While some of us may have no problem getting up and addressing a crowd, others would rather spend the afternoon getting their teeth pulled than deliver a presentation. In fact, a 2014 study by Chapman University found that Americans fear public speaking more than pretty much anything else. Yet 70% of workers agree that strong presentation skills are an integral part of building a solid career. If you're among the countless Americans who loathe the idea of public speaking, here are some easy-to-follow tips that can make your next presentation a rousing success.
1. Open with a joke or anecdote
One of the hardest things about giving a presentation is not knowing how to gauge the reaction of your crowd. That's why it often helps to kick things off on a lighter note. Not only will you draw in your audience, but you might solicit a few laughs or genuinely interested nods -- which will, in turn, boost your confidence and put you more at ease.
2. Make eye contact
The last thing you want is to come off as detached or aloof during a presentation, especially if you're hoping to sway your audience. That's why it pays to make eye contact with the people you're presenting to. If you're addressing a room with hundreds of people, you obviously won't manage to make eye contact with each and every one. But if you're speaking in front of a smaller crowd, make a point of shifting your gaze so that everyone feels included in your pitch.
3. Use visuals
It's hard to get bored during a presentation when you're the one tasked with delivering key information to a room full of people. Your audience, on the other hand, might have trouble staying focused during a presentation that's loaded with data and facts. To keep your listeners engaged, be sure to incorporate some visuals that not only draw their interest, but help make the information you're sharing easier to digest.
4. Dress for success
It should go without saying that you'll want to dress professionally when giving a presentation. The problem with business attire, however, is that it can be downright uncomfortable. As you prepare for your presentation, make sure you put together an ensemble that allows you to breathe, stand, and move around easily. For example, you might choose a pair of smart-looking flats instead of heels if you expect to be on your feet for an hour or more. Similarly, if you're the type who tends to get the public-speaking jitters, and you anticipate an associated degree of deodorant failure, sticking to dark colors might spare you some embarrassment.
5. Practice in advance
The more you familiarize yourself with your presentation, the more confidence you're apt to have going into it. So rather than wing it, practice what you're going to say so that there are no surprises on the big day. Better yet, enlist the help of some friends or colleagues and do a trial run so that your mock audience can offer feedback on ways to improve. You might, for example, come to discover that while a certain talking point makes sense to you, your audience will need more context to fully appreciate it. And that's the sort of thing you can address in advance, rather than having confused audience members interrupt with questions on the spot.
It's natural to be nervous at the thought of presenting in front of your peers, but the more prepared you are going into it, the smoother things are likely to go. Also remember that public speaking skills tend to get better with time, so even if you stumble a bit during your first presentation, there's a good chance that with practice, you'll quickly evolve into a pro.