Five Essential Skills When Preparing a Presentation

Whether you are preparing to give the only presentation you will ever have to do in your life or presentations are an integral part of your career, these five skills are essential for anyone preparing to speak. As you will see, each skill builds on each other, they are interconnected. By integrating these, you will be ready to give your presentation (well, writing the thing is still up to you)!


1. Be Prepared


Preparation is what makes something appear effortless. The worst mistake people make is thinking they can fake it through a presentation. If you find yourself resistant to preparation and rehearsal, the reason behind your struggle may just be the exact reason you need to take it seriously.

When preparing, also rehearse what you will do if something unexpected occurs. Practice taking a breath, looking around the room, and have a small comment or joke prepared. Be prepared for technology to fail and to carry the presentation without any bells and whistles. This is why having paper notes with you is a must.

Here is an example. If something stops working or breaks:

"Well, it appears [object] has decided to take a long weekend / go home to watch the game / join my first generation ipod in the electronics heap in my garage.


2. Say More Than Your Slides



You are not creating an audiobook or narrating a movie, YOU are the show! Your slides are merely aides, not the main attraction. 

If your audience is able to see your slides, they don't require you to read them aloud. If you can organise your presentation into chunks using keywords on your notes for you to expand upon, you will be contributing much more in your role as speaker and adding true value to your audience's time and attention. This is another reason why preparation is required. Scanning your notes and speaking simultaneously requires practice. Use strategies such as different colours, large writing, and symbols to help you interpret your notes quickly.

In addition, your notes can have reminders to breathe, pause, smile, and slow down at various key moments. 


3. Be Aware of Your Crutches

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (2010 - 2018)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (2010 - 2018)

Not only do presenters often rely on their slides, speakers may have unconcious verbal or physical habits. These may take the form of filler words such as “um,” “uh,” “so," or pacing, making the same unrelated gesture repeatedly,  or leaning on the podium. If you notice yourself doing one of these, don't let it throw you. Simply take a breath and move onward. When rehearsing, record yourself so that you can see or hear your crutches and practice your presentation without them. Your habits have helped you this far, but now you are upping your game - just as a professional athlete might retrain their techniques to prevent future injury or improve power.



4. Be Concise

Do you tend to speak in a flood of words when you are nervous or throw in additional tangents? Draw a  straight line for your audience. Be clear on your desired outcome - by the end of your presentation what must the audience walk away with?

If you notice that you are rambling, stop, take a deep breath, smile and have something to help bring you and the audience back together.

Here is an example:

"As you can tell, I have a lot to say / many thoughts on this subject. In essence, what you need to know is... "


5. Breathe and Smile

Laurel and Hardy

Laurel and Hardy

You'll notice in the tips above, breathing and smiling are important aspects of helping you get back on track. However, start off right! Smiling will not only make you feel happier and more positive about the experience, it will change your voice. In return, smiling will change the way your listeners feel about you.

Breathing shallowly and becoming anxious will tighten your vocal chords and make your voice go higher. Practice diaphragmatic breathing regularly and feel your anxiety reduce, your vocal tone improve, and your voice have all the "fuel" it needs to be expressive, and heard.



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