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Presentation skills

Communication is one of the most highly valued skills employers look for. Presenting material to an audience is a key skill that you'll use throughout your career. Here are some tips.

What you say

Have a clear message or focus

  • What is the main message you want the audience to walk away with? Try and do this in one sentence. This will help you keep your content on track as you put together your presentation: people will only be able to remember a fraction of what you say, so you want your message to be clear and focused.
  • Develop your topic in a clear and organized way. With the purpose and message in mind, create a structure or roadmap.
  • Make sure your content is tailored to your audience and consider how you can engage and interact with your audience.

Be compelling

  • What the hook? Capture your audience's attention immediately with a quote, statistic, anecdote, controversial question or quotation that relates to the topic and message.

Introduce the topic  and give an overview or agenda

  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them. They will understand and enjoy the presentation more when they know what is to come. A rambling speech with no clear organization puts your audience to sleep.

Develop your points with examples

  • By giving real examples, your content will be easier for your audience to understand.

Use carefully chosen visual aids

  • Visuals help tell the story, but make sure they're simple and creative.

  • People remember 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what the both see AND hear.

Be reliable

Do your research. If you share facts or details, ensure that your sources are accurate. Nothing weakens your credibility more than misstating information for your audience.

Use text sparingly on slides

  • Slides are not your speaking notes
  • Don't make people multi-task - it's difficult to both read and listen at the same time.
  • Font size should be large enough to be read at back of room
  • Consider colours that will look good on the screen and have high contrast
  • Visuals should be relevant to the content – they help tie the words together 

Close the loop

  • Much like a written paper, your conclusion should connect back to your introduction
  • Highlight your key points and consider your message or ‘take away’ that you want your audience to leave with
  • If your presentation has moved slowly, condense but don't eliminate the conclusion. Your presentation may appear to lack direction if you don't offer closure for your audience.
  • Be prepared for probably questions. A friend or colleague may help you anticipate these when you practice.

How you say it

  • Study and critique other speakers - you will learn a lot by observing your own reaction to speakers
  • Dress neatly
  • Smile a little
  • Watch for mannerisms – ie. don’t fiddle with a pen, and try and watch filler words like ‘um’ etc. 
  • Pause before and after important ideas
  • Be aware of your audience and select language that they will all understand
  • Make eye contact with people in the room
  • Pay attention to your body language
  • If something unexpected happens, go with it - only you know how it was supposed to go

Practice

Everyone experiences some nervousness when presenting, but practicing give you confidence. 

  • Practice your presentation out loud over and over again
  • You should only need a few notes on cue cards to keep you on track
  • Don't write out notes and read word for word
  • Try to record and watch your practice session
  • Time yourself
  • Speak clearly and loud enough to be heard in the room

Still nervous?

Remember that everyone experiences nervousness when presenting. Audiences want presenters to succeed.

Practice some relaxing breathing or some power poses. Amy Cuddy explains in this TED talk:

Resources

These are great places to practice or improve your speaking skills.

Skills to do a job