Presentation Skills: An Overlooked Piece to Professional Development
By: Courtney Beam
Presentation skills… if you’re anything like me, the very thought of delivering a presentation sends my fear sensors into overdrive. How necessary is it for every professional to focus on presentation skills? Many people think that presenting (e.g., standing in front of a crowd and delivering a presentation) isn’t a requirement of their job, so why bother working on it. Unless you’re giving a formal presentation, it’s not typically top of mind when it comes to professional development. The truth is, every professional could benefit from polishing their presentation skills. Whether you answer the phone at the front desk, sit in a cubical crunching numbers or solve daily IT problems, if developing your career is important to you, so should your ability to deliver an effective presentation.
Presentations come in all shapes and sizes. Your job may require you to deliver company news to a group of colleagues, pitch a business idea, deliver a progress report to your boss or even communicate clearly during a meeting. Here are a few tips to consider when preparing for your next presentation (big or small):
Be prepared! Nothing will discredit you faster than a poorly planned presentation. Identify the purpose of your message (to propose an idea, deliver news, give a business update, etc.) and plan accordingly. It’s also important to consider your audience, the information that will be relevant to them, the environment in which you will be presenting, the technology you may need and how much time you have in which to deliver your message. This applies to informal presentations as well. Perhaps you are conveying a quick update to your boss during a standing meeting. You should be equally as prepared as you would for a formal presentation.
What’s your point? What does success look like at the end of your presentation? Are you informing your audience on a topic, persuading them or inspiring them to make a change? By defining your end goal or outcome of the presentation, you can plan how you will deliver the message. It may seem like overkill, especially for informal presentations, but it’s important to have a general idea of your presentation’s outline. Plan your opening statement, your main point (there may be more than one), your transitions and your closing statement.
Are you using a visual aid? Be thoughtful about how you want to take advantage of any visual aids and prepare these ahead of time. Visual aids should support your presentation, not vice versa. If your visual aid distracts from the purpose of your presentation, forgo it. Display the visual so that everyone in the room is able to view it. If you are using a PowerPoint to accompany your presentation, ensure the font is large enough that it can be read from the back of the room. Be sure to limit the amount of text you include on each slide. If you plan to read from your slides word for word… don’t! This is as effective as handing out your slides and asking everyone to read directly from them. A truly effective presentation should be able to stand alone from the visual aid. This is especially true should the technology fail (and this happens!), and you are not able to rely on your visual aid.
What is your plan for pesky questions? It’s generally good practice to open your presentation up by indicating that you will take questions at the end. When you’re already nervous about delivering a presentation, it can be overwhelming when the questions start flooding in, or even worse… when nobody raises their hand! The key here is to stay calm, know your material well and not to let any question throw you off. Eventually, all presenters experience someone who asks a tricky question. If you don’t know the answer, consider opening the question up to the audience by saying, “Before I answer,
I’d like to see what the rest of the group has to say about that…”. If someone keeps hitting you with questions and it feels like it’s taking a toll on your creditability, consider diverting the question by saying “That’s a great question. We are running short on time but I’d be happy to talk with you about that after the presentation.” Finally, if you receive radio silence when it comes time for questions, have a couple of questions prepared ahead of time by saying, “One question that comes up quite often is…”
What other tips have you found to be helpful for combatting the fear of delivering a presentation? Have presentation skills helped you in your professional development? Leave your comments below.