Find Your Inner Speaker: 3 Key Steps To Deliver A Powerful Presentation Every Time

Is developing your professional speaking skills part of your 2019 plans?

Presentation at HIMSS Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Meeting 2018

I’ve had the honor of being a keynote speaker at conferences and events all over the world.

I’ve spent innumerable hours preparing for talks and honing the craft of public speaking.

Each time I prepare I dig down deeper into my inner speaker — that part of me that strives to grow and learn and to connect intimately with my audience.

I still remember my first presentation in all its terrifying details.

Knees knocking and voice cracking, I stepped onto the stage, looked out at the crowd before me and wanted to turn and run.

This is not an uncommon feeling for public speakers.

Surveys show that the fear of public speaking ranks as one of the most common phobias among humans.

There’s even a name for it — glossophobia — the fear of public speaking!

I admit my nerves have never completely gone away, but with time I’ve found my voice, developed my own style and even started to enjoy the experience.

In this article, I’m going to share with you the steps I take each time I prepare my own talks.

These tips should help you get more comfortable, confident, and creative when it’s time to stand and deliver your next webinar training, business or sales presentation.

STEP ONE: PREPARE YOUR TALK

A great presentation begins with great preparation.

I never skip this step no matter how well I know the industry or the topic I’m speaking on.

This is the most time intensive part of the entire presentation process and while it’s tempting to wing it, I advise you don’t — ever.

Decide What You Want To Say

Your presentation should always begin with a clear purpose in mind.

Write down your core message in one or two sentences. If you find that you have several messages you’d like to deliver, challenge yourself to focus and simplify your message. A focused presentation has well-defined boundaries. Once you have a clear focus for your talk, you can then group your other ideas around it.

Pro Tip: Take a leaf from Garr Reynold’s playbook.

Most people open a computer and create an outline. Don’t do this. Preparation should be analog at the beginning. Turn off the technology and minimize the distractions. You’ve got to get your idea out of your head and on the wall so you can see it, share it, make it better. We’ve got to see the details and subtract and add (but mostly subtract) where needed. And we’ve go to see the big picture. Ideas and patterns are easier to see when they are up on the wall or spread out on the table.

Know Your Audience

Find out as much as you can about your audience so you can better speak to their interests and in the language they are most familiar with.

Who will you be presenting to? Why are they coming to listen to you? Why should they care about what you have to say?

What do they already know about the topic you will be speaking on? This is particularly important for training presentations where people may be at different levels of adoption and skill.

Know Your Topic

This one should hardly need saying, but it’s not just important to know your topic thoroughly, I’d go a step further and join Paul Grant in saying “don’t accept an opportunity to speak about something that you are not passionate or knowledgeable about.”

Structure Your Presentation

Having a structure for your talk is a helpful roadmap to keep you on track and to allow the audience to follow along with your points.

  • Start with a strong opening. Share some compelling statistics, outline a current problem, or share a memorable anecdote.
  • Provide listeners with your roadmap. Organize your main points into an order that will make sense to your listeners. Let your audience know what to expect — how long your presentation will run, which points you will cover and if you’ll be taking questions afterward.
  • Reinforce your key takeaways. You want your audience to come away from your talk remembering your key takeaways. Emphasize these key points throughout your presentation and particularly at the end.
  • Don’t forget your CTA. Your CTA should transmit a sense of urgency. Why is it important they hear your message and act now? What will happen if they don’t act? Define one measurable action your audience can take once your presentation is over.

Pro Tip: This is a great tip from Paul Grant who recommends the PIC concept as a way to structure your talk — make a Point, Illustrate each point with anecdotes or case studies, make sure each point has a Challenge or recommendation or insightful take away.

Ditch The Slides?

You’ll hear plenty of advice to ditch PowerPoint in your presentations — but having experimented, I’ve found my own style of presenting is enhanced by using slides.

The key is how you design your slides. They should support your talk not be your entire presentation.

Reports should be distributed, presentations should be presented.” — Nancy Duarte

PowerPoint has a bad rap because so many speakers STILL cram slides with information which they read bullet point by laborious point to an audience who are perfectly able to read it themselves.

Not only does this style of presentation contribute to the phenomenon known as Death by PowerPoint, but bullet points are also proven to be an ineffective method of communication for presentations.

Pro Tip: Take a look at how I use slides in my own presentations — highly visual, simple design with minimal text. I use one idea per slide and use these resources to source high — quality images.

Recommend Reading: 14 PowerPoint Presentation Tips to Make More Creative Slideshows [+ Templates]

Tell Stories

Infuse all your presentations with relevant stories.

An audience is going to remember a speaker who tells a story. Bring your talk to life by sharing personal anecdotes and stories of what has worked for you and your clients.

Think about the elements of your story that will be most meaningful to your listeners. To quote Garr Reynolds, “Even when we are “telling our story” we are really telling their story. If designed and told well, our story is really their story.”

Recommended Reading: 7 Simple Ways to Tell a Compelling Story

Practice, Practice, Practice

Rehearse out loud using whatever slides, notes, or props you plan to use during your talk. Don’t simply practice by sitting at your desk clicking through your slide-deck; stand and deliver your talk as if you are doing it in front of an audience.

Work on your voice intonation and emphasis, flow and transitions, and practice controlling filler words, like “ems” and “ahs.” Modulate your speaking voice to a lower pitch (if you can do so without sounding unnatural); the deeper the pitch of your voice, the more persuasive and confident you sound.

In The 5 P’s of Powerful Speaking for a Memorable Speech, professional speaker Pam Warren points out that “in public speaking clarity and tone are far more important than volume in that they imply authority, a certain gravitas and above all, confidence.”

When speaking on certain points you may want to stress their importance, so practice the power of the pause — a slight pause before you’re about to say something important. Take a printed copy of your text and make marks, such as a forward slash (/) or use color coding in your paragraphs to remind you to pause at key points in your talk.

Time your presentation using a stopwatch, or one of the many free countdown timers available online.

The most important thing you should practice is the opening and ending of your talk. Focus on conveying a strong, confident start which will set the stage for everything that follows. Practicing how you will end your talk, builds your confidence to know exactly how you’ll finish, rather than ending with a feeble “thanks for listening.”

Final Preparations

Make sure you have a good night’s sleep the night before your talk and have your clothes freshly pressed and ready on hangars.

Back up your presentation to a flash drive (or the cloud), pack a plentiful supply of business cards and handouts (if you are using them).

STEP TWO: DELIVER YOUR TALK

It’s the day of your big presentation!

Plan to arrive early so you can familiarise yourself with the room, meet the technical team, check your slides are working correctly, and practice using the microphone.

When you take to the stage, resist the urge to begin speaking straight away.

Take a few moments to ground yourself — set your feet slightly apart, toes pointing towards the center back of the room (this gives you balance and is the most secure and comfortable way to stand when talking).

Pull your shoulders back and down — this allows your chest to expand, so you have more breath when you begin to speak.

Make eye contact and smile at your audience which will help to relax you if you are feeling nervous.

When you begin to speak, do so slowly and clearly to give your audience time to absorb your words. Remember to take full breaths between sentences.

Dealing With Presentation Nerves

Feeling anxious or being nervous before a big presentation is normal.

If you feel nervous, focus on the fact that your audience wants you to succeed. They are on your side. You were chosen to speak and you are the expert they have come to hear. There’s no need to tell them that you are feeling nervous — people probably won’t even notice if you don’t mention it.

Whenever you feel those first signs of nerves such as a racing heart, sweaty palms, and shallow breathing, bring awareness to the physical sensations, take some deep breaths and anchor yourself by touching something physical, such as a table or the slide advancer, or push your weight into your toes and feet.

Remember it’s perfectly natural to feel nervous, but try to focus your attention away from your nervousness and concentrate instead on what you want to say to your audience. Recognize that nerves are a signal that this is something that matters to you. Turn your nerves into enthusiasm and passion for your topic.

STEP THREE: AFTER YOUR TALK

Spend time after the presentation to reflect on how things went.

Ask yourself (or others) what you thought went well and what could have been better?

Take some notes on which techniques worked to help calm your nerves, which stories resonated with the audience, and how you answered any questions in the Q&A portion.

The purpose of this exercise is to become a better presenter the next time you are asked to give a talk, by putting the lessons you learn each time into practice.

To Sum Up

My friend Joanne Taylor, a seasoned public speaker, sums up all these learnings for us with this tweet:

Presentation and public speaking are essential skills for many aspects of your social and professional life. Take every opportunity you can to practice speaking in public. Not only is it an important way to get your message out into the world, but mastering the art of public speaking is a wonderful way to boost your personal and professional confidence.