Businessman sleeping at the presentationNo matter how well crafted your speech or any other type of message may be, and no matter how good you may be at handling speaking jitters, effective presentation skills are absolutely key to gaining and retaining the eager attention of the person or people to whom you are speaking. 

These recommendations presuppose that you have already created an effective message you wish to share.

Instead this advice focuses on practical strategies that allow you to access your message easily and in a calm and confident manner.

Strategy #1 – Use an Outline, Not a Script, for Your Speech or Presentation

We have all probably endured listening to someone reading a speech. It is generally not an enthralling experience.

Unless you are a gifted actor or voice actor, it is highly unlikely that you can read your speech in anything but a fairly tedious manner that will turn off your listeners within a couple of minutes.

You are much better off preparing an outline of your speech, listing the main points you plan to make. You can then refer to them as needed, while presenting them in a far more conversational and interesting tone of voice than if you had simply read them off a sheet of paper.

Two exceptions to this tip:

Write out verbatim both your opening and closing sentences. You will benefit from this tip in two ways:

  1. You will have time to craft truly powerful opening and closing sentences, which are the parts of your speech people are most likely to remember.
  2. You will have the utter security of knowing both how you are going to start and how you are going to finish on a very strong note.

Strategy #2 – Use Large Print for Your Outline

You want to be able to take a quick glance at your outline as needed, and not have to take the time to squint at small print when you are in the midst of making an important point.

Strategy #3 – Drop Your Eyes, Not Your Chin, to Read Your Notes

Dropping your chin means that you are talking to the floor, not to the audience; so your voice gets lost, especially if you are using a microphone. Just as bad, you easily lose eye contact with your audience. (and often their attention as well).

Bonus tip: If you are writing your outline on an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper, leave the bottom third of the page empty. That way it will be much easier to see what is on the page by simply lowering your eyes, not your chin.

Strategy #4 – Do Not Staple Your Pages Together; Use an Easily Removable Paper Clip Instead

If you simply slide each page or note card to the side when you are finished using it; people will often assume, and be very impressed, that you are speaking without notes (that is, if the podium hides what you are doing ).

Turning pages that have been stapled together draws the attention of your audience away from what you are saying to focus on what you are doing – which is rattling a bunch of papers around in an awkward and unprofessional manner.

Strategy #5 – Number Your Note Cards or Pages

I once heard a horror story of someone who had crafted a wonderful speech, but dropped all of the pages just before having to deliver it. Since the pages were not numbered, you can just imagine the quandary that person was in. That person’s mistake has always been a lesson to me.

It is my firm belief that these simple and practical strategies provide a firm foundation for developing effective presentation skills. They can also help you overcome nervousness and gain confidence and ease in presenting your message in as powerful a way as possible.

Final thought:

You may have guessed from the foregoing strategies that I am not a fan of memorizing a speech or presentation verbatim.  Unless you are blessed with a phenomenal memory, there is always the risk for forgetting a key word, phrase, or sentence.

Once you lose your train of thought, you can easily end up bumbling through the remainder of your message – unless you end up fleeing the scene in a panic, as once happened very publicly to a prominent business person, live on television for the whole world to see. (And no, I don’t remember the name of that unfortunate and poorly prepared person.)

This, of course, will never happen to you, because you have my handy-dandy strategies right at your fingertips to keep you on message, calmly and confidently sharing your expertise with your audience, whether it’s one person or 1000.

If you’ve got any other great tips that have worked for you (or for people you know), please share them in the Comment section below.