PR consultant Julia Kendrick outlines her techniques to get your audience sitting up and paying attention when presenting
For many, public speaking and delivering presentations create a feeling of dread akin to the dentists’ chair. However, as with any skill, practice, good techniques and preparation will take you a long way. As live events are slowly resuming post-pandemic, there are many new opportunities to engage as a speaker, presenting to teams, patients, press and the broader industry ― all of which can have strong benefits for growing your profile, enhancing strategic connections, and driving business success.
The standard format for most presentations is with PowerPoint decks, but for the sake of brevity we will be focusing mainly on the preparation and style of delivery, rather than slide structure and formatting. Whether you’re new to speaking and presenting, or are in need of a refresher, this article will outline some of the golden rules and key skills to help you deliver a compelling experience for your audience.
Presenting and speaking is all about connecting authentically with your audience and taking them on a journey with you. This applies whether you are presenting to patients, the public, or colleagues and those in the same industry ― their priorities, interests and beliefs may not be aligned with yours. At the heart of any presentation is the goal of taking the audience from their baseline position, impression, belief or understanding (whatever that may be) ― to a new point, where you want them to be. The way you structure and deliver your presentation is what helps create that shift.
Remember ― you are creating slides to support a spoken presentation. They should aid your delivery and flow, but not distract from what you are saying. Keeping the deck simple, clean and paced quickly will help hold your audiences’ attention on what you are saying, rather than attempting to read an essay on screen. Consider how you’d feel if a technical glitch meant no slides? This has happened to me on more than one occasion and far from being a disaster, it forces you to really focus on your key messages, rationale and style of delivery, rather than using slides as a crutch.
Before you begin, consider your audience and use these critical questions to help structure and scale what you’re going to say.
1) Who are you presenting to? a. Audience size, demographics (age, background, etc.) and baseline knowledge level?
2) What are the three key points you want your audience to take away from your presentation? a. What end point are you trying to get them to, and ensure you tailor the content to the audience’s needs to get them there
b. The magic rule of three: audiences remember fewer messages repeated several times, so keep your three points short, relevant and REPEATED
c. If you’re not sure, remember that key messages should tell the audience something they don’t already know and that will help shift them from the current to desired belief/understanding
3) How long do you have to speak? a. VERY important ― allow for approximately one minute per slide to guide presentation length, and cut down or expand your slides to be appropriate for your timeslot (don’t forget to allow Q&A time at the end)
A great tip I once learnt from my presentation trainer years ago was about topping and tailing your talk, to manage audience expectations and keep their attention throughout. They said, “You start by telling them what you’re going to say, then you tell them, then you tell them what you’ve told them.” Sounds simple and a bit silly, but I’ve found it really helps to hold audience attention. In fact, regular ‘signposting’ throughout your presentation (both verbally and using spacer slides) not only helps you keep on track, but it makes the audience more attentive throughout and less likely to ‘drop off’ towards the end. Like a meeting agenda, everyone knows up front the key points for discussion and as you go through each one, you’re reminded of what’s been covered and what’s still to come.
By practising and preparing in advance, you can minimise the number of things that might worry you about public speaking ― taking away the unknowns and the fear factor so you can focus on that powerful delivery.
Of course, you will likely have prepared your slides but ensure that you verbally rehearse these. Saying things out loud and getting used to the flow can often flag up issues that don’t show up on paper, like running out of breath, finding you’ve repeated yourself or gotten stuck/disconnected.
Use a remote clicker and stand up ― present to your mirror, a friend, or a colleague and keep doing it until the flow feels natural and you are not relying so much on those slides to guide what you say, and what comes next. You should have the structure and key points memorised and at the tip of your fingers.
If you’re speaking at a workshop, event or congress ― make the stage your comfort zone! Assess it well ahead of time, perhaps see if you can secure some rehearsal time, get a feel for the space and make friends with the AV support. You may or may not have your own laptop or clicker to use, instead these may be provided to you, so some familiarisation up front helps reduce the performance anxiety. Also consider ― will you be using a lectern or free-standing? If you’re nervous, there is a temptation to use lecterns to ‘hide’ and form a physical barrier between you and the audience. Where possible, I would work on your presenting postures without a lectern as it’s more open and engaging for the audience. If you must use the lectern, ensure you are not always glancing down at the laptop or worse ― behind you ― to read off the screen! It’s disengaging for the audience and often means you can’t be heard clearly.
‘Planting’ is a presenting technique in which you place yourself on the stage in a strong, stable posture, feet slightly apart, shoulders back, hands held gently in an open gesture just under your ribcage. Rather than wandering around the stage, swaying, rocking or fidgeting ― planting helps to keep your audience’s attention focused on what you’re saying ― rather than being distracted by nervous twitching. You can also move slowly and purposefully across the stage at key points to ‘plant’ yourself in a new spot to help emphasise a point and keep things fresh.
During your presentation, try to relax! Be confident in yourself and your expertise – this is why you’ve been invited to speak in the first place. Breathe deeply and take your time to go through your presentation, a brisk pace is great, but flying headlong through slides will not help you get the audience where you need them to be.
Be aware of your body posture, hand movements and facial expressions ― you need to portray confidence and authority so stand comfortably, either ‘planting’ or with the lectern and keep movement to a minimum – no jiggling hands or feet! Hand gestures are great to help make a point ― but don’t overdo it. If you tend to ‘talk with your hands’ try holding onto the lectern (not gripping for dear life) or holding them gently in front of your ribcage.
If you’re not yet at the point of running workshops, hosting press events or presenting at congresses, an easy way to increase your experience and comfort with public speaking is to run an Instagram Live or IGTV video on your channel on a topic that would interest your audience. Whilst not directly facing an audience or presenting slides, you still are recording ‘live’ and need to work on your preparation, delivery technique, and confidence. You can also build up your experience at ‘in person’ smaller events – perhaps running an open evening at your clinic for patients and prospects in your local area or speaking at a regional aesthetic event held by an association, or even at local community events about wellness/relevant topics. These skills can apply to internal team training sessions, clinic open days (where you could present on who you are/what you do), all the way up to business presentations and congresses.
2. Always face the audience
Don’t turn around to look at your slides – we can’t hear you
3. Don’t use a laser pointer
In my experience, these are distracting and not very effective. It also encourages you to turn around. Verbally redirect the audience or use arrows on the slide
4. Take your time!
Be aware of timings so you neither rush through, nor overrun. Maybe have a buddy in the room to give you a five minute and one minute warning so you can wrap up without rushing
5. Never talk on top of your slides
If you need the audience to look at something ― let them look/read ― then provide comments to broaden and amplify what’s on screen
Public speaking and presentation skills are a huge asset to those seeking to build their profile and enhance their business. No matter the scale of the event or size of the audience; effective speaking techniques are highly valuable and can pave the way for bigger and better opportunities. By following the key guidance and best practice techniques in this article, you should be able to structure and deliver a compelling presentation, with or without slides, and set your business up for success. Good luck!
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