No matter what industry or department you work in, public speaking is typically part of the job. And whether you need to present for two minutes on the results of your latest marketing and sales campaign, or thirty minutes on your team's goals and results for the quarter, it more than likely makes you anxious.
If you're scared of presenting, you're not alone. In fact, surveys have found some people rate public speaking as scarier than death — no big deal though, right?
Fortunately, there are skills you can acquire to become an expert at public speaking. Here, we're going to explore the 11 top ways to improve your presentation skills, so you can excel at your next meeting. Best of all, you can learn presentation skills to apply these same skills to your presentation whether you're working remotely or in-person.
The average attention span for people who listen to speeches is estimated to be somewhere between five to 10 minutes, so, if at all possible, make your presentation brief and concise.
Try eliminating unnecessary data or information that isn't critical to your main point. If your presentation needs to be over 10 minutes, break it up using quizzes, a brief poll, or asking for your audience's opinion on a subject.
Additionally, it's said that ideas repeated three times stick more clearly in our minds. Rather than trying to make each slide unique, try weaving one or two similar ideas together throughout the entire presentation to ensure those main ideas stick in your audience's minds.
If you're presenting from a remote location, it's critical you pay attention to lighting, your background, and potential noise distractions.
Don't present in a crowded coffee shop, or in a bedroom with distracting posters behind you. Instead, find a clean background to minimize distraction, and bring a lamp closer to your computer if you think the space is too dark.
One of the scariest parts of public speaking is the fear of the unknown — What am I going to say? How is the audience going to react?
By practicing ahead of time, you're minimizing some of these fears. Prepare so you know what you want to say for each slide, and even present ahead of time for a friend or colleague to get their feedback. The more you prepare, the less stressed you'll be.
If you're presenting from a remote location, try recording yourself ahead of time and playing it back to evaluate areas of improvement.
However, it's important to note — abiding to a strict script during your presentation will only make you feel more anxious. You'll be worried about missing that one word in the third paragraph on the second note card, rather than trusting your ability to expand on ideas in-person.
Instead of memorizing each word, jot down some general ideas and use them as jumping-off points in your presentation.
There's nothing worse than a presentation in which each slide is jam-packed with crowded text, and the presenter simply reads each slide to the audience -- this is a surefire way to lose your audience's attention quickly, or stress them out with information overload.
Instead, make your slides short-and-sweet with minimal visuals and text. Then, you can always expand on the information in your presentation.
For instance, let's say you're reporting on your latest campaign results. On your slide, you might put a graph with a "+25% CTR" text. Then, in your presentation, you can explain the information in an engaging way — "We found, just two weeks after implementing our latest campaign, that the number of click-through rates increased by 25% on our landing page."
It's more interesting to say that out loud than read it back to your audience, don't you think? The Owl Labs State of Remote Work survey found that Vice Presidents and C-level executives are the least likely to be visual learners, so focus on the story you're telling with your speaking to have the greatest impact on high-level meeting attendees you're presenting to.
Most people would prefer to listen to an enthusiastic speaker over an eloquent one. On the day of your presentation, harness your anxiety and turn it into enthusiasm and passion over the subject. If you're excited about what you're presenting on, your audience will be, too.
Before your presentation, get inspired by watching impressive speakers. Consider checking out motivating TED Talks or compelling commencement speeches. Take notes on the aspects of their presentations you find most engaging, including tone of voice, body language, and their ability to transition from one idea to the next. Then try some of those tactics in your own presentations, and see which ones make you feel more confident.
For both inspiration and humor, check out How to sound smart in your TEDx Talk.
Positive visualization is an incredibly useful ingredient for success. In fact, The Journal of Consulting Psychology released a study in which they provided two groups with career counseling and interview coaching, but one group also received visualization techniques. After two months, 66% of those in the visualization group had found new jobs — compared to just 21% in the non-visualization group.
Visualization can help increase your confidence and make you feel more mentally prepared for your presentation. Before your presentation, try turning negative thoughts into positive ones — rather than thinking, "I might forget my information," think, "I've practiced a ton, so I know I'm ready."
Additionally, try imagining yourself as an impressive, engaging speaker right before you present. Ideally, your positive visualization will boost your optimism and confidence, and lead you to doing a better job.
Exercising can boost your endorphins and eliminate anxiety related to public speaking, so try going for a short run or attending a morning cycle class before your presentation.
When you're nervous, you're more likely to speak quickly and rush through points to try to get the presentation "over with" -- but you'll end up making yourself more nervous by doing this, as you run out of breath and lose control of your pace.
Instead, don't be afraid to pause. Pauses can help you emphasize important points, and will give your audience time to digest what you just said. Additionally, speaking slowly can make you seem less nervous and more in-control.
If you fight your nerves or tell yourself "this isn't something I should be nervous about", you're ultimately only going to feel more anxious. Instead, embrace the energy you feel from your nerves. Tell yourself, "Yes, I am nervous because I want this to go well … however, I know it will go well. I am capable of speaking on this subject and I know what I'm talking about. I'm prepared and ready to go."
If you're feeling exceptionally nervous, you might also try EFT Tapping, which is thought to relieve anxiety due to negative thoughts.
In one of the most popular TED Talks of all time, "Your body language may shape who you are", social psychologist Amy Cuddy discusses a study she published with colleagues at Harvard University, in which participants were asked to sit in either a high-power pose or low-power pose for two minutes.
Ultimately, Cuddy and her colleagues found participants who sat in high-power poses felt more comfortable and performed better in interviews, compared to those who sat in low-power poses. Additionally, they saw high-power posers experienced increases in testosterone, and decreases in cortisol.
In other words, their body language alone boosted hormones attributed to the feeling of "power", while simultaneously quieting hormones attributed to the feeling of "stress."
Next time you're about to present, give it a shot. At the very least, power posing should help you feel more in control of the situation.
Ultimately, becoming a good public speaker requires practice just like any other skill -- but, ideally, these 11 tactics should help you eliminate your fears and become a more engaging and inspiring speaker for your next presentation.