Presentations are common in the workplace, but they aren't everyone's best friend. To some, delivering a presentation at work can feel more like a dreaded medical procedure than a chance to connect with and enlighten other professionals. However, there's often no avoiding the ordeal, especially as a business owner trying to establish your brand.
While you might think that great public speakers are born that way, anyone can develop strong presentation skills. Here are tips to help business owners better plan and deliver their presentations. [Looking for more than PowerPoint to aid your presentation? Check out these business presentation tools.]
Every quality presentation requires in-depth planning. Here's how to do it.
1. Get to know your audience.
Before planning your presentation, make sure you know your audience. You'll want to understand their interests and needs, and what you can offer them. A good way to do this is to identify any issues they might have and finding ways to help them, said Ron Tsang, author of "From Presentation to Standing Ovation" (2016).
"If you understand your audience really well and focus on helping them solve an urgent problem, two things happen," he said. "Your audience will lean in to hear your presentation, and you will feel less self-conscious because you're no longer focused on your own nervousness."
If you know your audience, you might also anticipate any questions or concerns they might have and address them in your presentation. This will prove that you have done your research and are a credible professional in your field.
2. Understand your material.
Don't just study or memorize your points – thoroughly understand them so you can speak without the help of notecards or slides. Not only will you be more prepared for missteps or follow-up questions, but you'll feel more confident and capable, leaving no room for nerves to get in the way.
"Our brains work through association and the subconscious brain actually makes …  percent of decisions," said Melina Palmer, founder of The Brainy Business. "It relies on rules of thumb to make decisions and is more likely to take over when the conscious brain is overwhelmed, like if you are scared before/during a presentation."
If you store all your information in your conscious space, you'll be more prone to anxiety and failure, Palmer added. This can cause mistakes, stumbling over words and loss of confidence.
"When the conscious brain gets overwhelmed by fear, it will shut down," she said. "If your subconscious does not know what to say and you have not practiced enough, the chances you will forget something and get more flustered increases dramatically."
3. Rehearse your presentation.
If you're going to be speaking to people in a given industry, they'll likely understand more complex diction related to the field. If you're presenting to a group who doesn't have experience in the topic of discussion, however, you should plan to avoid niche terminology, understanding what points you'll need to explain in more depth.
Donna Grindle, founder and CEO of Kardon, advises using layman's terms in these cases. Rehearse your presentation in front of a child to see if they understand what you're explaining. Sure, you want to sound professional in your speech, but it should be simple enough for anyone, with any level of experience, to know what you're saying.
Now that it's time to deliver, take a deep breath and remember these tips.
1. Don't be intimidated.
Don't let your audience intimidate you. You are providing them with valuable insight that they likely are interested in learning. Be confident and professional, and deliver your message without worrying about being judged or ridiculed.
"While it is easy to think of the audience as a giant, scary, judging mob, in reality, the audience wants you to do well as much as you do," said Palmer. "Whether you are speaking to 10 people or 10,000, they want you to succeed, and they are rooting for you. Talk to them as if they are nice, kind people who want you to succeed, and give them the benefit of the doubt."
If someone doesn't seem engaged, don't take it personally or assume you're doing something wrong. You never know if someone is preoccupied with personal concerns, tired from lack of sleep, etc. Rather, see it as a reminder that your audience is human, and take the chance to connect with them. Relate what you are saying to the audience, bring up anecdotes from your own life, and be receptive to feedback and questions.
2. Follow your strategy.
Go into your presentation with a purpose – and make sure that purpose isn't "get it over with." Don't just write down what you want your audience to know the night before and then repeat it in front of them in a monotone.
"There is nothing that can be less interesting than someone who has slides filled with words and then stands up and reads them," said Grindle. "That is more like giving a book report in school. Provide bullets, charts, drawings, images, etc. to present your information using more than just words. Anyone can read a report without sitting through a presentation of it."
Follow through with your plan to engage your audience, no matter how nervous or doubtful you might feel. It can be tempting to do whatever it takes to get through the speech quickly, but you can't sacrifice passion and efficiency.
3. Be authentic.
Your audience wants you to be real; they don't want someone to stand in front of them and lecture them on the same topic for over an hour. Have a conversation rather than delivering a speech, making it as much about your audience as about you.
"When you are authentic and honest with the audience, they can tell, and they appreciate it," said Palmer. "This makes them more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt."
Authenticity also breeds connection, which should be your first priority.
"The whole point of public speaking is for you to connect with your audience and share what you know with them," said Grindle.