How can I improve my presentation skills in a short space of time? This is a question on the minds of many executives that are giving presentation to their clients and peers every day.

When you think about giving a presentation, are you delighted at the prospect of sharing your knowledge or does an old familiar feeling of dread emerge at the prospect of speaking in public? If you have a real fear of public speaking, I suggest some individual coaching sessions. Developing your skills in this area should really be part of your on-going professional development plan, but here are some tips on getting more comfortable with your audience.

1. Make your presentation about your audience

When you are speaking in public and have an audience watching you, the only thing that matters is how your audience is experiencing your presentation. Are they having a quality experience in what they see and hear from you as a presenter? Everything you say should help the audience understand the purpose of the presentation, get something valuable from what you are saying and walk away with an action. How many times have you sat in a presentation bored to death by the long introductions about the merits and the great achievements of the speaker? Save this information til last and only present it if it’s relevant. Nowadays, people are overloaded with information and they can only take in what is relevant, so make it all about your audience.

2. Use PowerPoint as a Support tool

PowerPoint presentations are as ubiquitous a tool as the phone in business. People are used to cramming their PowerPoint with information, bullet points and very often using it as a reading tool throughout the presentation. This doesn’t always create the intended impact. To improve a PowerPoint presentation, it is important to understand what the purpose of it is. It is there as a visual support tool, not a reading tool.

When you design your PowerPoint, a rule of thumb to make the most impact is: Think three minutes per slide. The more visual pictures you have, the better. Use only key words and images to convey an idea. Take advantage of the SmartArt to demonstrate stats or flow charts or to link your ideas. It will ensure your audience retains more. The most important thing is to get rid of all those bullet points. Everything you have in the bullet points, turn it into a hand out and combine this with the visual graphics on your PowerPoint software. One important but often forgotten idea: Never turn your back to the audience and read from the slides on the wall. Read from your laptop and use one the best tool out there, a clicker to help you navigate the slides. There is nothing worse than seeing a presenter move back and forth to the keyboard to move to the next slide.

3. Deliver your presentation with style

When making a presentation, where you are working to convince your audience of your ideas, the most powerful way to make an impact is to develop a presentation style that works for you. You do not have to be a slick charismatic presenter. It helps, but it is not essential. The most important thing is that you connect with your audience by how you present. The key points to remember are: Stories work really well in a presentation. Build your presentations on a story if you can. Include questions to stimulate interaction with the audience. Develop a logical progression in your presentation that is easy to follow. Keep your presentations as short as you can. Work on your voice and ensure the audience can hear and understand you. Much can be lost through poor voice projection and diction.

4. Develop Your Presentation Skills

If you want to improve your presentation skills, there are a number of things you can do while waiting for the opportunity to show off your skills. Firstly, get at much practice as you can, especially if you are one of those people who have a fear of public speaking or dread the idea of speaking in front of your professional peers. Key to developing your presentation skills is to cultivate a professional presenter’s mind-set.

What you do in your mind will show up in your body. Start with giving the presentation a quality meaning and a quality inner script, such as, “this is a presentation to inform my audience, they are here for the information, I know this material and I have it well prepared so it will go well. I let go of what they think of me and I allow them to make up their own mind about the information I am presenting. They will get what they need. ” Train your mind to relax about the idea of being seen speaking in public. Learn from every experience and keep telling yourself that you are well able to do it. Developing your skills is a lot about training your mind until it behaves exactly the way an experienced driver does when they get into their car.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

If you still suffer from nerves when you are about to speak in public, then you will need to do a bit more practice. Presentations skills are just that - “skills” The only way it is going to get better it to practice, practice and more practice. When you have an idea of what you want to present, then develop your ideas. Put them into your PowerPoint presentation based on the tips listed above. Create the story and the points you are going to make. Plug your PowerPoint into a projector and practice is a few times as if you are in front of the audience.

Visualize a positive response from your audience and rehearse it until you feel very comfortable with the material. As the brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real or imagined, I suggest you continue practicing in your mind, seeing your speech or presentation going really well and being well received by your audience. On the day of the presentation, try to speak with your audience in an informal way before you have to speak. That way you won’t get a shock at the sound of hearing your voice in the room for the first time.

If you take every opportunity to speak, you can only get better and build the confidence to speak in public, without giving it a second thought. Give yourself permission to enjoy it. You may even get to a point where you really enjoy giving them. There’s a thought!

Author's Bio: 

Shiera O'Brien is an executive coach, who works with individuals and teams to improve their presentation skills by changing their mind-set and improving their delivery skills.

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