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Improve Your Presentation Skills

By Charles Hopkins Published 06/24/2006 | Self Improvement

When you speak to an audience, the form is at least as important as content. Which means that what you say is not the only important thing, but how you say it also matters a great deal.

You may have prepared your speech and your slideshow meticulously, leaving nothing out. It is a truly impressive piece of work, giving a fine exposition of what you need to say, and full of deep thoughts, important observations and essential information. It is truly a testimony to your tireless efforts and unrelenting sincerity. However, at the time of presentation you become nervous, stutter and stumble continuously, and fail to live up to the potential of your preparations. Your talk flops badly, and the audience remains thoroughly unimpressed. So what have you achieved? That's right, nothing.

Consider another speaker, who has done taken none of the pains that you have, and does not have a ready speech. He has done no research, gathered no facts, given the subject little or no thought. Yet on the podium he is marvelous, captivating his audience with funny anecdotes, entertaining jokes, occasional insights and an engaging, warm manner. He delivers nothing of importance, because he has nothing to deliver. Yet, the audience feels somehow satisfied. What has this speaker achieved? Right again nothing. Yet, the second speaker lives to fight another day while the first will probably never be asked to speak again to that audience.

What does the above teach you? Simply that while matter or content is of the utmost importance in successful public speaking, presentation or the art of delivery is at least as important, and perhaps more so. What reaches the audience first is your appearance, manner and personality, and not your thoughts or the content of your speech. That comes later. First they must decide that you are worth listening to, and only then will they actually listen to you. First impressions are often lasting impressions, so if you manage to upset them in the very beginning, the chances are that they will probably not listen to you at all.

What must you do to improve your presentation skills? First of all, there is the question of the personal touch. If the audience senses that you are remote and distant from them, they will immediately lose interest in anything you may have to say, regardless of the importance of your content. This is the cardinal rule that you must remember at all speaking forums. Do not stare at the back wall, but engage your audience by looking them one by one directly in the eye. At the beginning of each new paragraph, shift your gaze to another member of the audience, and deliver it looking at them directly. You shall soon find that they are unable to break your gaze, and are forced to listen to you.

Also, do not be nervous or shifty. Do not do anything that makes them think that you're suffering from an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, like continuously shifting your balance from one foot to another, or cracking your fingers or straightening your tie. Do nothing that distracts them from your speech and makes them concentrate on your appearance instead for if that happens, you have failed as a speaker. In order to suppress your nervousness (for it is that which makes you do these things), always remember that the audience is merely human, and no one is waiting to pounce upon your minor errors or negligible slip-ups. Everyone makes them. Convey to them the impression that you are exactly as human as they are, and they will be more than prepared to overlook your mistakes while appreciating your fine points. This is the key to improving your presentation skills.