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How to improve your presentation skills

“Delivering a presentation can be enough to drive fear into even the most rational and positive thinking people, yet it need not be the terrifying ordeal we often make it out to be.”

That sounded like a big claim from Opendoorz member and owner of Donovan Training Associate, Anthony Donovan. So, we decided to challenge him to lead one of our continuous professional development (CPD) sessions with the topic of ‘How to improve your presentation skills.

Anthony set up Donovan Training Associates, a learning and development consultancy, in 2005 to deliver bespoke training courses to business owners, leaders and people managers, enabling them to be productive, successful and happy in their place of work. One area of training they provide is a tailored presentation skills course for business leaders. 

We were so impressed with Anthony’s advice and ideas throughout the CPD we just had to share it in a blog. Read on to discover Anthony Donovan’s advice on how to improve your presentation skills.

Think of your presentation like a Formula One race

In every race, each team starts with the end in mind. An objective of what position they want to finish in and a strategy to help get them there. Use this approach in presentations. Before getting drawn into the detail, consider the following:

• What are the key messages?

• Who are you talking to?

• What action do you want them to take?

• What emotions do you want to inspire?

Hit the ground running

Grabbing your audience’s attention early on and engaging them in your message will ensure they genuinely want to listen to what comes next. Below are some ideas on how to structure the beginning of a presentation to get it off to a flying start.  

  • The Attention Grabber

When was the last time you watched a TED talk and the presenter started by telling you their name, how long the presentation would last etc…? Err, never, because it’s not very interesting. They typically start with an anecdote, a striking image, a quote, a statistic or even some music that becomes relevant to the subject they are speaking about. You don’t need to go over the top (unless that’s your thing!) but do think creatively about how you can begin a presentation.

  • The Benefit Sell

A great way to engage your audience early on is to start by telling them what they will get out of the presentation. The language you use here is particularly important.  Be confident and definitive – imagine if an airline pilot announced that we will ‘hopefully’ land safely?! 

  • The Credibility Builder

Give your audience confidence from the outset (and yourself) by explaining why you are qualified to speak about this subject. ‘Blowing you own trumpet’ can feel uncomfortable but remember you’ve been asked to speak for a reason. Again, I would urge caution with the language you use. Telling people you’ve been in a role for 12 years does not equal credibility. I’ve been playing golf for 12 years but I’m still not very good! Be specific about why and how you gained the experience that gives you credibility.

  • The Direction Giver

Children on long journeys love to ask ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ Most adults have a filter that

prevent us from asking this out loud during a presentation, although the signs will still be there, cue checking phones, fidgeting, etc. You can avoid this by explaining to your audience how the presentation will pan out.  Again, think about your language. Avoid words such as ‘hopefully’ or ‘probably’ and say ‘During the next 15 minutes, you will take away some insightful information around…’

A presentation in Three Acts

Psychology Professor, Albert Mehrabian, is a renowned expert on verbal and non-verbal communication. His research revealed that we consume and remember information based on the following:

  • 7% of what was said (in other words, we forget 93%)
  • 38% of how it was said (tone of voice, body language, etc.)
  • 55% of the facial expressions used (no matter how cheery a message if you say it with a dour expression on your face that is exactly the mood you will convey.)

With that in mind, a great way to structure your presentation is in three parts or acts.

  • Act 1: Introduce

Tell your audience what you are going to tell them but do it with a killer intro using one of the ideas above to help you hit the ground running. Smile, laugh and move to capture their interest and engage them with your tone, body language and facial expressions from the off.  

  • Act 2: Impart

Tell your audience what you want them to know. Convey your key messages with a little more detail and narrative around them. Don’t recite stats or data, they won’t be retained. Weave a story that people can engage with on an emotional level.

  • Act 3: Reinforce

Summarise your key messages. Resist the urge to add in some extra information that will dilute your message but do reinforce the link between your message and a clear benefit to your audience.

Practice, practice, practice

George Bernard Shaw summed it up well by saying “I am the most spontaneous speaker in the world because every word, every gesture, and every retort has been carefully rehearsed.”

Whether you practice in front of the mirror, film yourself using a tablet device or camera, or ask a trusted friend to give you honest advice, ensure that by the time you deliver, you know exactly what you are going to say and how it will come across.

For more advice and information visit Donovan Training Associates.

If you’d like to join us for an invaluable CPD session, come along to a guest meeting: https://opendoorz.biz/networking-events-oxfordshire/

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