On Presentations and Public Speaking

“Speech is the mirror of the mind.” – Seneca the Younger

Presentations and public speaking are an important method of communicating ideas and influence audiences for businesses. Unfortunately, many people struggle with both and fail to communicate their ideas in an authoritative and persuasive manner due to anxiety surrounding public speaking, ineffective visual design and not being condensing their content to a manageable level for audiences to remember and act upon. 

Luckily, one of the keys to improving our presentations and public speaking is to make the experience more simple for ourselves and our audience, rather than more complicated. This means that for those of us who are not confident, there are a small changes that you can make today that will significantly improve your next presentation. 

An example of poor public speaking.

Our first example  of poor public speaking suffers from issues that renders the presentation unengaging and undermines its credibility. Let’s look at the presenter’s body language and interaction with their audience first:

  • Presenter is visibly anxious and uncomfortable speaking publicly. 
  • Presenter does not maintain eye contact with their audience. 
  • Presenter hides behind the podium and does not use space effectively. 
  • Presenter fidgets often, playing with her hair. 

These issues could be improved immensely by practicing before hand to ensure that the presenter is comfortable and confident with their content which would reduce anxiety and prevent them from having to rely on notes – this would allow them to engage more with the audience. Let’s move on to her speaking:

  • Speaks in a monotone. 
  • Suffers from speech disfluency by relying on filler words such as “um” and “uh”.
  • Speaks very quietly and without confidence. 
  • Does not utilise rhetorical questions or make any attempt to engage the audience. 

Again, practicing a presentation and memorising the key points will allow for much more confident public speaking that will engage audiences. Poor speaking will undermine the credibility and authority of the presenters and endangers them of not being taken seriously or having their knowledge respected. 

An example of good public speaking.

Here is a fantastic example of public speaking by Simon Sinek, let’s examine the qualities that allow his presentation to be engaging starting with body language:

  • Displays positive body language and utilises gestures. 
  • Maintains eye contact with the audience. 
  • Utilises the stage to create movement. 
  • Utilises props and never turns back on audience, even when writing.

It is clear that Simon has practiced his performance and has a deep understanding of the content being presented, which helps the presentation to be authoritative and compelling to the audience. Simon also utilizes a number of public speaking techniques to further engage the audience:

  • Uses rhetorical questions to invite the audience to think about the content. 
  • Uses pauses to build anticipation and different tones to create contrast. 
  • Speaks at an appropriate speed and confidently. 

Overall, these techniques create a presentation that is lucid and persuasive, it does not give the audience an opportunity to become distracted or confused and lose the frame that Simon has created through his public speaking skills. 

5 Simple steps to improve power points.

  1. Simplify slides: ensure that each slide has the minimum amount of content that is necessary to communicate the idea.
  2. Visual communication: make sure that slides are dominated by images that reinforce your ideas or argument.
  3. Positioning: Ensure that images are well positioned or framed, when appropriate position images on the end of the frame or utilise the full frame. 
  4. Text: ensure that text is the large enough and use a font to increase legibility to the audience.
  5. Colour: make sure that the colour palette of your slides and text do not clash or make slides more difficult to read. 

Here’s a makeover of one of my old presentations applying these steps:

powerpoint before and after.png

References: 

Inc.com. (2017). 16 Ways to Dramatically Improve Your Presentation Skills From 16 Powerful TED Talks. [online] Available at: https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/16-ways-to-dramatically-improve-your-presentation-skills-from-16-powerful-ted-ta.html [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

WordStream, 2. and Kim, L. (2017). 20 Ways to Improve Your Presentation Skills | WordStream. [online] Wordstream.com. Available at: http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2014/11/19/how-to-improve-presentation-skills [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

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