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Nine Ways to Elevate Your Presentation and Speaking Skills to Black Belt Level

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Nine tips for mastering presentation skills
  • How to avoid common speech-giving pitfalls

Let's say you know the standard speaking tips, tricks, and fare. You're good... you can get by. But how can you elevate your speaking to the next level?

Over the past few years, I've spoken at a lot of events. Beyond just speaking (and getting better at it with practice), I share the stage with different types of speakers with different speaking styles. It's the nuances that determine who the masters are.

So if you're just getting started presenting to audiences, or you need to hone your technique, or you'd like to really up your game in the new year, here are some of the more important nuances that will take you from an everyday speaker to a star that people want to see.

And, by the way, these tips apply to marketers whether they're speaking in an auditorium or presenting in a boardroom.

1. Limit the technology

All too often I see people with laptops, PowerPoint, DVDs, cued CDs, props, and more. Kill it. You don't need it.

If you use slides that can augment what you're saying, great—but you don't need it, and you should not rely on it. People are coming to learn from you. Know your content to the point that even if your slides don't load or the video doesn't play, it should not matter.

Expecting the audio/visual to know all of your cues and the intricacies of your presentation is putting way too much reliance on the AV (and the AV guy). On top of that, asking for videos or music to play from the stage kills your story and flow: It's like when an actor calls for a line.

Also, having a lot of gear makes the organizers nervous ("something could go wrong!"), and might make you, the speaker, seem like you're high-maintenance.

2. Kill the Internet

Whether it's a hard-line or wireless connection, going live to an Internet connection is a bad move. Don't do it.

If you really need to play something from the Web (like a video), use a video downloading program and embed the video into your presentation. If you want to show a website, do a screen capture beforehand and embed it into your presentation.

3. Don't switch screens

A lot of speakers download videos but wind up toggling between their presentation and the media player. Don't, because it kills the momentum. If your presentation software does not allow you to embed video, switch to one that does.

4. Invest in a remote

Too many speakers advance their slides from the keyboard, or they rely on the AV team to supply a remote control or to advance the slides for them. Invest in your own remote presenter.

I recommend the Logitech Professional Presenter R800. It has a range of up to 100-feet (which is a lot), but it also has a built-in digital timer that gives you a silent vibration when you have five minutes left and when your time is up (which is helpful if you present for different lengths of time). If you want something a little more discreet, try the Honeywell Power Presenter. It has the basic buttons and is very small.

The benefit to owning your own remote is that you will be comfortable with it; as a result, your slide transitions will be more seamless and professional.

5. Don't point

Many people who use a remote presenter tend to point it at their laptops, the screen, or the confidence monitor on the floor. Pointing the remote is useless; it looks silly and draws the audience's attention away from you and toward the technology. Pressing the buttons harder doesn't help either.

6. No inside baseball

Don't talk about your technical challenges, such as the bad audio from the microphone. Don't discuss anything that has to do with the production or presentation of your talk. Focus on two things: the audience and the content. Talking about anything else is a distraction and it's not important to the audience.

7. Stand your ground

It's fine to pace, and it's fine to stand still. Whatever you do, make sure to stand your ground. Don't close up—be open. One of the best ways to "stand your ground" is to go to the center of the stage, and to the front of it, as soon as you are introduced, then do (at least) the first five minutes of your presentation just standing there. Much like a comedian, actor, or musician, you should come out of the gates strong and own your content.

8. Don't use notes

No reading. The best tip I have: Know your content. Having notes and reading a speech is boring and a little inauthentic. Sure, some of the greatest Presidents read their speeches from teleprompters. I get it, but I wouldn't do that if I could avoid it. Do your best to know your content: Just remember your "who, what, when, where, why, and how" questions, ask yourself each question in your mind, and then answer aloud to the audience.

Here's how. Let's say your topic is Twitter for business. Ask yourself these questions in your mind, and then answer them aloud:

  • Who should care about Twitter for business?
  • What do I need to know about Twitter before jumping in for my business?
  • When is it best for a business to use Twitter?
  • Where is the best place to learn more about Twitter for business?
  • Why should any business care about being on Twitter?
  • How can my business get started?

If all else fails, use those questions as your framework or model. Whatever you say will be better (and more interesting) than reading something you wrote a few days ago. Remember, speaking is not reading.

9. Use a clip-on microphone

Holding a mic in your hand is an art form. I've never been able to master it, and I've rarely seen someone pull it off well. It's better to have your hands free. Get a clip-on mic (also known as a lavalier microphone). If you don't own your own, ask the event organizer to arrange one for you a couple of weeks prior to your presentation.

Editor's note: This article originally ran on the Twist Image blog.

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Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image, an award-winning digital marketing and communications agency. He is the author of Six Pixels of Separation (Grand Central Publishing—Hachette Book Group), a best-selling book named after his blog and podcast.

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  • by Rick Mon Jan 24, 2011 via web

    Wow, this is spot on. I can count the best speakers I've ever heard/seen, and I would say they nailed at least 7 out of your 9. Thanks for posting this - adding the list to my utility belt. :)

  • by Geoff Zimpfer Mon Jan 24, 2011 via web

    Good info and tips! Another cornerstone to being effective is to be 'authentic.' Come from the heart and let your passion for your message come through in your presentation. People will be more moved by that than any slides or gadgets.

    Any suggestions for virtual presentations that you might suggest?

  • by Gillian Mon Jan 24, 2011 via web

    Great piece! A lot of these "simple" things get overlooked and they can make or break a presentation. Definitely agree on point #6!

  • by Doug Brock Mon Jan 24, 2011 via web

    I would also add attending Toastmasters if you are serious about improving your speaking skills.

  • by Karen Swim Mon Jan 24, 2011 via web

    Thank you so much! The timing could not be more perfect as I am presenting this week and want to make sure that I give my audience the best possible experience.

  • by Karla Mon Jan 24, 2011 via web

    Great tips! I would add that it never hurts to practice your speech aloud, especially if the material is new and/or you're delivering a new speech for the first time.

  • by Akich Kwach Tue Jan 25, 2011 via web

    Thanks Mitch; Great lessons to consider. I am developing training on presentation skills. Any one knows where I could get more relevant resources.

  • by Robbie Tue Jan 25, 2011 via web

    I'd add this one: A presentation is not a white paper. Create presentations that highlight key points that you will present in much greater detail. Never read from the screen. First of all, we can all read -- so we don't need you to read it for us. Second, it places you with your back to the audience, which means you've lost their attention.

  • by Cindy B. Tue Jan 25, 2011 via web

    Important points! One of the most engaging presentations I ever delivered was made up entirely of photos (relevant, of course) that served as a prompt for me to elaborate the main points, while providing a little something for the visual learners. Question: What video downloading program do you recommend to embed video?

  • by Bill H. Tue Jan 25, 2011 via web

    Strong points! I think I learned one of the most basic points of presenting -- rehearse in the room where you'll present -- when I saw a "leadling industry professional" doing just that at a national conference I attended. Maybe that's what we all need to see -- someone we admire going through the basics, just like Michael Jordan practices free throws.

  • by Emeka Iwuaba Wed Jan 26, 2011 via web

    This is quite interesting and has made positive impact on me.

  • by Diane Wed Jan 26, 2011 via web

    If you do use slides, keep them simple and clean. Charts and images that have been cut and pasted are too hard to see. Also, slides are used to enhance your presentation - they shouldn't contain your presentation! I love the idea of using nothing but images and minimal text in slides as a reinforcement to what is being said.

  • by Danny Naz - Naz Creative Fri Jan 28, 2011 via web

    Well said. More often than not, all of this will come with experience. the more you speak, the better the presentation will be. Stand in front of the mirror and rehearse. You may feel silly, but you can really tweak your presentation that way.

  • by The Legendary Frank Sun Jan 30, 2011 via web

    I love the idea of asking yourself questions about your topic and then answerig them yourself. I can't wait to apply this technique although I may have them writtne down as I'm not confident enough yet to go it alone.

  • by Elaine Fogel Sun Jan 30, 2011 via web

    All sound tips, Mitch. Just one thing I'll add about limiting technology. As a former educator and current professional speaker, I know that people have different ways they process information. For those who are visual learners, a speaker's talk isn't always going to "stick." And for those with attention issues, multi-media presentations can keep their interest more. I think we have to weigh this when determining how much we use technology. Thanks!

  • by Jonathan Fleming Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    Passion, Preparation and Confidence in your subject matter! Use everything you got and love your talk! It works, people love smart confidence and people love passion and knowledge of subject matter. If people sense those things it won't matter. Use both if you can, some people are very visual and need the screens, while others won't care. Meet people on their level at times. Great article.

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