6 Steps towards improving your Speaking Skills

How to effectively improve your speaking skills divided into 6 easy steps

Public Speaking

Just the thought of making a presentation, a speech, or having to speak up during a meeting makes many people very anxious. In fact, for many public speaking even is their number one fear and they tend to avoid it whenever possible.

However, public speaking is a skill that, if practiced sufficiently, can be turned into something that you can be good at and enjoy.  Below are six easy steps that will help you to turn yourself into a good and confident speaker.

  1. Speak clearly
  2. Develop ‘flow’
  3. Choose your ‘expert’ topic
  4. Become a topic expert
  5. Develop style
  6. Practice daily
  1. Speak Clearly

Clear speech is direct and takes responsibility of its meaning. This means that if you want to make an impact, you should not be vague or abstract. You need to make sure that what you say is what you believe, so you can ‘own’ the content of your talk. This means that you should be direct in how you address people. So, don’t say:

It wasn’t appreciated.

Instead, when you make a claim, make sure people know it is your claim and say:

I didn’t appreciate it.

Taking responsibility means that, if you are not speaking for other people but just for yourself, they should know that. So, don’t say:

We are not sure what to do.

When you are speaking for yourself, instead say:

I am not sure what to do.’

People will appreciate it when you are being direct and are taking responsibility for what you say because it makes you connect with them on a personal level. As a speaker, this makes you more believable, so your talk will have more impact.

Volume is also important if you want to be clear, because clear speech demands attention and gives you ‘presence’. People need to know that you are there and understand that you came to talk to them about something important. Speaking at a volume that is just right, so neither too loud nor too soft, makes people trust you. It makes you look confident and it makes your audience understand that you know what you are talking about.

It is also important that you speak with passion. Showing that you are enjoying what you are doing will rub off on the people that are listening to you, and they will want to share in your passion.  To look at things differently, you cannot expect people to enjoy your speech if they think you are not even enjoying it yourself.

Speaking clearly also means not overusing slang and jargon. Slang tends to be quite informal and, therefore, not appropriate in all situations. So, don’t say:

That is an awesome idea.

Instead, you should use more neutral language and say:

‘That is a great idea.’

Jargon should also be kept to a minimum because just the people that are familiar with it will understand it, and it will make your talk quite abstract. Let’s look at this example:

I can give you a ballpark figure.’

The term ‘ballpark figure’ is often used in sales, accountancy and finance. It is a rough numerical estimate of something. However, it is possible that only people who are working in these fields will understand you.

  • Develop ‘Flow’

Speaking with ‘flow’ means looking comfortable in front of the people you’re talking to and being able to speak about any topic with equal grace. Contrary to what many people believe, having flow is not a skill that people are born with, it can be practiced and learned.

Also, looking at ease when speaking to audience should not be confused with being at ease. Often, a lot will be going on in your head when you are speaking, but most of that is not visible to the people in front of you. To develop ‘flow’, there are a number of things to consider.

First of all, thinking about the pace at which you speak is important. Most people, especially when they are nervous, tend to speak too quickly. Speaking quickly affects accuracy and understanding negatively and therefore it is important to take your time. When you consciously force yourself to speak slightly slower than you normally would, your pace tends to be just right for your audience.

Pausing is also important when presenting, for a variety of reasons. Not only can it replace the ‘uh’s and ‘uhm’s, and the filler words that people use in everyday speech, pausing can also be used for emphasis. For instance, many good presenters build in a short pause right before saying something important. In this way, what they say has more impact and is therefore is more likely to be remembered by the audience. Pauses are also used in other advanced presentation techniques.

  • Choose your ‘Expert’ Topic

When trying to become a better public speaker it helps to choose an ‘expert’ topic that you can use to practice with. Often this is something related to your passions or interests. The advantage of choosing something that your care about is that when are talking about that subject, you will probably already be knowledgeable about the subject, so you can spend less time thinking about the content of your talk and more about the delivery. In addition, it will also make you look confident. An added benefit is that your passion for the subject is likely to shine through and you will look more excited about what you are going to say.

  • Becoming the ‘Expert’

Because it is much easier to talk about something that you already know a lot about, it makes sense to choose these types of subjects to talk about if you can, or become a topic expert if you need to. In this last instance that means it will definitely be worth it to study up your subject so you can start your presentation with confidence. Once you are confident, you will find that you will naturally aim for conversations that you are comfortable with, pursue positive reactions from your speaking partners when you talk to them and naturally divide your talk into subtopics, all because you are the expert.

  • Develop Style

Now that you have become a topic expert, you can develop your style. Style is personal, which means that there is not one way, or just one style in which you should present. Your style needs to go with your personality and often it takes quite some time and experience to discover what your personal style is.

To develop your presentation style the volume at which you speak, and particularly the variation in it, can help you to make your talk more memorable. For instance, you could speak up when you are (or want your audience to be) excited about something.

Varying your pace is also a useful tool that can help you discover your style. Not only do certain advanced presentation techniques require you to speed up, slow down or pause, varying your pace could also help you express emotions effectively.

Showing good body language is also an essential skill to develop if you want to be a better presenter. Your gestures and expressions not only support the content of your talk, they also tell the audience a lot about how you feel as a presenter. For this reason, being aware of how you look and how you move in front of your audience is something worth working on.

Adding some humorous comments of jokes to your presentation could also help. It is a good way to establish rapport between you and the audience, especially during your opening. You do have to keep in mind, however, that humor is very personal and culturally specific. What some people find hilarious may not work on others. Because of this, you have to keep in mind that a joke can work wonders if people find it funny, but it can be disastrous for your presentation if it bombs. Therefore, if you choose to include a joke, you may want to choose one that is safe, or at the expense of yourself.

Telling a story can also work well. You can use it as a ‘hook’ to make your audience interested and to approve your credibility as an expert if you choose to a story that is personal. In general, storytelling will also make your talk more interesting because your story will link your subject to everyday life experiences and make your presentation come to life.

  • Practice Daily

When it comes to presenting well, practice makes perfect. There is no way around it; the more you practice, the better you’ll become. This doesn’t mean, however, that all your presentation should be ‘high stakes’. If you want to become better, most of your presentations should take place at home. You should ask friends and family for feedback, record yourself on video, and practice in front of a mirror. Setting specific targets for yourself will help you focus on specific skills. This means choosing one or two things you want to focus on every time you practice. Presenting at ‘real’ events will help you learn to present under pressure. This could range from simply starting a conversation during a party, to speaking up during a meeting, to being on the podium in front of a real audience. It doesn’t matter, as long as you practice, you’ll get better and more confident.

Conclusion

The above-mentioned steps will help you become a better, more confident, and more successful presenter. Just keep in mind that presenting is not a talent you are born with, but a skill that you can work on and develop over time until it becomes something you are skilled at and is fun.

Presentation skills: The Power of Changing the Focus of a Sentence

Making what you say during a presentation have more impact by changing the focus of a sentence.

Focus

In a presentation your content is of course essential. However, if you want to make a real impact, it is often not just what you say that is important, but also how you say it. Putting emphasis on certain points in your message by changing the word order of your sentences can help you focus the audience’s the parts that you think they should remember.

‘Given’ and ‘New’ Information

In English, important information is often put at the beginning or the end of a sentence, but there are two types of important information: ‘Given’ information and ‘new ‘information.

Given information is that which the listener already knows, and it is usually put at the beginning of a sentence. So, if the topic of your presentation is poverty, you can assume that this is given information for the audience. In that case you would probably use something like the following sentence:

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor.

‘New’ information is that which the listener has not heard before, and this information is put at the end of a sentence. 

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor.

Looking at this sentence, you will see that when defining the term poverty, that which defines the term is put at the end of the sentence. In other words, the information in the last part of the sentence explains, or gives meaning to the first part. That is because the definition of the term poverty is the new information.

This idea of putting given information at the beginning of a sentence and new information at the end can be very helpful when building  a well-structured argument if you make the new information from one sentence the given information from the next. In other words, the what you added to the last part of one sentence  as new information, should be put at the beginning of the next as given information, like in the following example:

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor. Being extremely poor has negative effects on the economy.

You could now continue your argument by making the new information from the last sentence, the given information in the next. In this case you would then start by taking negative effects on the economy as the beginning of your next sentence. Please note, however, that when using this technique, you should not always just copy the exact words from the previous sentence, since this would lead to a very awkward writing style. You should, however, repeat the information, so in many cases you should paraphrase instead of repeat.

Shifting Focus

As mentioned, shifting focus means changing the word order of a sentence to put emphasis on something in a sentence.  This could be, for instance:

  • A person
  • An object
  • A time
  • Etc.

Now let’s look at how you could change to focus of a sentence by changing the normal word order.

Normal sentence:

Alexander Fleming invented penicillin in 1928.

Focus on the person:

It was Alexander Fleming who invented penicillin in 1928.

Focus on the object:

It was penicillin which Alexander Fleming invented.

Focus on the time:

It was in 1928 when Alexander Fleming invented penicillin.

Changing the focus of the sentence by moving the things you want to emphasis to the front of the sentence allows you to formulate your words in such a way that your audience is much more likely to remember.

Introducing ‘New’ Information

Keeping in mind that new information usually goes at the end of a sentence, it makes sense that if you put it there when you introduce it for the first time. So, let’s look at the following examples:

Normal sentence:

Global warming is my subject today.

New information at the end:

What I’m going to talk about today is global warming.

Normal sentence:

Profitability is essential

New information at the end:

What is essential is profitability.

Clarifying Points

When talking about complex topics, or when, for some reason, you digressed from what you planned to talk about, you will need some expressions to put the focus back on the main points of what you wanted to say. Here are some expressions that will help you do that:

Let me put in another way …

Look at it this way …

What I’m trying to say is …

The point/thing is …

Conclusion

Putting focus on specific information by changing the word order in order to change the emphasis in a sentence can be a very powerful presentation technique. Just by carefully thinking about how you say what you want to say could dramatically improve the impact your message will have on your audience, so use it to your advantage.

How to make the perfect pitch deck with 10 slides

How to make the 10 slides you need for the perfect pitch

Okay, so you have managed to get yourself invited to a meeting during which you will get your shot to pitch your business idea to room full of important decision makers. This is the moment you have been waiting for to present your revolutionary product, service or idea, and you really need to make an impression. You know what you want to say, and how you want to say it, and your ideas are well connected. But is your slide deck the best it can be? Below you will find how to produce the 10 slides you need for a perfect pitch.

The Purpose of a Pitch

Before you decide what your slide deck is going to look like, you need to think about what the purpose of your pitch is. It is very rare for investors to make commitments based on a 20-minute presentation by someone they may have never seen before, so as a presenter, instead of going after this, your pitch should go after arranging a second meeting in which you can get into the specifics of your idea. Therefore, you should keep your pitch concise, simple, and clear, and you should not try to cover all the aspects of your proposal or provide too much detail. Your goal should be to generate enough interest in your idea to get another meeting. That is all.

What Should Your Slide Deck Look Like?

If you want your slides to be effective, it is important to keep them very simple. You don’t want your audience examining your slides while they should be listening to your pitch. Your slide deck is your support, not the main feature of your pitch, and it should not be a distraction. You also need to figure out how to talk about your visuals. In other words, you need to decide what you are (and may be more importantly) and what you are not going to talk about when it comes to your slides. The general rule should be, the more slides you need, the less compelling your idea is. In most cases, all you need for an effective and memorable pitch is ten simple slides with mostly keywords and pictures, and you should never need more than fifteen.

  1. The Title Slide

Your title slide should contain the following information:

  • Company name
  • Name and title
  • Address
  • Email
  • Phone number

This slide should be up during the beginning of the presentation, when you introduce yourself, thank your audience for the opportunity to pitch your idea, etc. Generally speaking, detailed information like names, addresses, and numbers, are very difficult to remember, so it is important to visually support them by putting them on the slide.

  • The Problem/ Opportunity

Your second slide should be all about the problem you are solving or the opportunity you are presenting. For example, if your idea is selling a revolutionary type of paint that is environmentally friendly, and that is so strong that it will last for twenty years, you may want to talk about the problem of having the repaint your whole house every five years.

If your idea is about offering an app that will allow  regular people to trade on the stock market, using the same real-time information stockbrokers have access to, you could start your pitch by explaining that up until the present ‘normal people’ don’t have the opportunity to effectively trade on the stock market because the lack of access to up-to-date information. Presenting the problem or opportunity should serve as the ‘hook’ of your presentation; a way to grab your audience’s attention.

  • The Value Proposition

After you have talked about the problem or the opportunity, you need to explain how your idea, product or service solves this problem or how it provides pleasure for your buyers. In short, you should answer the questions: What is in it for the customer if they by my product?’. The answer to this question is your value proposition. You should be able to answer this question in a concise, and clear way.

  • The Underlying Magic

Explaining the ‘underlying magic’ is about making sure that your audience understands what the technology is behind what you are offering. This will help them to assess what makes your product different from what your competitors might be offering. You need to explain what makes your it special. To do this, you can put simple charts, diagrams, or other visuals on your slide, but make sure that you keep them as simple as possible. This means using very little text and using pictures instead of words when possible. If you have a working prototype of your product, this is when you should do a demonstration. Keep in mind that it is always better to show your product than to talk about your product.

  • The Business Model

Explaining your business model is all about making clear how your idea makes money for you and your potential investors. Basically, this means talking about who has ‘the money’ now and how you are going to get it instead. In case of the aforementioned investment app you are going to explain how the app is going to generate income. For example, this could be by  asking money for the app itself, charging the app users for in-app transactions, putting ads inside the app, etc.

  • The Go-to-Market Plan

Presenting your go-to-market plan concerns making clear how you are going to reach your customers. This could be by opening up brick-and-mortar stores, starting a website, making deals with large retail chains, etc.

The go-to-market plan also involves a marketing strategy. In other words, how are you going to make sure that your customers know you exist. Are you going to buy Facebook Ads? Are you planning to reach your customers through influencers, and so on.

  • The Competitive Analysis

A competitive analysis involves providing a complete overview of who your competitors are. What counts here is that it is usually better to have too many than too few, because having a lot of competitors means that there probably is a large demand for what you are offering. Many starting businesses tend to underestimate how much competition they have and paint a picture for their potential investors that is not realistic.

  • The Management Team

Who is in your management team is important for your potential investors to know. Investing in a business is often about trust, so investors would like to know who they will be working with if they decide to invest and what these people do. If there are other investors that are already on-board, this should also be made clear. You may worry that you don’t have the perfect team yet to run your business, but you need to keep in mind that is why you are delivering your pitch.

  • The Financial Projections and Key Metrics

On this slide your need to back up your claims with numbers. You need to explain how much money you are going to need from your investors to continue growing your business. You need to forecast the number of potential customers, how much they are going to spend, what your turn-over projections are, etc. It is important that you present your metrics ‘bottom-up’. This means that you start with the smallest viable customer base to be able to run your business, and then explain how you are going to grow that customer base about three years into the future.

  1. The Current Status, Timeline, and Use of Funds

Finally, you need to explain the development status of your product, service, or idea. Do you have a working prototype? Are you already selling your product? How is the business currently doing?  Next, you need to explain what your future plans for the business are, what you want to achieve, and how you are planning to use the investors’ money you are trying to raise. This should also be your closing remark of your pitch.

How to make an effective and memorable ‘How to …’ Presentation

How to make a ‘How to …’ presentation that is effective and memorable.

A ‘How to …’ presentation is an informative talk in which you go through the completion of a task or a process by demonstrating how to complete it while going through a number of clear steps. Examples of possible topics for a ‘How to …’ presentation are:

  • How to tie your shoes correctly
  • How to set up a blog
  • How to speak with conviction
  • How to eradicate malaria
  • How to predict the weather
  • Etc.

In order to explain the completion of a task or process properly, it is important to clearly structure your talk by making sure you do these six things in order:

  1. Explain why it is necessary for the audience to listen to you
  2. Give them an overview of the entire process you are going to describe
  3. Divide the process into a number of steps and going over them one-by-one
  4. Describe each step, and show it (if possible)
  5. Discuss possible options, extras or variations (optional)
  6. Give a summary
  1. Explaining why

The first thing you need to do is come up with an effective opening in which you explain to your audience why it is important for them to listen to you. You do this by making clear which problem they will be able to solve after you are done speaking. When they know this, they will be motivated to listen to you because they will understand what is to be gained from it. Reasons for listening could be, for instance:

  • Earning money
  • Building a range of skills
  • Making life easier
  • Solving an important problem

It often helps to start your presentation with a story in order to paint a picture for your listener. For instance, if your talk is about how to learn to speak with conviction, you may want to start with a story about yourself in which you tell a story about a situation in which you were not able to do so, and the problems that caused you. You could then continue by describing how your life improved after having become a better speaker. A story like this allows you to build rapport with your audience because they will be able to put themselves in your shoes and relate to what you are saying.

  • Giving an overview of your entire process

Before describing the steps that need to be taken for the completion of whatever it is you are going to explain, it is important to give your listeners a clear overview of the entire process. This will provide a framework for the details you are going to talk about later. By doing so, you will allow your listeners to put the different steps of your process into context. You need to make sure you keep the framework simple, so it’s easy to understand.

  • The steps

Once you’ve given your audience an overview of your talk, you can move on to talking about the individual steps of your process, sticking to the core outline of your framework. Here the emphasis should be on how the steps are connected. Generally speaking, the simpler your series of steps is, the better. When your series contains optional steps or alternatives, it often works best to leave them until later so you can keep the emphasis on how the different steps in the series relate to each other. These connections should be clearly ‘signposted’ by using clear signaling language, like:

To move on, …

First, …

Finally, …

Etc.

  • Describing the steps

After mentioning the steps,  you need to explain what the different steps of your process are and describe (and possibly show) each step separately. You can do this by:

  • Explaining the purpose of each steps, or why each step is necessary
  • Making clear what needs to be done during each step
  • Showing how each step should be performed
  • Discussing options, extras or variations

If the process you are describing includes options, extras or variations, it is important to leave them until after you have completed the task or process description. This is because offering alternatives while describing the steps often leads to confusion in the audience. You need to keep the emphasis on the general process and leave any options or variations until the end.

  • Summarizing

Finally, you need to summarize the entire task or process for your audience and recap the benefits of following the steps you offered. This will be your ‘take-home message’, so your summary needs to be simple and easy to remember.

How to make an effective and memorable ‘How to …’ Presentation

About your visuals

When selecting the visuals for your ‘How to …’ presentation, remember that your own body is the best prop. Good body language is essential for making your talk effective and memorable. Also, keep in mind that physical props make what you are saying more real. This means that if you’re explaining how to tie your shoelaces correctly, bringing a pair of shoes to your presentation will have a positive effect on your audience. If your topic doesn’t allow you to bring physical props to your presentation, using photographs and diagrams instead, could also help you, as long as you keep them simple. Finally, make sure that all your visuals are big enough for everyone in your audience to see.

Presentation Skills: Effective Openings

How to effectively open your presentation and ‘hook’ your audience to grab their attention.

Starting your presentation with an effective opening is extremely important for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, people form an opinion about each other usually within the first few minutes of meeting for the first time, and this is no different for you as a presenter. This means that the audience will have already formed some kind of opinion about you before you reach the main body of your talk, and if this opinion is positive, they will be more open to your message.

Also, starting your presentation well makes you feel confident, and speaking confidently is essential to get your message across and grab the audience’s attention. In order to do that, you need a ‘hook’, which is a way to make sure that your audience wants to listen to you.

There are several ways in which you can earn the audience’s attention, for example, by starting your presentation with an interesting story or an anecdote that links to your subject. It often helps if this story is personal, and based on an experience you had. Personal stories tell your listeners that you have experience, and that you know what you are talking about.

Revealing something personal will also help you to establish rapport between you and your audience. There may be people in the audience with whom you share certain experiences or interests and connecting to them on a personal level will make them more likely to want to listen to you.

If you decide to ‘hook’ your audience with a personal story or anecdote, it helps to do this in a conversational style, so you are easy for the audience to relate to. You could start with phrases like:

When I think about what life would be like without internet access, I …

I remember when I had to take my first important exam. I …

Have you ever been in a situation where you walk into a room and everybody starts looking at you? Well, I …

Another way of ‘hooking’ your audience is by giving them a problem to think about. By doing this you not only put them in the right mindset to be susceptible to your message, you also make them feel that you are asking them contribute to finding an answer to the problem you are going to discuss. They are becoming part of the presentation, which is another way of establishing rapport between you and the people in the room. Phrases that you could use are:

How would you react if you were given the opportunity to invest one million euros in a company of your choice?

How many people here this morning feel that they are spending too much time online?

Suppose you were given to opportunity to go back to college, what would you study?

You could also use some interesting facts or statistics to earn the attention of your audience. Doing this adds gravity to your message because what you say isn’t just your opinion but your claims will be supported either by what people believe to be generally true or by verifiable proof. What makes this work is that what you say will be supported, which makes it easier for your audience to believe you. Here are some example phrases:

Did you know that the Netherlands has twice as many bicycles as cars?

Research shows that, on average, mobile internet users spend nearly three hours online every day.

According to a recent study, around fifteen percent of the carbon released into the environment is due to deforestation.

Presentation Techniques: Effective Openings

In conclusion, you only get one opportunity to make a first impression, which means that it very important to start your presentation well. Coming up with an effective ‘hook’ will help you to grab the audience’s attention so they will be open to what you have to say.

Presentation Skills: ‘Signpost Language’

How to ‘signpost’ your presentation effectively to give structure to your presentation.

To make your talk effective, interesting and easy to follow, it is a good idea to use signpost language. You can use signpost language to tell your listener what you have just talked about and what you are going to talk about. In other words, signposting language is the words and phrases you can use to guide your audience through your presentation.

Good presentations usually contain plenty of signpost language and this language is usually quite informal and easy to recognize, so it help to memorize a number of effective phases.

Introducing the topic

The subject/topic of my talk is …
I’m going to talk about …
My topic today is…
My talk is concerned with …

Overview (outline of the presentation)

I’m going to divide this talk into four parts.
There are a number of points I’d like to make.
Basically/ Briefly, I have three things to say.
I’d like to begin/start by …
Let’s begin/start by …
First of all, I’ll…
… and then I’ll go on to …
Then/ Next …
Finally/ Lastly …

Finishing a new section

That’s all I have to say about…
We’ve looked at…
So much for…

Starting a new section

Moving on now to …
Turning to…
Let’s turn now to …
The next issue/topic/area I’d like to focus on …
I’d like to expand/elaborate on …
Now we’ll move on to…
I’d like now to discuss…
Let’s look now at…

Analysing a point and giving recommendations

Where does that lead us?
Let’s consider this in more detail…
What does this mean for…?
Translated into real terms…
Why is this important?
The significance of this is…

Giving examples

For example,…
A good example of this is…
As an illustration,…
To give you an example,…
To illustrate this point…

Summarising and concluding

To sum up …
To summarise…
Right, let’s sum up, shall we?
Let’s summarise briefly what we’ve looked at…
If I can just sum up the main points…
Finally, let me remind you of some of the issues we’ve covered…
To conclude…
In conclusion …
In short …
So, to remind you of what I’ve covered in this talk, …
Unfortunately, I seem to have run out of time, so I’ll conclude very briefly by saying that …..
I’d like now to recap…

Paraphrasing and clarifying

Simply put…
In other words…….
So what I’m saying is….
To put it more simply….
To put it another way….

Invitation to discuss / ask questions

I’m happy to answer any queries/ questions.
Does anyone have any questions or comments?
Please feel free to ask questions.
If you would like me to elaborate on any point, please ask.
Would you like to ask any questions?
Any questions?

Presentation Skills: Talking about Visuals

A tutorial on how to present graphs, tables, and charts in an effective and engaging way

Many formal presentations include having to talk about numbers. These numbers could be research data, sales figures, or many other types of statistics. Numbers in a presentation, however, are not very memorable, especially not if you also need to talk about how different numbers relate to each other. Because data, exact sales figures, etc. are so difficult to remember, it often makes sense to present them in some kind of visual, like a graph, a chart, or a table. However, talking about these types of visuals is difficult to do, and not doing it well will often cause your audience to lose interest in what you have to say. Presenting graphs, charts and tables only works if it is done in an effective, engaging, and well-structured way. To achieve this, attention needs to be paid to:

  • Introducing the visual
  • Commenting on, and introducing the visual
  • Talking about change and development

Good visuals need to be highly memorable and,generally speaking, when presenting numbers and statistics, the simpler your visual is, the more people are likely to remember it. It also means that anything you don’t talk about should not be in the visual.

Good visuals should also reduce the amount of talking for the speaker. If the graph represents something that could be explained in an effective way using only a few words, you should not use a visual because then that would only be a distraction.

Finally, a good visual should help the speaker. This means that graphs, charts and tables should only be used for details that are difficult to explain. The visual should speak for the presenter and make his job easier, so you should always ask yourself whether the visual is necessary and whether it actually makes your presentation better.

Another important question you should ask yourself is which type of visual is most effective for what you want to achieve. Graphs, tables, and charts all do different things well, and it is therefore important to select the right type of visual.

A line graph, for example, works well if you want to show how a quantity of something develops over time. For example, this could be how many muffins were sold per day during a given week.

A bar graph, on the other hand, works well for comparisons. When you want to visualize in which month to most ice cream was sold, for instance.

Pie charts are often used when showing percentages, or quantities as part of a larger total.

Tables are of the most difficult to talk about because they often show many individual numbers on the screen at once without showing a connection between them, or a clear development. For this reason, when using a table, it may be a good idea to focus the audience’s attention on specific details by highlighting the ones you are talking about while talking about them.

Finally, flow charts are good at showing processes, or other things that can be divided into steps with a certain order.

As mentioned before, it is very important that you choose the correct type of visual for the right job, because failing to do so will most likely cause your audience to lose interest in your message.

Introducing the Visual

After you have put your visual on the screen, the next step is shifting the focus of the audience to the screen. You need to tell them to stop looking at you, and start looking at the screen. You can do this simply by pointing at the screen and saying something like:

Let’s have a look at this.

or

As you can see here, …

After you have told the people you are addressing to focus their attention on the screen, you need to tell them what they are looking at, because you don’t want them to spend their time studying the visual while they ought to be listening to you. You should explain the visual by saying something like:

This graph shows the amount of traffic to our website throughout the year.

 or

This bar graph compares the number of people who commuted by car to those who commuted by bicycle between 2015 and 2020.

The next step is to make a general comment about the graph as a whole, or about a general pattern or trend, like in these examples:

As you can see, the average turnover shows a steady upward trend.

or

What is clear is that the number of visitors to the Netherlands fluctuates throughout the year.

The final step in introducing your visual is to highlight the part of the visual you want to talk about in more detail. You could say something like:

If we look at 2018, …

Or

The period between March and September shows …

Commenting on the Visual

After you have highlighted a specific area in the visual, you need to make a comment about it. This means telling your audience what a specific number or data point in the visual represents. You give meaning to the numbers. For example, you could say:

2017 shows a significant spike in the number of online sales.

or

Here the table shows an anomaly in the results.

Then, after commenting on a specific section of the visual, you need to interpret it. You tell the audience what the underlying causes were that explain the detail you chose to discuss, or which conclusion can be drawn from it. To illustrate, you could say something like:

This number can be explained by the abnormally hot summer we had.

or

What we can learn from this is that we need to increase production.

It is important to repeat the cycle HighlightComment Interpret for each detail you choose to discuss. In this way the structure of your talk becomes clear.

Change and Development

A mentioned, after you have selected the best type of visual for presenting you data on the screen, you need to talk about it. Generally speaking, this is difficult to do in an engaging way, so it is easy to lose your audience’s interest while doing it, but in order to make sure that they won’t lose interest, you need to use effective language that can capture your points in a concise way. When talking about a line graph, for instance, it is important to use a range of different vocabulary that doesn’t only comment on how the data develops – so, whether the line goes up or down – it is also, helpful to comment on the speed at which it happens or how significant the changes that you choose to discuss are. The verbs in the table can help you do this:

increase/decreasedeclinehit a lowplummet
rise/fallremainstabilizedrop
fluctuategrowshrinkplunge
recoverpeakslumpShoot up
bottom outexpandnarrowTake off

Here are some example sentences:

The table illustrates that profits have stabilized during this quarter.

or

Last year, stock prices plummeted due to the trade dispute.

If you want to comment on the speed and the importance of the developments in the graph you can add effective adjective or adverbs to your comments, like in the table.

substantialnotabledisastrous
rapidspectacularsteady
moderatedisappointingslight
enormousencouragingsignificant

So, you could say something like:

The graph suggests an encouraging trend.

or

In 2018, overhead costs were cut significantly.

Conclusion

The example below shows a basic example of talking about a graph in an effective way, using a clear and concise structure.

So, I’d like to draw your attention to this graph.(Drawing attention to the screen) What it illustrates is the number of people killed in car accidents between 2000 and 2010 (Explaining the visual).  As you can see, the number fluctuated significantly during that time (General comment), but I’d like to focus on the year 2014 (Highlighting), when the number of casualties increased dramatically (Commenting). The explanation for this sudden rise in deaths can be found in the extreme weather during that period (Interpreting).

Presentation skills: Beginning the presentation

How to start off well during a formal presentation or speech

At the beginning of your presentation there are usually four things that you need to do, and the first of those is greet your audience. Also, when you are not presenting within your own organization – so when you are presenting to people that may not know you – you need to introduce yourself and say which company you represent. It is also helpful to say something about yourself and to welcome your audience.

Greeting your audience is usually what you start with. Apart from it being the polite thing to do, it is also important to make your audience feel welcome. Doing this helps to build, what is called, rapport between you and your audience.  You want to build a good relationship with the people you are presenting to and greeting them before your get to the actual presentation is an important part of that.

If you are presenting to a group of people that you don’t know, or to people who don’t know you, it is also important to introduce yourself by mentioning your name and, for example, the organization you are working for.  Just like when greeting your audience, it helps to build rapport. Also, it helps the audience to put you into a certain context as a speaker, like in this this example:

Hello. I’d like to welcome you all here this morning. I am Jill Anderson of Anderson and Brand International.

In this example it is likely that the audience will link the name Jill Anderson to the company’s name, Anderson & Brand International. This information may give the audience an idea of Jill’s position in the company, adding to her credibility as a speaker.

This is not always necessary, of course. Sometimes saying your name and mentioning how the opportunity to speak makes you feel is enough to build rapport. Like in this example:

Good afternoon. I’m delighted to be here today. My name is Peter Jones.

Sometimes it may be helpful to mention your name together with the name of your company if your company has a good reputation in your field, or if it is particularly well-known. Like here:

Good morning everyone. Thank you all for coming. I am Rebecca Ferris from KPMG.

Similar to the first example, mentioning your name together with the name of a respected company could positively affect the impact your presentation has on the people that are going to listen to you.

After you’ve greeted your audience and have introduced yourself, it is often a helpful to say something about yourself. Not only does this help your audience to relate to you on a more personal level, it is also an opportunity for you as a speaker to showcase your expertise. Here is an example:

Before I continue, let me tell you something about myself. I’ve been working for Anderson and Brand for seven years.

Letting the audience know that you have been working for the company that you are representing for seven years tells the audience how much experience you have and how dedicated you are to that company. This could make what you are going to say more credible because your audience is more likely to assume that you know what you are talking about because of your experience.

If you have a lot of experience in a certain field, but have worked for a number of companies during your career instead of just one, you could use a sentence like this:

My career in finance began in the late 1990s when I joined …

… and then you add the name of your company. It tells the audience how experienced you are, and if you add the companies you worked for in the past, along with the job titles you’ve held, it could tell your audience something about your skillset.

The following sentence works in a similar way:

My experience in the field of environmental preservation started when …

… and then you can mention an experience that had an impact on your career. You may want to use a sentence like this when you are a freelancer, for example, or when you are not representing an organization.

Welcoming your audience is also important when you begin your presentation and it is often combined with thanking the audience for the opportunity to speak. Like here:

Welcome to Google. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today.

This sentence not only expresses that you are glad that your audience showed up, but by expressing that you are grateful for the opportunity to speak, you are also expressing a level of humility. You are putting yourself on the same level as your audience and when your audience feels they are more or less the same as you, they are more likely to be interested in what you have to say. In other words, this way of welcoming your audience also builds rapport, just like the following sentence.

Thank you for inviting me to talk to you today.

By using this sentence, you are positioning yourself as a guest of the audience, which suggests that you aren’t there to tell them what to do or to believe, but that you are there with them to discuss the topic of your talk together. You are putting yourself on the same level.

Now, let’s look at this sentence:

Welcome everybody. I appreciate the chance to speak to you this afternoon.

This sentence works in the same way as the previous one. It builds rapport between you and the audience by pointing out that you are there because of them.

So, to conclude. A successful presentation starts with an effective opening during which you greet your audience and introduce yourself, you provide some background information about yourself, and you welcome your audience by expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to speak. If you do this well, you will set yourself up for a successful presentation.

Video: Beginning the Presentation

Advanced Presentation Techniques

Advanced presentation techniques to make your presentation more effective and more memorable.

When doing a presentation, what you are going to say (the content) is most important. Of course, as a presenter, you want your audience to focus on the important part of your message. It needs to stick in their memories so they can act on it if they want. Because presentations as a tool to get information across in a memorable way are not particularly effective (the retention rate is quite low), how you say things becomes just as important as the content of the presentation.  To increase this retention rate, there are a number of presentation techniques that you could apply. They are:

  • rhetorical questions
  • dramatic contrast,
  • tripling
  • machine gunning
  • build-ups
  • knock-downs
  • simplification.

 Also, there are a number of ways to create rapport with your audience.

Rhetorical Questions

Rhetorical questions, when used well, do three things. First of all, they make your audience feel involved. Even though you are the one doing most of the talking, rhetorical questions invite your audience to think along with you while you are presenting. In this way your presentation comes across as a two-way conversation rather than a one-way monologue in which you tell your listeners what to think and to believe. Putting rhetorical questions into your presentation also creates anticipation. What you are really doing by asking the question is telling the audience what you are going to talk about next. You are giving them a glimpse into the future, so to speak, by asking a question and then answering it yourself. Because of that, you are allowing the audience to anticipate what’s coming. In this way, the structure of your presentation becomes more apparent to them.

So, let’s look at some examples:

As you know, many of our competitors have shown disappointing results last year. So, why haven’t we been able to capitalise on this?

Let’s say you are talking to a group of business executives. By asking the question of why they ‘haven’t been able to capitalize on this’, they will feel more involved because you are asking them to think along with you. Your talk will feel more conversational to them because they will be answering a question you asked them, even though it will only be in their heads instead of out loud. The rhetorical question will also allow the audience to anticipate what’s coming because they can assume that the question will be followed by an answer. So, so it will act as a structuring device.

The next example works in the same way:

Obviously, we won’t see the results of these lay-offs in the near future. So, how do we know they’ve been effective?

The question allows the listeners to think along. It creates the feeling of having a two-way conversation with the presenter, and it tells them what you are going to talk about next. 

Emphasizing the connection between the rhetorical question and its answer is also a good way to add more structure to your talk. Like in this example:

So, how big ARE the consequences of this economic downturn going to be?

They are likely to be giGANtic.

Here, stress is put on the verb ARE in a question with an adjective in it. In this case the adjective is big. In the answer, a stronger, stressed adjective is then used to emphasize the connection between the question and the answer. This makes the structure of your talk better.

Rhetorical questions can also be made more powerful by repeating the important words from the question in the answer. Again, this shows the connection between the two. To do this effectively, you can first introduce the question with a statement in which you describe the situation. Then you ask the rhetorical question, and you follow up with the answer. This pattern makes the connections between what you have to say more powerful. As an illustration, let’s look at this example:

The fact is that our competitors made a take-over bid last week.

So, what can be done about this?

What can be done is keeping the share price high.

As you can see, the important words from the question are repeated in the answer. This creates a strong connection between the question and the answer and makes the structure of your talk clearer.

Dramatic Contrast

Dramatic contrast can be used to reinforce a point that is being made, like in these examples.

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

or

A year ago,we were market leader. Today we are on the verge of going under.

Making a point using two strongly opposing ideas is a good way of attracting the attention of your audience.

Tripling

To make what you say more memorable, your points can be divided up in threes. When it comes to providing your audience with arguments or reasons for believing something, number 3 is the ‘magic number’. This is because you can convince your listener in two ways: either you can give them a small number of arguments that they will be able to remember, or you can choose to give them a larger number of reasons for whatever it is you want to convince people of, and impress them with the quantity of reasons. However, this second option has the disadvantage that your audience will not be able to remember what all the reasons were. If you mention three, your audience will be able to do both; they will be impressed by the number of arguments you came up with, and they will be able to remember what these arguments were. This is why tripling is so effective. So, let’s look at some examples:

Our service is swift, efficient, and professional.

or

What’s needed now is time, effort, and money.

Machine Gunning

Machine gunning is similar to tripling in that you mention a number of points that should support the claim you are trying to make. However, contrary to tripling (for which it is important that the audience can remember the arguments you make), machine gunning aims just to impress people with the number of arguments you have, regardless of whether your audience is able to remember them, like in this example:

It is cheaper, newer, faster, bigger, clearer, safer AND better designed.

The effectiveness of this technique is in the delivery. The adjectives (in this case) should be delivered quickly, monotonously, and one after the other, so it sounds a bit like a machine gun being fired. If it is not delivered like that, the effect of the technique is lost.

After you’ve delivered your list of arguments, it is also a good idea to build in a short pause, and finish with a concluding remark. It could be something like this:

What more can I say!

The effect of this remark is that you are suggesting that there is nothing more to add, and that what you just said is the only logical conclusion.

Build-ups

A build-up is a technique in which you support your point by feeding your audience one argument at the time, like in this example:

As far as this contract in the Netherlands is concerned, we are pretty tied up with a lot of other projects at the moment.

So, there is no way we could meet their deadlines.

We have very little experience in this kind of work, anyway.

And, to be honest, they are not prepared to pay us what we want.

The idea behind this is that the people in the audience will put these arguments together and come to the logical conclusion that (in this case) the contract in the Netherlands is a bad idea. For extra effect, you then build in a short pause to let their conclusion sink in, add a summarizing filler, and then add a concluding remark that reinforces the conclusion the audience members have already reached on their own.  You could say something like:

BASICALLY, it is out of the question.

Knock-Downs

The knock-down technique is very similar to the build-up in that it feeds the audience small bits of information one at a time to allow them to piece these bits together themselves to reach their own conclusion. However, what a knock-down does differently is that, instead of reinforce the conclusion, it contradicts it. You could say that a knock-down is a combination of a build-up and the dramatic contrast technique. Here’s an example:

Of course, the experts said that the tablet computer would never succeed.

They did market research that said people would just see it as a gimmick.

They said its memory capacity would be too limited for serious business users.

and they did a feasibility study that showed its touchpad would be too small for the fingers of a five-year-old.

Then, after your listeners have reached the conclusion that introducing a tablet computer was a terrible idea, you should counter that conclusion with a contrasting idea. It could be something like:

So, how come, it sold more than a million units in the first quarter?

Simplification

Simplification is about the fact that, in most cases, the simpler what you say is, the more impact it will have. Normally, you would say something like this:

Should we be thinking of expansion?  No, that would not be a good idea.  Why wouldn’t it be? Well, that should be obvious.  It’s much too risky.

However, if you want to leave your audience with a memorable conclusion of your talk, or you want to give them a quick and easy-to-digest summary of your main points, you could also say something like:

Expansion? Not a good idea. Why? Obvious. Too risky.

Please note, that the effectiveness of this technique lies in the contrast between how you normally speak and your simplified version. If you overuse simplification, your style of speaking will become awkward and choppy.

Creating Rapport

Creating rapport is not one technique, but a number of ways in which you can improve or maintain a good relationship with your audience. If you are able to this you will:

  • Make your audience feel involved
  • Make your talk more conversational
  • Make your audience feel like individuals

The first way in which you can make your audience feel more involved is by talking from thewe’ perspective, and use ‘us’ and ‘our’. Like here:

Basically, we all share the same goal. And our goal is to create profit.

This gives the audience the impression that, instead of you telling them what to think, you want to solve the issue that you are presenting on together. You are suggesting to tackle a problem together with the people in the audience by putting yourself on the same level as them.

You can also use question tags to push for agreement, like in this example:

And we all know what that means, don’t we?

If you are a member of the audience, it takes less effort to think ‘Yes, we do’, than to think ‘No, you are wrong. We don’t’. In this way can maintain the relationship with the people that you are talking to while encouraging them to agree with you.

Using negative question forms in your talk works in a similar way. It helps to put the audience in the same mindset as you, like in this example:

Haven’t we all had similar experiences at one time or another?

Here also, it takes more effort for the audience to answer this with ‘yes, we have’ than with ‘No, we haven’t.’

Making your talk more conversational by using ‘fillers’, like you know, actually, etc., is also an effective way to build rapport between you and your audience. For example, you could these phrases:

You know, there are different ways to address this issue.

or

Actually, the third strategy turned out to be the most effective one.

or

As a matter of fact, we have come up with a number of innovative ideas.

You need to keep in mind that overuse of fillers tends to make your style less formal, and could affect your fluency negatively.

Finally, making your audience feel like individuals is also a good way to create rapport. You can do this by putting yourself on the same level as the people you are speaking to by implying that you and your audience are the same or share similar interests, like in the following examples:

If you were anything like me, you would take this opportunity.

or

And if I were to ask you to come up with some advice, what would it be?

or

Now, I know what you are thinking. Why didn’t we react to this sooner?

To conclude, the presentation techniques that were discussed will really help you to make your presentation more effective and memorable, so it will leave a lasting impression on your audience.