5 Things You Can Do Today to Improve Your Presentation Skills Part 1

Fear of Public Speaking

You have to give a presentation and you HATE public speaking!

You’ve poured over your slide deck editing slides, rearranging slides, deleting slides, recovering slides, hiding slides, and adding slides. You’re confident that the information on each slide is easy to understand and your presentation flows in a logical order with meaningful transitions. After sending it to your team for content and context review, you can’t help but feel a sense of pride for your creation. As you applaud your superior PowerPoint skills, the room suddenly becomes dark and cold. A chill races up your spine as you are become aware that your work is only half done. Your perfectly crafted presentation will soon be at the mercy of your lackluster presentation skills. It is obvious that you are knowledgeable; you’re even comfortable with the “subject matter expert” title you been referred to on several occasions. However, there is something emotionally debilitating about the idea that your expertise will have to be pass from your mouth to your audience’s ears in order to be recognized and appreciated. There has to be a way to make your delivery match the level of your technical expertise.

Although I can’t promise you’ll be captivating audiences worldwide, I can offer 5 things you can do today that will provide noticeable improvements to your presentation skills.



Don’t just glance through.

Sitting at your desk, going through your slide deck and presenter notes is a great way to familiarize yourself with the content and the flow of the presentation. Reading the slides is a very effective way of connecting to the information you want to convey and providing yourself with visual cues that you can use during your presentation. You’ve read through the slides, however you have not rehearsed.

Rehearsal is more than a read through. Rehearsal requires you to be mobile. Although I’ve been a trainer for years, I make it a habit to secure a conference room or an empty office to rehearse my training session before I go live. My rehearsal is not just a memory exercise, I am also developing a cadence for my lecture and gauging the best use of my time. If my allotted time is one hour, then I want to maximize that hour and leave plenty of time for questions and answers. I want to respect my participants’ time by ending as close to the scheduled time limit as possible without going over. Although it may seem ideal to end a session early, it is extremely disrespectful. So many of us are juggling our schedules around to carve out time for out priorities and commitments. If I block an hour of my calendar for a meeting that lasts a half an hour, I don’t feel like thirty minutes was given back to me. No, I feel like I just wasted thirty minutes that could have been scheduled for some other project or meeting.

Rehearsing your presentation provides you the opportunity to decide which slides or concepts require more time for explanation or expounding. You can set an appropriate pace for your presentation that allows you to concentrate your time where you need it most.

Conducting a full walk through of your presentation will build your confidence and your intimate knowledge of the subject will be highlighted by your preparation.



Don’t memorize.

As a writer, it would be disingenuous of me not to confess my awareness that the words remember and memorize could be synonyms if used in the right context. However, I do think the ability to retrieve a thought in our mind and memorizing sentences verbatim are very different concepts. I’ve conducted many train-the-trainer sessions and it doesn’t take a seasoned trainer to recognize when someone is speaking from a memorized script. Body language is usually the easiest way to determine if a speaker is relying on knowledge of the subject matter or memorization of the content. When speaking from memory, the speaker will look towards the ceiling and try to read the memorized words in their mind’s eye. The lack of eye contact makes the audience think that the speaker is searching for truth or worse, making up their presentation as they go along.

Memorizing a presentation is not only difficult, it makes the presentation sound scripted. As the speaker sticks to the script, the audience is robbed of the opportunity to learn from the speaker’s expertise gained by real-world experiences. Memorizing a presentation provides a false sense of readiness for the speaker. The conditions and environment are very different during memorization than they are during regurgitation. As mental snapshots are taken and the presentation is rehearsed verbatim from memory, there is no consideration for interruptions during the actual delivery. All it takes is one small distraction for your brain to execute a complete and total data dump.

Think of a favorite song you’ve committed to memory. You know every lyric of this song and when you hear it on the radio or when you play it on one of your devices, you are able to sing along without missing a word. You’ve memorized not just the lyrics but the changes in melody, tempo, and pitch. Now imagine you’re at a live concert of the artist who recorded your favorite song. All it would take is for the artist to change or skip a word, switch up the melody, or slow down the tempo, and that disruption would throw you off.

Instead of memorizing your presentation, familiarize yourself with key words and phrases that will allow you to speak from your memories of experience with the content. The flow will sound less robotic and forced. You won’t be thrown off by a cell phone ringing, a question, or someone entering or leaving the room. By rehearsing the presentation, you can commit key points to memory and recall them while you present. Your presentation will sound smooth and rehearsed, not memorized.


5 Things You Can Do Today to Improve Your Presentation Skills Part 2

Small Group Presentation

Ready to present? Let’s keep refining those presentation skills!

In Part 1 of this article, I discussed two of the five things you can do to improve your presentation skills. Let’s take a look at the last three:



Don’t tell.

Have you ever sat through a lecture and the speaker doesn’t ask questions or connects to the audience? Instead of feeling like a participant, it seems that the speaker isn’t aware that other people are in the room. The information on the slides are read verbatim and the expectation is that the audience just absorbs the content without the opportunity to make it relevant to them. You can’t help but feel like you’re in grade school and a teacher is reading you a story that you have no interest in hearing.


Your job as the presenter is to facilitate the session and transfer your knowledge to the audience. To do this effectively, you have to create buy in for your audience and give them what’s known as a WIIFM or what’s in it for me. Even though your audience may have a desire to be present in your meeting. You still have to prepare their minds for learning by drawing a direct line from your content to their opportunity to utilize the information you are presenting.

Ask Questions!

Thought-provoking, open-ended questions are an excellent way to facilitate a meeting or presentation. This doesn’t mean asking, “does anyone have any questions?” This means taking the time to formulate questions based on your material that causes the audience to think about how they can apply your content. The best questions are really questions at all. The best way to elicit a response is to make a call to action statement.

So, let’s say the subject of your presentation is a quarterly earning report for your business unit. You are presented a chart that illustrates a steady increase in earnings for the last three quarters following no growth in the three preceding quarters. Instead of asking:

Does anyone have any questions about the chart?

Try this statement:

Someone tell me what the trends captured in the chart indicates for our business unit.

Although it isn’t an actual question, it does require a response from the audience. It also requires the audience to analyze the chart and not just read the chart. Since there may be more than one explanation, the response has the potential to start a conversation among the participants. Your job is to allow the conversation to flow as long as it doesn’t shift to another topic or it becomes a debate that adds no value to your presentation. The audience will feel connected to the information because they feel included.



Don’t entertain.

I love to use humor in my presentations. I think a bit of humor breaks the tension and engages the audience. Remember, this isn’t a stand-up comedy routine. Your audience is in the room to receive information, not a show. Your humor should be appropriate for your entire audience. Avoid telling jokes and avoid stories that have the potential to be offensive. Once you offend or insult your audience, you’ve lost them. You’ve lost not just the members of your audience who were offended, but all of your audience. The relationship between the speaker and the audience is a power dynamic. You are in control because you are probably standing and you’re holding the clicker. Once you relinquish power by insulting your audience, it will be extremely difficult to regain their trust or attention.

Use Analogies and Stories to Paint Vivid Pictures

The goal is to be engaging and engage your audience. Once again, thought-provoking questions are very effective at engaging an audience. Another way is stories with real-world relevance. The story may be entertaining, but ensure you tie the story to your content. I also like to use analogies to help drive home abstract concepts. All of your stories and analogies should be rehearsed. Avoid improvisation. You can quickly lose your audience by telling a story with missing or forgotten details. Your analogies should make sense and be relevant to the presentation. Don’t make the analogy so confusing that your audience spends more time trying to figure out the correlation than listening to your presentation.

Don’t Be Afraid to Show a Little Vulnerability

Lastly, be transparent. Vulnerability is a very effective way to connect with your audience. Be vulnerable, not self-deprecating. No one wants to hear someone they viewed as a subject matter expert beat themselves up for an hour. Be honest about your mistakes or missteps, then follow up with how you recovered or learned from a situation. Be likable and approachable in your demeanor. That doesn’t mean soften your message or water down the urgency or the significance of your content. Know your audience and allow their nonverbal responses to your presentation to guide your delivery. The goal is not to make friends, but to make a connection. People are more apt to listen to people they find affable and friendly. Making those human connections during a presentation endears you to the audience and makes your content more palatable.



Don’t Pace.

One of your most effective facilitation tools is your presence. Use movement to aid in transitions and convey thoughts. Try to avoid what I call dancing. This is when a speaker takes two steps forward and then immediately takes two steps back. All of your movements should have a purpose and a predetermined destination.

Practice Where You Play

While I rehearse for a presentation, if available, I like to use the space where I will be presenting. I pick a few spots in the room and walk to those spots while I rehearse. I avoid walking within one arm’s length of my audience to prevent the perception that I’m crowding someone’s space. If possible, I avoid walking in front of the screen so that I don’t block the view of visual learners while I’m speaking to auditory learners.

If possible, try to avoid using a lectern. It’s easy to get trapped behind a lectern and start either leaning on the lectern or rocking the lectern without being aware of it. Even if your notes are on the lectern, walk away to engage and connect to the audience. Don’t pace. Your audience will feel like they are in a tennis match as you walk back and forth.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Movement is an excellent way to shift the audience’s focus during your presentation. You don’t want to compete with your media. Consider that your audience will give their attention to whatever they feel is the most interesting thing to look at in the room. If you want the audience to focus on the screen, move out of their view while you speak to the information you are presenting. Reference the screen as you speak. Although your voice is behind the audience or off to the side of the audience, their eyes will follow your direction. While speaking about an message on the screen, provide a prompt for the audience to focus their attention where you want it to be:

Take a look at the chart on the screen, as you can see, I’ve captured the data from our most recent reporting cycle.

If you are standing next to the screen when you say this, the audience will be conflicted by their choice to read the information you are projecting or look at you and wait for your explanation.

What Do You Do with Your Hands?

While we are discussing movement, let’s talk about your hands. Your hand movements should complement your spoken words. Imagine your hands are directing your words to your audience’s ears. Avoid putting your hands in your pockets, especially if you have something in your pocket. The temptation to fondle your keys is almost irresistible. Since you are focusing on what you are saying, you may not even notice the sound emanating from your pants pocket competing with your voice. When recognizing a member of your audience, try to avoid pointing. Instead, use an open hand gesture that welcomes your audience to have the floor and speak or ask a question. Try to keep your hands away from each other. Rubbing your hands together or slapping them together is distracting and conveys nervousness and a lack of confidence. Try your best to keep your hands free of any object that can become a toy you start to unconsciously play with as you speak. A marker or pen can become a distraction as the top is removed and replaced repeatedly. Even the clicker has the potential to become an object you began to juggle from one hand to the next.

The Eyes Follow; Don’t Lead Them Astray!

I don’t mean to be crass, but consider the vantage point of your audience when you are presenting. You are standing and they are seated. Think about their line of sight when their heads are in a neutral position. Keep your hands away from any part of your body that you don’t want your audience to focus on. Your hands are magnets for the eyes. Whether you are aware or not, your audience will look at whatever you touch!

It’s okay to be nervous!

Believe it or not, the fear of public speaking is natural and it is a result of your desire to perform well. No matter how many times I speak in public, I still get nervous. I lean on my knowledge of the subject matter and my preparation to calm myself down and deliver a great presentation that is productive and memorable. The butterflies in my stomach just remind me that I owe it to my audience to make an impact and make good use of the precious time they are giving me. Whenever I coach speakers, I’m always leery about the people who say they don’t get no longer get nervous or anxious before they speak. Although they may be attempting to convey confidence, I interpret their lack of nervousness as a lack of passion and awareness.

It’s okay to be nervous because you want to do a great job. The key is to be prepared and the fear will disappear right after your introduction.

5 Things You Should Do the Day Before Your Job Interview - Part 1

5 Things You Should Do the Day Before Your Job Interview  - Part 1

Believe it or not, the hard part is done. Your carefully crafted resume targeting your most significant achievements and qualifications has launched your name near the top of the candidate list. The fact that you’ve successfully secured an interview means the hiring manager is interested and wants to know more. At this point, the job is yours to lose!