More than three decades of sales and management training have convinced us that becoming an effective public speaker and presenter is the one key skill that any high potential must master. Nothing opens more doors, creates more visibility or motivates more effectively than the ability to speak well in front of others.
The question is: what does it take to be a successful public speaker?
Now many people tend to think that public speaking is all about overcoming nerves and having the confidence to stand up in front of a group. And yes, the ability to conjure confidence at the right moment is important. But it is worth remembering that confidence does not just appear from nowhere. And to paraphrase sailing legend Ben Ainslie, many races are won before anyone even gets on the water.
Presenting and speaking effectively is also for example, about preparation – thinking through the audience’s requirements and tailoring your approach accordingly – as well as being able to connect with people emotionally and build trust.
Improve your presentation skills
In other words, there is a lot you can do to improve your presentation skills besides from simply trying to appear more confident. On this blog we are going to investigate a key element that anyone can work on: how to structure your presentation, and then prepare appropriate notes.
It cannot be understated that every presentation must have a logical structure to guide and shape your audience’s understanding – as well as to give them the satisfaction of following the line of whatever it is you are saying! It is easy to do, but it is remarkable how many people fail to do it properly.
Below we provide a simple three step sequence which we recommend on our presentation skills training courses. This structure can be used in any presentation, big or small, whether pitching to clients or proposing an idea to your management team during a meeting.
Your simple three step structure for any presentation
- The opening.
Begin with an attention grabber. Use a question, a statement, an unusual fact or a slice of humour to attract attention. Be different – you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Once you’ve caught their attention, introduce yourself and outline your pitch. Sell the content. What’s in it for them? Why should they listen?
- The body.
You want the body of your presentation to contain a logical sequence of key points. These key points, perhaps three or four, should support your call to action, and be illustrated wherever possible with examples, stories or anecdotes. Stories communicate. The objective of any presentation is to transfer a message to a group in such a way that they ‘buy it’ and understand what you want them to do. Always follow the psychology of a sales process and offer benefits (not just features) that match the listeners’ expectations. Avoid long streams of facts and figures (if necessary these should be dealt with in handouts).
- The close.
Summarise the key points. Let the audience know that you are summarising – ‘To summarise…’ Link back to the attention grabber. Have a logical and strong close to the original question or statement, ideally ending with a call for action. Beware your voice ebbing at the end.
Write it down – Learn how to make notes
Once you have decided on the structure of your presentation, you need to start writing it down. Now you don’t need to write down the whole thing – in fact the biggest mistake people make is to write down their entire presentation, and then read it out, word for word, to their audience. DON’T DO THIS! Much better to engage your audience with eye contact and enthusiasm than to perfectly recite a pre-written presentation.
Instead of writing the whole thing, you might like to write down simple bullet point reminders to refer to during the presentation. These could be reminders of key points and links between sections, as well as more detailed script for your opening and closing sections, which are important to get right and can be nervous moments to ad lib.
If you have time to rehearse, it is always a good idea to practise delivering the presentation – even if only to yourself or a colleague. While rehearsing you may find it helpful to annotate your notes freely with a highlighter pen, to give you a really clear idea of the structure and sequencing of your points.
When it comes to delivering the actual presentation, remember to enjoy it. If you enjoy your presentation, your audience will as well.
Presentation Skills Training
We hope that you find the above tips helpful. If you are interested in developing your presentation skills further, there is no substitute for actual practise – ideally in a safe environment under the supervision of an experienced coach.
Even people whose knees knock and hands shake before the smallest group can learn how to speak well. On our training courses we find that video coaching is a particularly helpful way for individuals to improve. Having the chance to watch yourself on video allows you to see yourself as others see you, and makes you realise that you look a lot better than you think you do.
Read more about LDL Presentation Skills Training. Or, for more presentation skills tips, download our free guide: “How to Make an Effective Presentation“.
We also recently wrote an article for On Target Recruitment on the subject of pitch presentations: “Pitch Presentation Skills – 3 Great Tips for Salespeople”.