“The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.” - George Jessel
Giving presentations at work can be scary. In fact, more people report having phobias of public speaking than they do of any other fear—even of dying! The good news? Delivering effective presentations is a learned skill, not necessarily one we are born with, and more importantly, it is a skill that improves with practice and preparation.
Perfecting your presentation skills pays off – literally—in many ways. These skills will help you stand out in the hiring process; surveys of hundreds of employers have shown that oral communication and presentation skills are among the top skills recruiters are looking for. It can also help you get that raise or promotion at work—a fear of public speaking has been shown to lower potential wages by 10% and inhibit promotions to management by 15%. And remember, you’re not just a public speaker when you’re up on the podium or at the front of the conference room—every time you open your mouth in public, you are a public speaker. So, it’s a skill worth getting good at, and one you can’t really avoid in most occupations. Read our top tips—and make your next presentation a little less scary!
- Calm your nerves with the right practice and preparation. Getting nervous before a big presentation is normal. Over-prepare the content so that you know your material inside and out; brace yourself for potential questions or objections from the audience. In addition to mental preparation, physically prepare yourself with vocal warm-up exercises (here are some ideas to get you started). Try to calm your nerves by “taking your space”, or standing in powerful poses such as outstretched arms, “Super Man” stances, etc. Research shows these positions may reduce stress and increase confidence before presenting!
- Be authentic and connect with your audience. Whether your goal is to inform your audience or persuade them of something, coming across as authentic is critical for success. Use simple language, and avoid jargon if possible. Try to focus on one dominant theme throughout. Incorporate stories and examples to explain your point and connect with your audience; research from Princeton shows that the use of storiesto make a point during a presentationis much more memorable and effective in persuading than facts and figures alone.
- Project confidence with your body language. Although preparing presentation content is important, remember that only around 7% of communication is about the words; vocal tone and body language account for over 90% of communication. Practice your physical delivery just as much, if not more, than your content. Make sure to have a relaxed, confident stance without crossed arms or shifting your weight. Practice maintaining eye contact for at least 3 seconds at a time with audience members, and make use of the occasional dramatic pause if it helps reinforce your point. Lastly, incorporate hand gestures during your presentation—but make sure to keep all gestures above the waist, and avoid distracting or forced-looking gestures. Your body language needs to work for you, not against you!
Just remember, when it comes to giving presentations, project confidence and practice, practice, practice! Although you may not be able to shake your pre-presentation nerves entirely, putting in the time to practice and prepare might help to at least minimize them. Best of luck on your next speaking presentation!