Yesterday I was privileged to attend the Benefex Winter Forum, in the jaw dropping surroundings of the Ham Yard Hotel. Over the course of the day we were treated to an array of expert speakers presenting to us on a wide range of topics. The day provided me with an opportunity not only to learn about a number of different HR trends happening in the industry right now, but also to really appreciate the very impressive presentation skills displayed right across the panel of presenters.

I regularly support Benefex employees in developing their presentation skills. Asking someone to present has an interesting psychological effect on most people. If you ask someone to come and talk to you about a particular topic of expertise, they are unlikely to be phased. The moment you introduce the word ‘present’, and ask them instead to present to you on their topic of expertise… their response is likely to come with a far greater degree of trepidation!

The irony is, of course, that ‘presenting’ to someone is simply communicating, albeit in a slightly more formal manner than might be typical. I believe that everyone has the ability to present capably and confidently, and it is simply a case of practise and experience. There are also a few things which, if you do consistently, will enable you to nail that presentation, every time. These are them.

Practise, practise, and practise again

If you do nothing else, do this. It was clear that all of the presenters at yesterday’s event had spent many, many hours running through their presentations – and it showed. Preparation is as critical a part of delivering a great presentation as the presenting itself. A lucky few may be able to simply walk into a crowded room and freestyle what they need to deliver… for most of us it’s not quite that easy. Practise will pay off, and will leave you confident in your own abilities to deliver successfully.

What’s your point?

It is easy to get caught up in the intricacies of what you are saying – particularly if you’re presenting on a topic that you’re passionate about – but what’s your point? What is your overall objective, and what do you want your audience to Know, Feel, and Commit (the KFC model… no, it doesn’t feature fried chicken, I’m afraid!). You must clearly define your desired objectives at the very start of the process, and be ruthless about delivering them.

Write from your audience’s perspective

In my opinion, this is the biggest mistake most of us make when putting together presentations: we write from our perspective, as opposed to putting ourselves in the shoes of our audience. From the moment you start your planning process, get yourself into the heads of the audience you will be presenting to. What will they want to hear? What do they need to hear to achieve your objectives? What prior knowledge do they have of the topic you’re presenting on? At every step of the way, remember your audience.

Less is more

We have all sat through a presentation which is outstaying its welcome and started to zone out. With the vast majority of presentations, less is invariably more. Keep your content succinct, punchy, and to the point. And remember your objectives… if you’re labouring a point which doesn’t directly contribute to one of your aims, then it’s time to be ruthless and cut it out.

Avoid death by Powerpoint

Powerpoint slides can be a fantastic visual complement to what you are trying to communicate. They also have the ability to destroy a presentation and render what you are saying entirely pointless. Remember: they should support your message, not duplicate it. They are not there as notes for you, they are there as points of interest for your audience. Minimise your use of text and focus instead on bright images and graphics which draw the eye and emphasise the points you are making.

Body language is key

Okay, so you might not feel 100% confident… but, as the old saying goes, sometimes you need to fake it to make it. Body language is, unfortunately, a dead giveaway of any nerves you might be feeling. Frantically flapping hands, wobbly legs, an off centered stance… all of these betray any inner turmoil you might be feeling to your audience. By contrast, if you find a strong, centered position, and use controlled gestures, not only will your audience believe you are a confident presenter… you might even find yourself believing it too!

Sitting or standing?

Ah, that age old debate! Contrary to what you might have been told, there is no ‘right’ way to present – I have seen some excellent presentations given by presenters who were seated, and some entirely mediocre ones given by those who were standing. Whether you sit or stand depends on two things. Firstly, the size of your audience and the size of the space you are presenting in. It is difficult, though not impossible, to command a larger audience and room when you are seated. Secondly, it’s about your personal preference. If you think that sitting down will help you to better control your nerves and feel in control of the situation then, provided the room size permits, go for it.

Speak up!

At risk of stating the obvious, make sure you can be heard… there’s no point putting in those hours of preparation if no one in the room can hear you!

Your audience are on your side

Okay, so there might be a small minority of times when you’re presenting in a hostile environment and this isn’t the case, but in the vast, vast majority of instances, your audience are going to be fully on your side. Think about the last time you watched someone present to you. You wanted them to do well, right? Seeing someone stumble through a presentation is horrible: it’s dull, and it’s embarrassing. Remember that, when you walk out into the room and stare into a sea of faces… they’re not here to watch you fail. They’re here to see you succeed.