matter how well researched or important your presentation is, if you speak with a droll, monotonous tone, your audience will lose interest. Use your voice to bring your presentation to life.
Genuine enthusiasm is contagious. Even when a subject is quite dry, you can get your audience interested by showing your passion for it. The tone and speed of your voice can radically change the meaning of words. Use your voice to emphasise your key points. Pausing for effect is another powerful tool, giving the audience time to reflect on what you’ve just said.
Look for any signs that indicate how they’re responding to your message. Are they leaning forward with interest, nodding along in agreement or slouched in boredom? Recognising your audience’s reactions to different parts of your presentation will allow you to adapt your words and your delivery to maximise your impact.
6. Know that the audience is on your side
Your audience want you to succeed. They’re there to listen to you and get something useful from what you say. This means their ideal situation is for you to give them plenty of valuable and interesting information. Once you recognise this, you’ll know that the audience will be forgiving of any slip-ups or a less-than-perfect presentation, as long as they ultimately feel it was worth their time being there.
A presentation shouldn’t be a play with a script you need to rehearse with precise wording. You may want to practise so that you know the structure and main points, but attempting to memorise the entire presentation will actually get in the way of your delivery. If you accidentally forget or skip something, you can bring it up later – most of the time, no one else will even realise.
If you’re presenting bad news, which may upset or anger people, the audience might feel more hostile, but bad news is still important information and they’ll still want to hear what you’ve got to say.
7. Make it interesting and memorable
As we’ve been saying, impact comes from managing your audience’s attention and interest. Use well designed and eye-catching slides as visual aids to keep focus, and make sure your presentation has a logical flow, so it’s easy to follow along with. Jumping from one point to another without any sort of structure will be jarring and confusing.
It’s crucial your opening immediately grabs the audience’s attention. Try starting with a surprising fact or an interesting story to draw them into the rest of the presentation. Depending on who you’re talking to, it can be tempting to start by introducing yourself, but it’s often more impactful to start your presentation and then do your personal introduction (which is typically less interesting) once you’ve got your audience onside.
As you go through the presentation, using case studies and real-world examples to back up your points and highlight your key messages will prove the relevancy of your presentation. For sections where you’re just discussing data, you should still think about what to add to make it come alive for your audience. Additionally, it’s important to end with a strong message. Wrap up by repeating your main points – even after answering any questions – as this leaves the right message in their minds.
These are some simple tips which can make a powerful difference to your next presentation. Impact is hard to measure, but when you’re speaking more confidently and your audience is fully engaged, you’ll know it’s there.
If you’re still getting used to running virtual presentations, you can read our tips on that here.
To see more ways we can improve your presentation skills, take a look at our learning solutions.