Five Ways to Quickly Improve as a Presenter

November 6, 2015. Five Ways to Quickly Improve as a Presenter.

Improving presentation skills takes time and practice, but below are five ways to quite quickly improve how you present.

Make your narrative lead your slides.
Are you like most speakers, when you present with slides you will first show a slide—then talk about it?

What happens then?  Inevitably, your audience will immediately start reading and looking at your slide—you lose their attention and they may not catch what you say at that moment.

A better way is to first briefly explain what your next slide will show—then show it.  That way the audience will first listen to your explanation, anticipate what is coming—and more quickly grasp the slide content when it comes up.

And you should briefly pause when they first look at the slide, to give them time to understand it. For this purpose you may want to use the ‘B’ key on your computer keyboard, which will make the screen black while you explain—then press the B key again and click to the next slide that you have just explained.

Of course, some of your slides may be intentionally designed to surprise your audience—in which case this recommendation does not apply.

What is your level as a presenter?

151106 What is your level as a presenter

© 2015 EMC Quest K.K.

Avoid reading your slides.
Do you ever read your slides when presenting?

If so, you are not the only one—as this is probably the most common mistake made by speakers. This is ‘Level 1’ in our informal ranking of presenter skills—see illustration above. Why is this so common?

One reason is that for many speakers their slides are their presentation script.  They put most of what they plan to say into their slides.  And because presenters often do not schedule or take time to practice their presentation in advance—they have not internalized (remembered) their presentation content well enough, and have no choice but to read their slides.  They may also read their slides because they are nervous.

Unfortunately, your audience can read the slides much faster than you can read them aloud—and your presentation quickly becomes boring…. And what is the purpose of having you there as a presenter since people can read by themselves?

One way to avoid reading the slide is to use small hand-size index cards.  On these cards you put the key words for each part of the presentation, to prompt your memory about what you are going to say.

You can then easily face the audience most of the time and avoid relying on the slides as your written script.

Keep an upright and balanced posture.
How do you stand when you speak?

Surprisingly often the speaker’s posture can be a distraction for the audience—a common mistake being leaning on one leg (the ‘broken leg syndrome’). By making sure that you keep an upright and balanced posture when you present you will not only avoid distracting the audience with your posture—you will also project confidence and authority as a speaker.

Yves Morieux, TED Speaker with Great Posture.

Make eye contact with entire audience.
Do you struggle to keep the attention of your audience?

Do they look bored or keep looking at their smartphones? Two of the most effective ways to get people’s attention when presenting are making continuous eye contact with the entire audience—and using voice dynamics (see next point).  For eye contact, use the ‘scan and stop’ technique.

Keep eye contact with one audience member for about 4 seconds at a time, then continue scanning around the audience and make eye contact with another person. By continuously scanning across the room people will feel that you are talking to each of them and you can more easily keep their attention.

In a very large room with a large number of people present, it may not be possible to make direct eye contact with each individual.  However, even in such a setting, by continuously scanning across the audience, from left to right, and front to back—people will still feel that you are paying attention to them, and you will thereby keep their attention.

Use the 4 Ps of Voice Dynamics
Do you speak with a flat, monotone voice when presenting?

The voice is probably the presenter’s most under-utilized ‘tool’.  If you use the ‘4 Ps’ of voice dynamics—Pitch, Pace, Pause & Passion—it can make a huge difference to making you a far more engaging and dynamic speaker to listen to.

Using the 4 Ps of voice dynamics is effectively the same as speaking as you would normally speak when you talk to someone one-to-one about a topic you feel passionately about.

When we stand up in front of a group of people to present, however, our voices tend to go into a flat, monotonous speaking mode—partly because we may feel nervous, partly because we are thinking about what we are going to say next.

Here is how you can use the 4Ps of Voice Dynamics:  Vary your voice pitch and pace; speak slowly at times, then speed up, slow down again—pause from time to time, to give people time to reflect on what you just said, and/or for emphasis.

Ken Robinson, TED Speaker with Excellent Voice Dynamics

[most watched TED video of all time – 35.3 million views]

If you can be more conscious of your voice when you speak, it can make a great difference in commanding the attention and interest of your audience.

And speak with passion! Show that you care about your topic. This does not mean screaming or shouting; but showing your passion and interest through your voice.  If you sound monotonous and boring, why should the audience feel any different?

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.