Business

Presentation skills

We all have to give presentations at some point in our lives. Whether they are in school, college or at work. It is absolutely necessary to get the technique right. Recently, I had to give a presentation in one of my business modules called Global Business. Now the scenario for me was that I was representing an American firm pitching to Chinese investors for a project in Brazil.

The content for the presentation was all sorted out ahead in time and I was practising in a group. My style is to have minimal text content on the slide and deliver most of the content by talking. Usually, I give technical presentations talking about engineering designs and systems but a business presentation of this form was a first for me. To be honest, I felt some sort of pressure to step up my game and I felt nervous. This nervous energy translated in to a fast delivery. What I noticed that, even though I thought I was stressing certain points, they weren’t being conveyed that this speed. The feedback from my group helped me polish up my presentation.

Everyone has their own style and they should stick to it. There are several key points to keep in mind.

The audience

This is the first piece of advice anyone gives. I’m not going to spend too long on this one because it’s simple. Think about who you are presenting to, their level of knowledge and what they are here for.

Speaking

How you deliver the speech is more important that what you say. That’s right. You already have the points you want to make on the slide, now you are talking to the audience to draw attention to those points and convey a certain message. We do this by stressing on the key words, using hand gestures and pausing while talking. All this allows the listener to pay attention to you, and understand your message. Some people will speak very quickly and this is their natural speed, which is acceptable for conversations but not presentations.

A classic example can be seen in the UK version of The Apprentice show, where one candidate, Laura, is presenting across the table to a potential customer. She starts speaking so fast that even her colleague has trouble following and the client has to stop her and ask her to repeat everything very slowly. The client is German and she should have paced her speech considering that English is not his first language.

The speed of talking is one of the most common aspects of presentations that go wrong. As I mentioned earlier, this was the mistake I made. The best way to correctly pace yourself is to forget the time limit when you practice. Practice with some and deliver your speech to them as if you were explaining something in conversation. Although the presentation may be formal, the language should be a bit conversational. This helps drive the message home by making it easier to understand.

Body language

Giving a presentation just standing still with no movement is boring. It doesn’t engage the audience. We tend to understand the important of messages and even pay attention by recognising body language. Hand gestures play a big part in keeping the audience engaged. Certain movements can signify importance of the point you are conveying while sometimes no movement conveys that the point being talked about is not as important and should be given the most attention.

Eye contact with the audience is another common aspect on which advice is given. It is told that four individuals should be picked from the audience and while presenting eye contact should be made with them in a random pattern. This works well but remember what the audience wants. Look at certain people while stressing points important to them and just scan the room when talking about points relevant to all. In my presentation my lecturer was the actual target of the presentation however, my peers were also in the audience. When it came to conveying the most important points in the presentation, eye contact was made with my lecturer; at other times the room was scanned.

Walking around. The most common point is not to walk around the stage or the presentation floor. Some say that if there is a podium present, stand behind or near it. I don’t like to pick any one of these. The amount of movement is dependant on who is presenting. Is it you presenting on your own or in a group? If it’s a group, whoever is presenting should step forward and speak. No other movement is necessary (except for demonstrations). On your own, there should be a small amount of movement but not a rocking movement. Don’t start moving in a fixed pattern with a rhythm. A lot of movement starts getting distracting.

Once the presentation is made, practice makes perfect (almost). Practice with a small audience beforehand. Get feedback about every aspect of your presentation and improve upon it. Then practice again and improve again.

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