How to Improve Your Presentation Skills: Tips from an Experienced Performer and Speaking Coach
This article was written by Gerald Bachlmayr, Technical Principal at Contino (APAC) and AWS Ambassador.
Why do we need presentation skills?
As a consultant I work closely with our customers to achieve a good business outcome. This requires a lot of interaction with key stakeholders in many different contexts, such as workshops, presentations, knowledge sharing sessions, or informal discussions.
Contino is also active in the meetup scene, and I regularly present at these types of events. Therefore, I have to be comfortable on stage, voicing my opinions to strangers who turn up to hear me speak.
Presentation skills are critical to all these interactions. I recently had the opportunity to attend a full day course packed with presentation skills tips and practical exercises, which I would like to share in this write-up.
The course was run by a former performer who is now a professional presentation and speaking coach. The day was structured in several modules, each with a theoretical introduction, followed by interactions, so that we could apply our presentation skills and improve them.
How can we improve our voice?
In the “vocal and physical considerations” module we worked on improving our posture and voice projection. This included breathing exercises, humming, and imitating an ambulance siren.
One of my favourites in this module was the following exercise:
Stretch your tongue out and hold it firmly with your thumb, index finger, and middle finger. Then say “Hello, my name is … “ followed by your first name and surname. Then do the same thing without stretching out your tongue and you will notice that your pronunciation sounds clearer than before this exercise. You should do this right now. Surely, everyone around you will appreciate some quality entertainment and it will give them a good opportunity to introduce themselves.
How can we plan for our presentation?
In this module we learned a structured approach to prepare for our presentation.
We first answer the questions addressing the given circumstances:
- Who am I delivering to?
Know your audience to make sure you use the right language and level of detail.
- Where am I delivering?
Know your room so can plan on using a whiteboard, microphone, or screen.
- When am I delivering?
If the presentation is right after lunch break, people are likely to be tired and your presentation needs to be absolutely spot on and maybe a little bit shorter.
- Why am I delivering?
Know the reason for your presentation — do you want to show new opportunities, or present some progress you made?
- What do I want my audience to do?
Do you want them to agree on your proposal or do they need to take on some actions?
But how we get them to listen in the first place? This is what we need …
The hook is ideally at the beginning of a presentation and makes the listener curious to find out more. There are several ways how can structure a hook:
- Story — You can use a story to make it easier for the listener to imagine he is in a certain situation.
- Statistics — You can show some numbers, for examples sales numbers going up or down — depending on the message you want to send. Or — the number of Contino employees in APAC has more than doubled within the last year.
- Image — If you have a big screen you can share an image/photo that tells a story.
- Question — You can start with a question to engage the audience. How many of you have seen this in a presentation before?
- What if — What if I told you by changing your ways of working you can increase your productivity by 50%?
- Joke — This might work for you if you are a professional comedian, otherwise the odds are this will turn into a nosedive.
Bringing it all together
At the end of the day we had 15 minutes to prepare a short two-minute presentation.
You could choose any topic, answer the five questions from “How can we plan for our presentation?” and come up with a hook. We were also reminded to remain in an open posture and focus on our voice projection before we started the actual presentations.
Everyone got to present to the group and got feedback after the presentation. Straight after the feedback we got to present again and apply the feedback.
I picked the success story how Contino helped a global insurance company in the UK to dramatically improve their productivity by changing the ways of working. By adopting a DevOps operating model and cross-functional teams, Contino were able to help Allianz to build a new cloud-native platform and deliver a new product in just 3 months. Using traditional ways of working it would have taken 18–24!
As a hook I used a story:
“Imagine: It is 2017. We are in London next to the London Bridge. It is cold and rainy and one of the main insurance providers in the country requires a new solution ……”
One of the comments I received is that I talk too fast. I will continue to work on slowing myself down and apply this in meetings, workshops, and my upcoming meetup presentations.
By the way — Contino has a great meetup culture shown in a short video where I already practice what I learn. Once the video is published, I will post the URL in the comments.
Check out our upcoming Meetups here!