Professional Development: Presenting With Impact
By Jayne Latz, NYAS Contributor
You have a major presentation and you work on the perfect PowerPoint and practice reading your notes. But on the big day it feels like your presentation falls flat. Sound familiar?
If public speaking gives you anxiety, you’re not alone. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said that “According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death … This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Unfortunately, such anxiety can interfere with your delivery. It doesn't matter how strong your presentation is, if you're unable to speak in a clear, confident manner, your message will suffer. In fact, research has shown that how you say something actually matters twice as much as what you say!
Learning to master the art of public speaking is crucial to professional success. Whether it’s giving a sales presentation, pitching an idea to a committee, or a concept to a potential funder, the ability to speak in an engaging and convincing manner is important. You may only get one chance to make your case, so a polished and dynamic presentation could be a game-changer.
You should develop a style that works best for you, but here are 10 tips that may help you improve your overall presentation skills:
1. Open strong. Enter with a confident stride and take a moment to make eye contact with the audience. Smile, and take a deep breath. This will help center you and allow you to begin your presentation in a strong, confident way.
2. Own your space. Be mindful of body language. Don’t fold your arms, stand with your hands on your hips or put your hands in your pockets. Incorporate natural gestures into your speech — but be careful of “talking” with your hands. You will appear more relaxed, confident and in control.
3. Connect with your audience. Looking into a sea of faces can be intimidating. Focus on connecting with one audience member at a time by making eye contact with individuals rather than just scanning the crowd. If you have a friend or colleague in the audience, focus on that person to start.
4. Tone matters. When giving a presentation, your vocal quality can make all the difference. Does your tone sound positive or negative? Confident or tentative? The energy in your voice tells your listener a lot about whether what you have to say has value.
5. Be engaging. Keep your audience involved and invested in your presentation to drive your message home. Ask questions that require a show of hands, have people stand up, or include moments where audience members need to interact.
6. Use strategic pausing to deliver with impact. Pauses not only make your speech slower and more understandable, it can also be a powerful tool for drawing your audience’s attention to the parts of your message you want to highlight the most.
7. Don’t let your voice “fall into the abyss”. Be careful not to drop sounds, particularly at the end of words or trail off at the end of a sentence. I refer to this as “falling into the abyss” and your audience may miss your most important point.
8. Let your audience know why your message matters. Understand your audience and how what you have to say will benefit them. Then, spell it out. Let everyone know what they have to gain up front, and you’ll have a more attentive audience throughout your presentation.
9. Tell stories. Including a story or specific case study in your presentation that relates to your audience’s interests will help them feel more connected to you and your message.
10. Close strong! Finish with a quote or a point that illustrates the one takeaway you want the audience to remember. Memorize your closing in advance so that you can concentrate on your delivery and nerves won’t get in the way of a strong ending.
Polishing your public speaking skills will help you to gain confidence and increase your professional credibility. Take the time to focus on your speaking style, and make sure your presentation is doing your message justice. Remember: It's not just what you say, it's how you say it!
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Jayne Latz, is an executive communication coach and President and Founder of Corporate Speech Solutions, LLC.