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Presentation Skills

The set of skills needed to make effective presentations is comprised of comfort in speaking in public, experience in visual aids, and purposeful verbal practice. Polished presentation skills can make or break your career path so you should take the time to practice the various skills as set out below.

The fear and anxiety of speaking before a group of people (whether you know them or not) represents the most difficult component of presentation skills. Relaxation techniques will help relieve some of the tension before you start. The most important aspect of public speaking involves your voice. The voice conveys 75-100% of the information you are presenting. When a speaker uses a monotonous delivery, he will lose the audience early on. Use a voice that rises and falls with the rhythm of the message. Project your voice to the back of the room. As a model, watch news anchors on the national news and concentrate on the pitch and rhythm of their voices rather than listening to what they are saying. You will see that they speak slower than if they were in a normal conversation and that the voice rises and falls within each sentence as well as within each separate news piece. You may be able to imagine yourself delivering your talk as if you are giving people important news. In effect, this is just what you are doing; the information you deliver is probably more immediately important to your audience than the nightly news.

Your physical posture and movements also make up part of the presentation skills needed to get your message across. Again, you will notice that news anchors remain relatively motionless and keep their hands quite still. Avoid any type of sudden movements, face the audience squarely, find a comfortable place to keep your hands (preferably out of your pockets), and keep your eyes moving around the room, if possible, in order to make eye contact with sections of the audience. Try to keep your attention focused on your group rather than any visual materials you may be using. You already know what they contain and you merely have to point out the salient parts for the audience.

The visual part of presentation skills usually consists of charts, graphs, projected images such as transparencies, and handouts. You generate these visual aids with an eye for simplicity. The audience should be able to digest these easily and pull out the important information without much effort. Use brighter colors and present your most important points in the visual aids. This will reiterate the same points that you make verbally. Determine if the handout materials would distract the audience’s attention away from you and hand them out so as to minimize the audience’s tendency to read the material rather than listen to you. Visual aids should be just that; help, rather than the main focus.

Structuring the content of your verbal message goes hand in hand with the presentation skills described above. You cannot separate any of the three main parts of presentation skills. All parts should be considered together to work in concert to achieve the best possible impact. Ideally, you should open with some type of grabber that gets the audience’s attention; a joke, an anecdote that sets the stage for your message, or a statement concerning the importance of what you will talk about. You should structure your presentation with the simplest information first, working towards more complex information as you go. Keep your main points under seven in quantity, as too much information will overwhelm the group. You should tell them straight away about your objective and how it will benefit them. Allow time for questioning at the end of the session and remember that most questions concern furthering people’s knowledge rather than challenging your expertise, so you respond thoughtfully to questions.

Above all, part of effective presentation skills set is to practice your delivery, practice your visual aids, and practice your message.


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