Pitching to potential investors. Onboarding new employees. Relaying last year's key metrics. Most of us deliver presentations every day.

So why does 'public speaking' get such a bad rap? For every cool and confident presenter, there are 10 like you--you dread having to speak in front of others. You know you're nervous, you know you're saying 'Umm' too much...but you don't know how to fix it.

If we were to compare presentations to cars, most of what you hear today are the equivalent to a 1970 Pinto--old, boring, worn-out and broke down. So how do you trade in your clunker for a brand new ride?

Here are five tips to get the most out of your presentations, whether they're in front of five, 50, or 500 people:

1. Be enthusiastic, but remember your audience.

As a business owner, it's easy to get excited about your company. Your company is like your child, so you love to tell others about it.

But think about the last time one of your "parent friends" bragged about their child's ability to play the piano at a concert level. How did you respond? Did it take everything inside to not roll your eyes? Of course, that feeling changes if you happen to coordinate acts for 'America's Got Talent'.

Tell us what's great about your business, idea, or topic--from our point of view. Take the time to consider: What does my audience already know? What don't they know? Why is my information valuable to them?

If you answer these questions for yourself first, you've got a much better chance of getting--and keeping--your listeners' attention.

2. The KISS principle (Keep It Short and Simple)

Think back to your best teachers in school. Or the most interesting presenters you've heard. Were you impressed with their huge vocabulary, or their ability to make their topic sound like rocket science?

In contrast, the best teachers are the ones who make complicated things seem simple.

If you're seeking seed funding, show investors how easy it is to use your product or service--and why people need it. If you're training new employees, use simple language that they're familiar with, instead of complicated jargon.

As far as the length of your presentation goes, just remember: No one ever complained about a presentation being too short.

Remember the principles of a good elevator pitch: Try to deliver maximum impact in as short a time possible.

3. Slow down.

When we need to learn about a topic, what do we usually do first? We read about it. Why?

Many reasons: We can move at our own pace. We can go back and reread something if we don't understand. We can stop and think about what we've just read...etc.

But when we're presenting, our audience doesn't have that luxury. And since we're nervous, we're probably speaking even faster than we would normally.

That's why it's important we make a conscious effort to slow down. Stick a post-it note somewhere you'll be sure to see it, with the words in big, bold letters: Slow down! Or ask someone in the audience to give you a signal when you're speaking too fast. If you're speaking to just a few persons, you can even tell them directly to let you know if you're moving too quick.

Note: The number one reason we move too fast through a presentation is that we have way too much material. Most presenters try to fit in twice as much as they should. Make sure to edit out anything that doesn't fit the category of "This has to be in here or the rest won't make sense." (They're going to forget 90% of what you say anyway, no matter how good it is.)

4. Pause

Time and again, I see presenters start off with a question, then not give the audience the chance to answer. Even if the question is rhetorical, you have to give them time to respond mentally. Otherwise, why even put it in the form of a question?

For example, let's say I'm giving a presentation about...presentations. So I start off like this:

Today we're talking about presentations. Think about it for a moment: What makes a great presentation to you? Here's what some of your peers have said...

Ugh. I completely blew the chance to get my audience mentally involved. Here's how I should have done it:

Today we're talking about presentations. (Pause for a second or two.) Think about it for a moment: What makes a great presentation to you? (This time, pause for about four to five seconds.)

Here's what some of your peers have said...

The goal here is to get the audience thinking. Four to five seconds isn't enough time for them to form an entire opinion...but it does give them the chance to think of one or two things that answer your question.

And now they're not just listeners. They're active listeners.

You can also pause for effect if you've just made an important point, or when you transition between points to help the audience change gears.

Just remember: Four seconds of silence sounds like an eternity when you're the speaker. But to the listener, it's perfect.

5. Be natural.

Speaking in front of a group of 10 people can be a heckuva lot more nerve-wracking than speaking to three or four persons. Multiply that exponentially as the size of the group goes up.

So how in the world can you be natural?

One key is to not speak to the group as a whole. Rather, speak to individuals within the group.

Pick out a person in the group with a friendly face, or someone who nods when you make a good point. Say an entire sentence or two to them; then, look for someone else to speak with.

This helps you forget that you're speaking to a room full of people. It tricks your mind into thinking you're just having a conversation with a few individuals--like over dinner. It also helps the audience to develop a connection with you.

Like developing any type of skill, becoming a good presenter is a matter of practice. But remember, you're 'presenting' to a variety of audiences every day. Incorporate these tips, and you'll find that you're achieving maximum impact.

Published on: Jan 8, 2015
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