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Tips From A Presentation Expert: Don’t Sweat The Opener (And Other Secrets Of Great Talks)

Sometimes you’re sharing updates on a great quarter (yay!)

Sometimes you’re announcing budget cuts (yikes.)

No matter the topic… giving presentations in the workplace can be a stressful experience. And it’s an area where we should all at least strive to be proficient, because emerging and experienced leaders are often called to deliver news to an audience. The ability to communicate well is a key leadership competency, one that’s important in both good and challenging times. The good news is that communicating ideas and information in a clear and compelling manner is just like any other competency… it can be improved with attention and practice.

I’ve taught public speaking to students and professionals for over a decade, and I can tell you that there’s no one who doesn’t get better if they commit and give it their best. Here are my 6 approaches to help you craft and deliver strong presentations in your workplace.

Understand the Purpose of the Talk

When developing your presentation, take time to understand who the audience is, what they know and what type of language you should use to connect with them. It’s also vital to focus on the true purpose of your talk: communicating the information your audience needs from you.

Always remember, the presentation is not about you. It’s about what your audience needs to learn in that moment.

Once you understand your audience and their needs, take a moment to consider the most important information you want the audience to gain through your presentation, then center your writing efforts around that concept.

Don’t Get Stuck on a Catchy Opener

One of the most common mistakes I see presenters make is getting bogged down on writing an opening statement. Attention-getters can be really difficult to craft, so skip down to some sort of guiding statement or thesis statement.

Once you have a clear understanding of your guiding statement and your audience, the next step is to turn to the structure of your talk. I suggest starting with an introduction, a body with three main points, and a conclusion.

Don’t worry about a rigid structure taking your creative freedom – think of it as giving structure to your audience, so they can follow along and understand what you’re trying to say.

Once you have a basic foundation and structure for your talk, you can turn to crafting a catchy opener that will grab your audience’s attention.

Create Your Visuals Last

Don’t reflexively start the process by clicking on the PowerPoint icon! Getting bogged down in slides can take away from the preparation you need to focus on. Pretty slides won’t save a bad talk. Instead, craft the structure, focus on a logical flow, and think about your connection to the audience. Save visuals for when you are ready to practice the full presentation.

Don’t Overuse PowerPoint

When you do begin work on visuals… don’t rely on them as a crutch. When I teach college students how to give presentations, I make them limit their visuals to three high-resolution images that cover the entire screen and don’t include any text. Workplace presentations may require more slides, but presenters should still be careful to use them to support, not tell your story for you. YOU are the teller of the story.

Remember that audience members are either going to listen to what you’re saying as a speaker or they’re going to read the slides — they likely won’t do both. Yes, you will have to practice more if you’re not having the PowerPoint do the heavy lifting for you. But this is making you a more effective communicator! People will have more trust in you, your information, or your product if you’re able to sell it yourself with only a few images behind you.

Work On Your Non-verbals

It’s important to focus as much on your non-verbals as on the actual text of your talk. Pacing back and forth, swaying, leaning over the podium and other nervous or distracting behaviors can take away from the message you’re trying to deliver. If you have the opportunity, video yourself practicing your talk ahead of time, and watch the playback with an eye on any nonverbal or unconscious communication that can be improved or eliminated. Seeing it for yourself is the most powerful teacher.

Internalize, Don’t Memorize

Once you’re finished crafting the presentation, read through the text several times, and then read the entire speech aloud multiple times. If it’s a high-stakes presentation, have another person act as your audience or record yourself giving the talk so you can review and improve your delivery.

This helps you begin to internalize, not memorize. The risk of memorization is that if something throws you off, it can throw you off completely. Internalizing the material and knowing its flow and purpose will allow you to be flexible in using language to describe the same concepts.

No matter what comes up during the actual presentation, the essence of what you’re trying to say will still be there. This is why PRACTICE is your best friend if you are striving to improve your presentation skills.

Melissa is a consultant and trainer with extensive experience in communication theory and practice, public speaking, emotional intelligence and talent development.

Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to grow leaders, build teams and drive results through great people strategy. Contact us to get proactive about expanding your company’s potential, and stay up-to-date with our latest news and leadership development updates here.

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