Presentation Skills

If you are in anyway nervous about how best to present your business at a networking event, don’t fear! We can’t all deliver the next Gettysburg Address, but there are lots of small things you can do prior to your presentation that will help calm your nerves and set you up for a better presentation.

Here are my 18 best tips to improve your presentation skills.

1. Practice

Naturally, you’ll want to rehearse your presentation multiple times. While it can be difficult for those with packed schedules to spare time to practice, it is essential if you want to deliver a rousing presentation. Don’t wing it … write a script and do a practice run for a friend or colleague, or try recording your presentation and playing it back to evaluate which areas need work. 

2. Transform Nervous Energy Into Enthusiasm.

Turn your natural jitters into enthusiasm. Studies have shown time and again that an enthusiastic speech can win out over an eloquent one, and since I’m not exactly the Winston Churchill of presenters, I make sure that I’m as enthusiastic and energetic as possible before giving my presentation. 

3. Arrive Early.

It’s best to allow yourself plenty of time to settle in before your talk. Extra time ensures you won’t be late (even if Google Maps shuts down) and gives you plenty of time to get adapted to your presentation space.

4. Adjust to Your Surroundings.

The more adjusted to your environment you are, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Make sure you spend some in the room where you will be delivering your presentation.

5. Meet and Greet.

Do your best to chat with people before your presentation. Talking with audiences makes you seem more likeable and approachable. Ask attendees questions and take in their responses. They may even give you some inspiration to weave into your talk.

6. Use Positive Visualization.

Whether or not you’re a Zen master, know that plenty of studies have proven the effectiveness of positive visualization. When we imagine a positive outcome to a scenario in our mind, it’s more likely to play out the way we envision.

Instead of thinking “I’m going to be terrible out there” and visualizing yourself throwing up mid-presentation, imagine yourself getting tons of laughs while presenting with the enthusiasm of Jimmy Fallon and the poise of Audrey Hepburn (the charm of George Clooney wouldn’t hurt either).

Positive thoughts can be incredibly effective – give them a shot.

7. Remember That Audiences Are Sympathetic.

One of the hardest fears to shake when speaking in public is that the audience is secretly waiting to laugh at your missteps or mistakes. Fortunately, this isn’t the case in the vast majority of presentations.

In every networking event I have ever been to, the audience wants to see you succeed.

In fact, many people have a fear of public speaking, so even if the audience seems indifferent, the chances are pretty good that most people listening to your presentation can relate to how nerve-racking it can be. If you start to feel nervous, remind yourself that the audience gets it, and they actually want to see you nail it.

8. Take Deep Breaths.

When we’re nervous, our muscles tighten–you may even catch yourself holding your breath. Instead, go ahead and take those deep breaths to get oxygen to your brain and relax your body.

9. Smile. 

Smiling increases endorphins, replacing anxiety with calm and making you feel good about your presentation. Smiling also exhibits confidence and enthusiasm to the crowd. Just don’t overdo it – no one enjoys the maniacal clown look.

10. Exercise.

Exercise earlier in the day prior to your presentation to boost endorphins, which will help alleviate anxiety. Better pre-register for that Zumba class!

11. Work on Your Pauses.

When you’re nervous, it’s easy to speed up your presentation and end up talking too fast, which in turn causes you to run out of breath, get more nervous, and panic! Ahh!

Don’t be afraid to slow down and use pauses in your speech.

Pausing can be used to emphasize certain points and to help your talk feel more conversational. If you feel yourself losing control of your pacing, just take a nice pause and keep cool.

12. Don’t Try to Cover Too Much Material.

Yes, your presentations should be full of useful, insightful, and actionable information, but that doesn’t mean you should try to condense a vast and complex topic into a 10-minute presentation.

Knowing what to include, and what to leave out, is crucial to the success of a good presentation.

13. Actively Engage the Audience.

People love to talk and make their opinions heard, but the nature of presentations can often seem like a one-sided proposition. It doesn’t have to be, though.

Asking the audience what they think, inviting questions, and other means of welcoming audience participation can boost engagement and make attendees feel like a part of a conversation.

It also makes you, the presenter, seem much more relatable.

14. Be Entertaining.

Even if your presentation is packed with useful information, if your delivery bombs, so will your session, so jokes and light-hearted slides is a great way to help the audience feel more comfortable, especially when presenting them with a great deal of information.

However, it’s important to maintain a balance – after all, you’re not performing a stand-up routine, and people didn’t come to your presentation with the sole intention of being entertained. That said, don’t be afraid to inject a little humour into your talk.

If you’re not sure about whether a presentation is “too much,” run through it for a couple of friends and ask them to tell it to you straight.

15. Admit You Don’t Have All the Answers.

Very few presenters are willing to publicly concede that they don’t actually know everything because they feel it undermines their authority. However, since we all know that nobody can ever know everything about a given topic, admitting so in a presentation can actually improve your credibility.

If someone asks a question that stumps you, it’s okay to admit it. I personally say … “Do you know what …? In X years no one has ever asked me that before! I’ll get back to you” This can also increase your credibility with the audience, as it demonstrates that, no matter how knowledgeable a person might be, we’re all learning, all the time.

Nobody expects you to be an omniscient oracle of forbidden knowledge – they just want to learn from you.

17. Use a Power Stance.

Practising confident body language is another way to boost your pre-presentation jitters.

When your body is physically demonstrating confidence, your mind will follow suit. While you don’t want to be jutting out your chest in an alpha gorilla pose all afternoon studies have shown that using power stances a few minutes before giving a talk (or heading to a big interview) creates a lasting sense of confidence and assurance.

Whatever you do, don’t sit there – sitting is passive.

Standing or walking a bit will help you harness those stomach bats (isn’t that more appropriate than butterflies?). Before you go on stage, strike your best Power Ranger stance and hold your head high!

17. Drink Water.

Dry mouth is a common result of anxiety. Prevent cottonmouth blues by staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water before your talk (just don’t forget to hit the bathroom before starting). Keep a bottle of water at arm’s reach while presenting in case you get dry mouth while chatting up a storm.

18. Don’t Fight the Fear.

Accept your fear rather than trying to fight it. You are human and you have emotions. Getting yourself worked up by wondering if people will notice your nervousness will only intensify your anxiety. Remember, those jitters aren’t all bad – harness that nervous energy and transform it into positive enthusiasm and you’ll go down a treat.