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Top 7 Steps to Effective Presentation Skills

By Annette Estes

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Studies show that many people have more fear of public speaking than of dying. That's huge. Whether you're giving your first presentation or your 100th, these tips will help you give less fearful, more powerful presentations.

  1. Plan, Prepare, and Practice.

    The first step is to plan your verbal presentation - what you're going to say. When giving a presentation, you should always talk about something you know - something in which you are an expert. Credibility is important to get people to listen to you.

    If you're stuck on planning a talk, use this formula: Tell them what you're going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.

    Once your presentation is complete - practice, practice, practice. Know your talk so well you could give it in your sleep. But so you won't put your audience to sleep, follow these next tips.

  2. Focus on your visual presentation.

    The visual aspect of your presentation is the most important in getting your message across. It includes your body language, gestures, facial expression, eye contact, appearance, and visuals such as PowerPoint - all of what the audience sees.

    The people in your audience will form their first impressions of you when you walk into the room. So dress for success and appear confident and friendly, even if your knees are knocking.

    Good posture and natural gestures are important. Your most important facial expression is your smile. Smile and they won't notice if you're nervous. The most important visual is eye contact. Look at each person during your talk.

    Use visuals whenever possible. Some basic rules for PowerPoint are that your slides should always be in color (no exceptions) and use graphics. If you're talking about going green, for example, show video, photographs, or clip art that represent what you're saying in each slide. Don't hesitate to be humorous if it feels right for you.

  3. Use variety in your vocal presentation.

    The second most important aspect is your vocal presentation - how you use your voice. It includes volume, pace, tone, inflection, and enunciation. Speak loudly and clearly (even with a microphone), not too fast or slow. rn

    Vary you pace and don't forget the all-important PAUSE. Don't be afraid of silence and say "uh." Pause before and after you make a point; it makes your listeners' ears perk up. If you go along in a monotone, don't be surprised if they go to sleep. Pausing can make you sound conversational. Say, "There's one thing that (short pause) can make recycling more effective." That slight hesitation makes it seem as if you're just thinking of what you're going to say next, as you would in a conversation.

    Use a downward inflection at the end of a sentence. Don't say, "More and more people are composting than ever before?" You're telling them, not asking them. This is a bad habit a lot of people have, even experienced speakers. Don't be guilty of doing this or you'll sound wishy-washy and unsure of yourself. A fatal flaw for speakers.

  4. Use notes, but don't read or memorize.

    When I prepare a talk, I think of what I want to say and say it aloud. Then I write a phrase or some key words that will remind me of what I want to say. I'll type a twenty-minute talk on one or two sheets of paper with just notes that guide me to the next point.

    There are a couple of exceptions to this rule. Since your introduction and closing are most important, it's okay to memorize them so you can begin and end with confidence and effective eye contact. Also, if you're quoting someone, it's all right to write the quote in full and read some (not all) of it.

    If you're going to allow for questions and answers, do them before closing your talk. You want to leave them with your strongest point and call to action. I like to end by saying, "I'll leave you with these words of..." and give a powerful quote that sums up my presentation. Don't end by saying, "thank you," as if they're doing you a favor. You're doing them a favor. If you must, say instead something like, "You've been a great audience and I've really enjoyed being here."

  5. Tell stories.

    Tom Peters said, "The best leaders...almost without exception and at every level...are master users of stories and symbols." And, of course the best leaders are the best speakers.

    Tell them the story of how you got your children to turn off lights, save water, and recycle. Your stories should be personal and related to a point you're making. Have you ever gotten teary-eyed or a lump in your throat when a speaker told you how they escaped death in a car accident? Make 'em laugh; make 'em cry. They'll relate to and remember you for it. And stories just make your presentation a lot more personal and interesting.

  6. Control your fear of public speaking.

    Notice I didn't say eliminate it, although you may reach that point with enough experience. A little nervousness is a good thing - it keeps you on your toes and gives you energy. Just don't let it show. Steve Bull advises, "Nerves and butterflies are fine - they're a physical sign that you're mentally ready and eager. You have to get the butterflies to fly in formation, that's the trick."

    There are only two reasons I can think of to be nervous or fearful of giving a presentation. One, you're putting too much importance on what people think of you (ego). Think of what you can do for them instead; that's what you're there for. And know that audiences are on your side. They want you to do a good job; they're not sitting there judging you unless you're awful. Your presentation is for them - not you.

    The other reason - a legitimate one - to be nervous is if you're unprepared. There's no excuse for this. People don't mind if you make mistakes or lose your place, but they do mind if you bore them or show a lack of concern for them by not being prepared.

  7. Get speech coaching.

    Hopefully, these steps have given you some ideas on improving your presentation skills. The best way to make huge improvements is to hire a professional coach. Every experienced, dynamic speaker has had one. Your coach will support you and diplomatically point out ineffective things you're doing that you may be unaware of on your own.

Get a free copy of my "20 Presentation Tips" and discover the power of speech coaching at http://www.coachannette.com/prescoach.htm Annette Estes is a professional speech coach and Certified Professional Behavior and Values Analyst with The Estes Group. More info at http://www.coachannette.com/presentations.htm ©2010 Annette Estes.

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Article Submitted On: April 02, 2010