SIX TIPS TO BE PITCH PERFECT IN YOUR NEXT PRESENTATION
Whether it’s before an intimate gathering of 10 or a packed auditorium of thousands, public speaking can be one of the most terrifying experiences.
In fact, along with snakes, heights and death — it’s often what people fear most.
Yes, even some of the most well known orators in history — think CEOs, political and religious leaders, celebrities and motivational speakers — have admitted to going weak at the knees before they take to the podium.
Of course it’s completely normal to feel this way. After all, it’s a vulnerable position to be in — completely exposed with all eyes and ears on you. There’s a lot of pressure —it could be a career-defining moment.
But the thing is, if you’re in a position of influence, speaking in front of an audience is simply a prerequisite of the job. And not only that, it’s often the most potent way to:
- Boost your communication and leadership skills — and your confidence.
- Demonstrate your knowledge.
- Generate sales.
- Grow your tribe.
- Get your message across.
- Influence people’s mindset for the better and make a difference in your business, career, community — and life
The good news is, you don’t have to be born with whiz-bang public speaking skills to be able to nail a presentation. It’s more of an art or a tool that can be sharpened over time with practice, confidence and some well-honed techniques.
One of the best ways to improve the way you deliver a presentation is to study the oral skills and speeches of other talented and influential speakers, so start with this impressive list of the 10 most popular Ted Talks.
Consider their tone of voice, body language and the way they move around the stage. Make note of how they communicate their key ideas and message in a memorable way.
Watch how they interact with their audience and utilise personal anecdotes, humor and vulnerability.
Can you see how they ooze confidence — even if deep down they might be nauseatingly nervous?
How can you infuse these elements into your own presentation in a way that is authentic and reflective of you?
While you’re at it, consider our own top six tips to maximise your time on stage and deliver an influential and memorable presentation. We’ve even provided a checklist at the end for you to download and refer to next time you’re preparing to present to a live audience.
Know your audience, know your message
Without getting clear on these two, you might as well not show up.
Making some time to map out these elements will help you stay focused throughout both your preparation and delivery.
Before you start preparing your presentation, do some research and learn as much about your audience as possible.
Who are they?
Why are they there?
What do they already know? What do they need to know?
How can you help them achieve their goals?
What do you have in common with them?
How do you want them to feel in your presence?
Next, get clear on your message, or your ‘why’.
What’s the purpose or goal of your presentation?
What do you need to say?
The key here is to treat it like a written piece of communication, in that you should keep it simple and organised in a logical sequence:
Tick. Tick. Tick.
What are they key ideas or messages you need to get across? Be sure to keep it cohesive by keeping your ideas together.
Remember you are there to provide these people with valuable information and that if they leave with at least one new nugget of information or a new perspective, you’ve made it worth their while.
Be authentic. Be you
You gotta believe in your message — because if you don’t, your audience sure won’t.
It’s crucial that your outer expression is in alignment with the reality of what’s going on inside your head and heart. In other words, accurately show your audience what you think, feel and believe to be true, deep down. If you confuse these two messages, it will become evident to your audience that there’s a flaw in your authenticity.
In addition, if you’re being yourself, speaking your truth and believing in your words you’ll feel comfortable, which in turn will help your confidence soar and dissolve any stage fright.
Understand your content and the impact the information will have on the room.
Trust that your message is the one that needs to be heard.
Death by PowerPoint? No thanks
Any visual aids used in your presentation need to complement your spoken words — not detract or distract.
The role of visuals is to help your audience understand, even more, what is being said and to reinforce the points you’re making in a unique and memorable way.
A slide show is a popular tool for many presenters, but how you use them has the power to either make or break your presentation.
If you choose to use PowerPoint or some other form of visual slides, consider the following:
- Keep it simple, visually appealing (but not too dazzling) and use plenty of white space.
- Don’t cram your entire script into the slides. Draw out the key points or key words for emphasis. Bullet points, very short sentences, quotes and images are OK, but simplicity is paramount.
- Make sure the slide that’s visible to the crowd is relevant to where you’re at in your speech.
Consider other ways you can visually supercharge your presentation. Can you use props? Can you do a demonstration? A video? Use imagery?
Jamie Oliver’s Teach Every Child About Food Ted Talk is a brilliant example of using visual aids to enhance a presentation.
He uses simple graphics, graphs and statistics in a background slide show as well as a range of thought-provoking and emotionally-charged videos and interview packages, props and — most memorable of all — a sugar-filled wheelbarrow that demonstrates an important point with shock and impact.
Note: Jamie Oliver’s passionate Ted Talk and the techniques he uses to get his message across is actually a perfect example of all six of our points: the way he lives, breathes and believes in his message. They way he uses his note cards, but doesn’t rely on them. The way he works the stage. The way he interacts with his audience. His visual aids. His expressions. His emotion. His authenticity.
Watch and learn.
Connect with your audience
It’s crucial to break down any barriers and establish a rapport between you and your audience as soon as possible. The more they feel connected to you, the more they’ll listen — and the more you’ll feel like you’re getting through to them.
There are a number of ways to do this and it all depends on things like the atmosphere and environment, the topic and your personality. But ultimately, tell them something they resonate with.
Captivate them. Be approachable.
Simply acknowledge and thank them for their presence.
Share a personal anecdote — stories and experiences are far more relatable and memorable than statistics, facts and figures.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
Involve your audience in the discussion by asking questions and encourage them to share with you.
Use humor if it’s something that comes natural to you and is appropriate for that setting.
Whatever the case, start strong with a captivating opening that snatches and then holds their attention and brings you all onto the same level.
Oprah is the ultimate example of establishing an authentic and emotional connection with her audience, however small or large, whether in person or on the screen. Of course there are hundreds of examples of Oprah’s speeches, presentations and interviews online, but the one thing they often have in common is that she shares a personal story and gives emotive meaning to her content. She’s an expert when it comes to rapport building.
Her 2008 Stanford Commencement Address is a gorgeous example of how she draws on personal experiences (in this case, her career) to share powerful and stirring lessons on feelings, failures and happiness.
Practice makes perfect
You know it: practice is power.
Memorise the framework. Memories the key points. Know what comes next.
Heck, if you have to memorise it word for word, do it. Just be careful not to be so robotic in the delivery of your memorised speech that it comes across as unnatural and clinical.
By rehearsing your presentation, you eliminate or at least reduce the risk of fragmented lines, umms, ahhs and stutters that scream, “ Save me! I’m so darn unprepared and nervous!”
It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.
Do what works for you when it comes to having notes or palm cards. It’s a good idea to have them there if, heaven forbid, your mind goes blank, you get distracted or off on a tangent, the conversation gets derailed or you lose your train of thought. You can simply return to these for reference and get back on track.
But it’s important to familiarise yourself with your speech well enough to only have to use headings or key points in bullet point form on the card. Writing it out in full tempts you read it verbatim and keeps your eyes on the page, not your audience.
Here are some other benefits of rehearsing, rehearsing and rehearsing some more:
- It gives you confidence and reduces the risk of stage fright.
- It allows you to stick to the allotted time frame.
- It helps you deliver your talk in a more relaxed, free-flowing, conversational tone.
A common side effect of nerves is to talk really fast, so practice speaking slowly and articulately. You want your audience to absorb and understand everything you say, after all.
Practice taking a few deep breaths and pausing for effect and to give your audience (and yourself) a break.
Pause before you move on to the next idea — it gives the crowd a chance to consider and then retain one message before you hit them with the next.
Practice your tone of voice and expression — you don’t want to stand up there and deliver a discourse in verbal vomit that either overwhelms or bores your listeners. You want to be engaging and articulate.
The stage, that is.
The first rule is to move. Make use of the space, if you have it. (It’s worth ringing ahead or visiting the venue to get an idea of what you have to work with.)
Don’t get stuck slouching behind the podium. By working your way from one side of the stage to the other, and even through the audience, if possible, you’ll reach all your audience and things won’t feel so…stagnant.
And it’s not just about moving your legs. Use hand gestures. Facial expressions. A different tone of voice.
Make eye contact. Don’t stare at the ceiling, the floor or your notes. Look at the people in front of you and really connect with them. Bring energy to the room, or your listeners will start to snore.
Professional keynote speaker, Michael Port, is a great example of a presenter who really uses the stage — and his audience — to his advantage. He encourages his audience to repeat key messages back to him.
He really puts on a show.
Gen Y Entrepreneur Jack Delosa is another shining example of an energetic and dynamic presenter who educates and inspires his audience by encouraging interaction. Watch how he works his way from the stage, onto the floor and through the crowd and forces his tribe to be active, not passive, participants in an important discussion.
Download our checklist below and cross it off next time you’re about to prepare a presentation. It may just be the catalyst for delivering a speech that’s pitch perfect, impactful and life-changing for both you and your audience.