A confession: I used to have terrible presentation skills.
In fact, this was true up until very recently. Whenever I would have to read out loud in high school, people would practically fall asleep as my droning, emotionless voice hurried over the words on the page. My presentations were flat and uninspired.
That is until this past week when I gave a presentation to our practice manager (I’m a consultant, and there are different “practices” we service), and the first comment they made after I finished was “Wow…first thing is, you have incredible presentation skills…we need to recruit you to give our [Educational] presentations for the whole company.”
Afterwards I was thinking about this compliment and couldn’t put a finger on when I went from point A (sucking at giving presentations) to point B (apparently an incredible presenter). I did eventually realize what allowed me to improve, which I’ll share with you today.
First though- why should you care about becoming a great presenter? Being a great presenter does two things right away for you:
1- You’re adding more value to your company or the business you own compared to the average employee. Adding value to your business or employer is ALWAYS a good thing. There’ll be more in-depth posts about this in the future.
2- It immediately legitimizes your competence to your customers or management. If you can deliver a successful presentation, you become an authority on that subject, which affords you more respect. This will do great things for your career development.
What Makes a Great Presenter
How do you become a great presenter? One word: observation.
It’s as simple as that. Study 1-3 people that you think give great presentations. You will start to notice things that they do that make them 1000% better than everyone else. These mostly boil down to:
1- Rhythm: Most master presenters figure out a cadence that works well for them, and they stick to this. The way in which you deliver each sentence begins to repeat and become anticipated by the audience- which means they’re paying attention.
2- Emphasis: This creates “emotion” to the presentation,..i.e. that you give a shit. You have to emphasize the words that are key to making your point in each sentence. Most presentations are making some sort of case or presenting a thesis, and with this comes points that add up to the conclusion you’ve reached. Emphasize the words or phrases that make your point!
3- Memorization: You have to practice your presentations, and more or less memorize the layout and structure at the very least. You never want to appear “surprised” by a slide or note card (if you’re using those). By rehearsing and semi-memorizing the presentation you’ll get a good feel for the whole thing and be able to deliver it more dynamically (so you’re not just reading all of your points that the audience can also see). This will increase the amount of attention people are paying to you. If you can memorize the whole thing, then all the better. You just don’t want to end in a “I’m…Ron Burgundy?” situation.
4- Engagement: The first 3 things all lead up to and help you achieve this, but it must be mentioned. The key to a successful presentation is engaging the audience. You want them paying attention to, understanding, and agreeing with the points that lead to your thesis/conclusion/proposal. By having rhythm, emphasizing to make your points, and being dynamic through memorization, you will engage your audience. Engagement also comprises involving the audience in the presentation by gesturing to people (if in person) or even referencing them with personal anecdotes (which can be done even if it is not in person). A fully engaged audience means you’re giving a good presentation.
So, to teach yourself these 4 keys to giving a great presentation, observe people who already do each of these things. Everyone has their own style and nuances, and you’ll figure out what works best for you.
After you pick some presentation “mentors” to study- you must take action and practice. (Side Note: you’re going to read those two words “take action” a lot in the blog. From everything I’ve learned, too many people consume information but never take action to implement what they’ve learned and better their lives)
A good exercise is to get a transcript of a presentation that you watch by somebody you admire and then give the exact same presentation. You can even mimic their tone, rhythm, cadence, emphasis, and engagement techniques. Just keep practicing it this way, giving a presentation over and over. You’ll pick up their presentation skills by osmosis.
Next just start making presentations of your own to practice on. Make the presentation about a topic you’re interested in, and try to find an audience. You’ll notice that as long as you memorize, plan out emphasis points, and practice to attain a rhythm, you’ll start to sound exactly like your “mentors”. This is a good thing! As you become more confident and practice more and more, you’ll start to develop your own quirks and style that will suit you.
And then you’ll look up one day and say “Wow, I kick ass at presentations” and people will start complimenting you and ask “How did you become a great presenter?”
And you’ll sit there and say “One word- observe.”