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Presentation Skills: Tips for overcoming nerves when delivering a presentation

Overcoming Barriers through Business Communication TrainingFor many people, visiting the dentist is a preferable option to delivering a presentation, especially in front of people who already know us. Even the most confident person can suddenly break out in a cold sweat, become nervous and stumble on their words. 

So whether you are delivering a sales pitch, briefing your team or delivering that all important wedding speech, here are some top tips to improve your presentation skills, help you overcome those nerves and deliver a great presentation.

First, let’s consider your audience

Who are they, why are they attending and what exactly is it that they would like to take away with them?  Are you trying to sell them something or merely entertain them? 

Considering your audience is the first crucial step to delivering a great presentation and when it comes to presentation skills, is one that is all too often overlooked.  Answering these simple questions as a starting point will steer you in the right direction and ensure you pitch at the right level.  There is no point in coming up with witty jokes and anecdotes when your audience are there for serious reasons and to be informed and not entertained. No one wants to buy a product from a clown! At the same time, it may be appropriate to inject some humour. 

Now, let’s take a look at structure

It is a well-known fact that we only retain a tiny 7% of what we hear!   Just stop and think about that for a moment.  When was the last time you saw a film or TV programme that you really enjoyed and remained engaged with all the way through?  Now consider how easy it is to explain to somebody else what the film was about… in detail.  

For the record, 38% of the way we engage and communicate is via tonality and the way in which a message is communicated, with a staggering 55% based on facial expressions, hence the increase in emoji’s! This last point also emphasises the importance of eye contact when engaging with your audience.

With this in mind, it may ease your nerves slightly to know that little of what you say will be remembered, but it also means that it is important to keep clear sections, that lead into each other and ensure that the 7% that you would like your audience to remember is the 7% that they do remember.  

So how is this achieved…? One method is the Tell, Tell, Tell approach...

Tell them what you are going to tell them - Introduce yourself, so your audience knows who you are and what you are there for! This is your first opportunity to engage your audience, outlining the purpose of your presentation, with an idea of the main points you are going to convey.

Tell them - Go into the prepared presentation that you have just introduced. By having clear sections with key points to discuss, this will help you to keep on track and keep your audience engaged.

Tell them what you told them - At the end of your presentation, it is important to summarise the key points that you have covered, reinforcing the main message and round it off with some sort of conclusion.

Think about the news for example. We hear the headlines, then we are told the actual story, then there is a summary at the end to remind us of the salient points. 

Consider having a theme

Going in with a theme in mind will set the tone for the whole presentation and increase your chances of making your presentation memorable – for the right reasons!  Often the simplest ideas are the best…

Recently I worked with a group of eight delegates, all of whom were asked to deliver a ten minute presentation on what they had learned during a 12 month management development programme.  

All of the presentations were good, but the one that really stood out was the last one, ironically when everybody was beginning to get fidgety and thinking about going home.  The speaker started with a photograph of Pele, one of the most famous footballer’s ever. He asked the question, “Do you know who this man is?” and the audience replied that they did. 

He then showed a photo of an older man in a trilby hat and asked the same question. No one knew who he was; he was actually the man who had discovered Pele. 

The delegate went onto the main part of his presentation, which focused on two stories of how he had developed talent as a manager, applying what he had learned from the programme. 

And to finish… an iconic image of the Brazilian football team, with Pele holding the World Cup.  The delegate asked the audience; “Who’s missing from the photo?”, and then simply thanked them for their time before inviting questions. 

Afterwards there was only one presentation being talked about… the Pele presentation.   

Now let’s talk about visual aids

Visual aids can really help to bring your presentation to life, and keep your audience interested. There are however some things to remember when using visual aids

The clue is in the title.  Visual aids are there to support your key message, hence they are not called visual distractions, which is sadly all too often the case with the dreaded ‘death by PowerPoint’. 

Use little and often but don’t overdo it.  Five slides should be more than sufficient for a 6 – 10 minute presentation

Avoid Distraction - When you have finished using your visual aid, make sure you cover it up or remove it.  A useful tip for example is to press “B” on your keyboard when using PowerPoint to blank the screen, then press it again to bring the screen back!

Be Clear - Make sure that each visual aid is clear, has a font that is easy to read from a distance and use colours that don’t clash.

And last but by no means least…Rehearse!

Think of the popular BBC show “Dragon’s Den”, where people present to a panel of entrepreneurs in a bid to get investment in their business ideas. So many times, a lack of presentation skills means that people come unstuck as it is clear to see that they haven’t practised enough, or they are unfamiliar with the information that they are meant to be conveying. 

Obviously nerves can play a part in this too, but the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be as you will have more confidence in your ability to deliver effectively. 

When I was young, my piano teacher could always tell when I hadn’t practiced, even though I told her I had!! If you go into your presentation, prepared and aware of these factors, taking in some of these changes can help you feel more in control, more confident, less nervous and better equipped to deliver a successful presentation that you can be proud of.

In the words of Gary Player, known as the Lucky Golfer “The more I practice, the luckier I get”. Such a simple quote, but quite a good one to remember!

For more tips on presentation skills, or to learn more about our presentation skills training courses, please call us on 01295 675506 for a free consultation. 

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