Public speaking has taken on a new meaning in the age of virtual presentations.

But just because you’re delivering from home doesn’t make presenting online any less daunting. In fact, virtual presentations can be more nerve-racking. Instead of a room filled high energy and applause, you might have technological delay, awkward silence, blinking eyes, and a mix of people tuning out. 

Anyone can improve on their public speaking, but how? 

Make your presentation more relevant 

Developmental biologist John Medina says that the human mind wants meaning before detail. That’s why it’s important to organize your presentation by telling the audience what you’ll teach them and why it’s important. The rest of the details can come later, when you support your key message with evidence.

Center your presentation on the audience.

Say you’re an accounting firm that offers advice and services to small business owners, and you’re giving a presentation to an online networking group of mid-stage entrepreneurs.

You might begin the presentation by telling the audience that you started your company out of your one-bedroom apartment with two neighborhood friends, and that you made $2 million in the past three years. The truth is, that information is important to you, not your audience. 

On the other hand, what if you started your presentation talking about how your company helped three different startups with funding and three of your most recent clients got $2M in funding from venture capital firms you work with. This might pique your viewer’s interest more, especially if the end goal is to set up a call.  

Develop your presentation skillset

You can’t be a better speaker or lead an important discussion if you’re too nervous to present your material. Know your talk inside and out and practice till you feel comfortable — perfection is a myth. If you’re super self-conscious and can’t calm down, turn your nervous energy into enthusiasm. Visualize a successful outcome before it happens. 

The day of the event, make time for positive self-talk, exercise, do some deep breathing exercises, and don’t forget to smile. Smiling increases endorphins which helps to reduce stress and tension. It also makes you appear more optimistic and likeable. Likeability builds believability.

Find a presentation style that suits you

The next step is to develop your presentation style. Schedule time to attend OPP’s (other people’s presentations), watch YouTube videos, and TED Talks. Break down what makes particular speakers effective and whether you feel comfortable with their gesturing style and tactics. You can learn a lot from watching seasoned professionals, many of whom started at Toastmasters, including me. 

Keep your presentation focused by boiling it down to one key message that you want your audience to remember. Everything else in your presentation — ad libs, visuals, statistics, anecdotes — will support your main message and help the audience understand your purpose. If you’re having trouble consolidating your talking points, maybe your presentation isn’t focused enough. If that’s the case, ask a trusted friend or colleague for feedback. 

Build on-stage and on-camera charisma

If you’re lacking charisma and not sure what to do, show that you care about your audience. Malcolm Gladwell, author of five New York Times bestsellers, says that viewers get turned off when they get the sense you’ve given the same speech over and that you don’t care what they think after you step off the podium. It’s important to respect the audience’s time, money and energy that they spent to be with you. Time is valuable from both sides of the stage.

A second tip to build your charisma and deepen a connection is to increase eye contact. Consistent eye contact with strangers (or even people you know) takes practice and can be awkward at first. In the long run, a visual connection makes an emotional connection, and that helps people to pay attention.

Make sure your presentation hits the 3 F’s

Manner of Speaking suggests that three of the most important areas of public speaking are Fit, Focus and Finesse. It’s summed up like this: Your presentation has to fit the audience and what they care about. You need to focus on what you want the audience to learn and create key takeaways (or action tips); and your presentation should be delivered with finesse. Be charismatic, engaging, and offer a memorable experience.

Take the Free Presentation Skills Assessment

The Free Presentation Skills Assessment from Emma Bannister, John Zimmer and Jim Harvey of Manner of Speaking, channels all of these public speaking lessons to identify where you need to improve in your presentation skills and how to make the necessary changes. It’s a great tool to see where your public speaking skillset is lacking and specifically maps out the areas in which you can improve. It’s definitely worth checking out. 

Want other ways to improve your public speaking and presentation skills? Check out my blog, 5 Public Speaking Tips to Nail Your Next Hybrid Event and podcast, 3 Marketing Tips to Create an Awesome Virtual Event


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