How to Improve Your Presentation Skills

Posted by Belinda Huckle  |  On February 24, 2021  |  In Presentation Training, Tips & Advice

When it comes to improving your business presentation skills, practise is not the only thing that makes perfect (and you could be practising the wrong things)! 

There’s a lot more to it than just becoming a more confident speaker and whizzing up a few jazzy slides. And with presenting online much more common nowadays, there’s even more things to think about, for example we have to be more concise and convincing than ever online (because we can’t pick-up on many body language cues that tell us we’ve lost the audience)!

So, we’ve put together our top tips that you can start using today on how to improve presentation skills and keep your audience engaged, whether you’re presenting face-to-face or online.

Group of business people learning how to improve presentation skills

16 ways to improve your presentation skills

Here’s how to improve your presentation skills in 16 different ways, so that you become the confident presenter you want to be: 

1. Know your audience. Your presentation is for them, not you

Before you begin to plan your presentation consider who the message is for. Learn as much about your listeners as you can – why they are there; why do they care about the subject; what their motivators are; what success looks like for them; what keeps them awake at night. 

The more you know about your audience the more you can tailor your message for them. And that will mean that your presentation is going to be more relevant and therefore, more engaging. Understanding your audience really can take a presentation from good to great.  

2. Start with the end in mind

The secret to selling great work is to sell the idea of the work before you sell the work.” Peter Coughter

This is a really, really top tip on how to improve your presentation skills! Don’t get carried away with worrying about the detail of your presentation.  Decide first, very clearly, what you want your audience to think, feel or do as a result of your presentation. Keep this front of mind as you craft the narrative.

Then, make sure your presentation tells a story. To help with this, use chapters to chunk up the presentation and only focus on one key message per chapter. A great technique is to include power words to emphasise key points and to make your story/argument more compelling.

As we say at SecondNature, there is no such thing as dry, boring content. Just dry, boring presenters!

3. Have a purpose with WIIFT

Be clear right up front, What’s In It For Them (WIIFT), i.e. your audience. This will get them ‘leaning in’ from the get-go. 

Don’t overwhelm them with too many facts and figures, save these for the appendix, and make sure you allow time for questions and discussion to keep them involved and moving forward with you.

4. Include an attention grab

An attention grab can improve presentation skills

A startling statistic, a graphic graph, an arresting image or a powerful video are all great ways to reel the audience in right from the start of your presentation. Oh, and stories and anecdotes are terrific options also. Just make sure your attention grab is relevant to your message in some way. No one wants to know about your stressful journey to work unless the topic of the presentation is about improving public transport infrastructure!

5. Slideware – less is more!

Using visual aids is a great way to reinforce your message. But remember, people are there to listen to you, not read from your slides or, even more infuriatingly, watch you read from your slides. So, one of our top tips on how to improve your presentation skills is to keep your slides simple, graphic, punchy. You’ll be a better presenter for it. We promise!

6. Make your audience part of the presentation 

The more you can include your audience, using Passive, Participative or Pointed Audience Involvement, the more engaged they’re going to be. It also takes the pressure off you as the presenter, reduces nerves and makes the whole event more natural and conversational. Oh, and don’t forget to acknowledge or thank the contributor when they make a good point or ask an interesting question.

And now for some ‘on the day’ tips on how to improve your presentation skills…

7. Arrive (or be ready) early

It’s always best to allow yourself plenty of time to settle in before your presentation, especially if it’s at a venue you don’t know. Extra time ensures you won’t be late and gives you more opportunity to get adapted to your presentation space. If you’re presenting online then being ready early is even more important. You’ll need time to check your lighting, background, screen frame and test all the technology.

8. Know your environment

The more adjusted to your environment you are, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Make sure to spend some time in the room where you will be delivering your presentation. Where you can, adjust the lighting, practise running the slides, walk around the room so you can orientate yourself and feel the mood and flow of the place. Also use this time to be aware of any potential distractions for you and your audience e.g., a noisy group of people next door or traffic outside.

9. Meet and greet

Shaking hands to meet and greet your audience is a technqiue that can improve your presentation skills

Chat to as many people from your audience as you can when they arrive. You’ll come across as composed, relaxed and friendly if you do. And the more friends you have in the audience the better the presentation will go.

And finally some top tips on how to improve your presentation skills when ‘you’re on’…

10. Connect with your audience

Eye contact is one of the most powerful ways we can demonstrate to someone that we are listening, engaged and focussed on them. Not just when we are talking to them, but also when we are listening; it validates what they are saying. Research has shown that eye contact can improve a listener’s understanding, help to reinforce a message and even increase information retention. Think about if you have ever bought something from someone who didn’t look you in the eye. 

But don’t maintain eye contact with one person for too long, it can come across as too intense and frankly, a bit creepy. Share the love!

11. Smile

This is a very, very easy, but very, very powerful tip on how to improve your presentation skills, but one so many people don’t do – it’s SO EASY. Just do it!

There’s plenty of scientific evidence proving the many positive effects smiling has on our emotions. Smiling releases endorphins, natural painkillers, and serotonin. Together these three neurotransmitters make us feel good from head to toe. Smiling also relieves stress, lowers our blood pressure and boosts the immune system. It also makes us appear more successful and guess what, it’s contagious. Smiling will create the impression that you actually want to be there, which in turn will help to make the audience want to be there too.

12. Move with purpose

Plan to incorporate some movement when you’re presenting, even if you’re presenting sitting down. Movement with purpose is one of the most effective, non-verbal cues we use when presenting. Too much and it’s distracting, too little and we can look rooted to the spot and terrified. 

Think about where you want to be when you start the presentation. Use movement as punctuation to separate chapters. And think about your proximity to the audience; the closer you are to them the more engaged you will come across. It’s always a good idea to record yourself presenting and watch it back as sometimes we do things that we don’t even realise we’re doing!

13. Invite questions …

Questions are a good thing. It shows the audience is engaged and interested and they want more clarification. But if not handled well questions also have the potential to throw your presentation off course or set a bad tone in the room. Some presenters can even inadvertently come across as rude, curt or dismissive when answering questions, simply because they feel attacked or they’re rushing to get back to their presentation before they lose their train of thought. 

Remember to pause, take a breath and think about your answer. And don’t forget to communicate to the audience that the question was valid and constructive.

14. Keep it conversational

The best presenters sound like they are having a one on one conversation with their listeners. You just have to hear a few top rated ‘Ted Talkers’ to understand how effective this is. So, don’t read from notes, the slide or a script. Follow your structure and keep your tone natural with plenty of pauses and vocal light & shade. Don’t forget to include humour and anecdotes along the way to break things up. It will relax you and your audience too.

15. Nervousness is normal. Practise and prepare!

Learning how to overcome your nerves will improve your presentation skills

It’s normal to feel nervous before a presentation.  Your heart beats a little bit faster, your mouth feels dry and your hands might sweat. But this doesn’t mean you are not up to the task or that it will impact on your performance. Some nerves are good. The adrenalin rush that triggers these symptoms is also your friend. 

It makes you more alert and able to give your best performance. Just ask any elite sports person or musician! The best way to overcome anxiety is to prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. Take the time to go over your notes several times. Once you have become comfortable with the material, practise delivering it – a lot. And record yourself, or get a friend to critique your performance.

16. And finally LET YOUR PERSONALITY COME THROUGH

We’ve left one of the best ‘til last. Here’s a top, natural, tip on how to improve your presentation skills. 

It’s important for the audience to get a sense of who you are. So just be yourself and let your personality shine through. At SecondNature we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead we always work on a one-to-one basis at this stage of our presentation training process in order to bring out the individual presenting style of everyone we work with. This also means people retain their authenticity, which is crucial if you want people to respect and trust you as a presenter. 

Ultimately we believe it’s people’s unique personality that helps them stand out as a presenter. So be true to yourself and be the presenter you want to be.  

Improve your presentation skills with tailored training to fill your presentation skill gaps

If you’re looking to build the presentation skills of your team (or yourself) through personalised training or coaching that is tailored to your business, we can help.

For nearly 20 years we have been the Business Presentation Skills Experts, training & coaching thousands of people in an A-Z of global blue-chip organisations – check out what they say about our programmes.

To find out more, click on one of the buttons below:

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Belinda Huckle

Written By Belinda Huckle

Co-Founder & Managing Director

Read Bio

Belinda is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of SecondNature International. With a determination to drive a paradigm shift in the delivery of presentation skills training both In-Person and Online, she is a strong advocate of a more personal and sustainable presentation skills training methodology.

Belinda believes that people don’t have to change who they are to be the presenter they want to be. So she developed a coaching approach that harnesses people’s unique personality to build their own authentic presentation style and personal brand.

She has helped to transform the presentation skills of people around the world in an A-Z of organisations including Amazon, BBC, Brother, BT, CocaCola, DHL, EE, ESRI, IpsosMORI, Heineken, MARS Inc., Moody’s, Moonpig, Nationwide, Pfizer, Publicis Groupe, Roche, Savills, Triumph and Walmart – to name just a few.

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