Keep Your Hands Above Your Navel - And Other Presentation Tips

Every year as part of, I hold a Presentation Skills Workshop. It's the class I enjoy teaching the most. In this biz, if you can't give a dynamic interesting presentation, you'll only go so far. In this class, participants prepare a 3-minute presentation on a media-related topic. Directly after the presentation we critique the presenter. Following are some of our favorite lessons.

1.  Lean into your natural abilities.  Some people have a strong presence; they're just taller and bigger then the rest of us. Those lucky people should lean into their presence. Some people have louder voices, which makes projecting easier. For those of us who are shorter or have soft voices, be sure you can be seen and heard. You might need a mic.

2.  Work the floor.  Try not to stand in one place. Work the room. Move around. It makes connecting with your audience easier.

3.  Make eye contact.  It's not easy to make eye contact. Find a friendly face and talk to that person -- then find another. Try not to spend more than 30 seconds talking to each person. Work the room with your eyes.



4.  Stand tall, shoulders back, and never let your hands fall below your navel.  Body language often communicates more about a presenter than what they're saying. Stand confident and open your arms. When you close your body and fold your hands in front of you, you're saying "keep away." When you're presenting, your body needs to express "welcome!" And never let your hands fall below your navel.

5. Less words, more images.  There's a big difference between decks and presentations. If you're standing in front of a room, you’re giving a presentation. If you're sitting around a table looking at data, you've probably created a deck. If you''re giving a presentation YOU'RE giving it, not the slides on the page. The slides should not detract from what you're saying; they should enhance what you're saying. Pictures are much easier to understand than words, so don't make your audience read your slides.

6.  I know you can't read this, but…  I hate that. If you can't read a slide, it shouldn't be in the presentation. Period. If it is, the presenter is just lazy and didn't think of a better way to make the point.

I've seen too many presentations that are data-heavy and put the audience to sleep. That's because they were presented badly. There's no such thing as a dry topic -- just dry presenters. Find something interesting or funny about your subject, make it colorful, and tell a story. You'll be surprised how smart information is always interesting.

7.  Start off by telling us something about you. Make it personal.  Great presenters are great storytellers, and the best storytellers make it personal. When you make it personal, you're connecting with your audience -- and you'll move from being just another talking head to a real person with experiences worth listening to.

8.  Know the room.  Make sure you know what room you're presenting in. Know how far the audience will be from the screen. Make sure the person farthest from the screen can see the presentation.

9.  Test the A/V equipment.  Load up your presentation ahead of time. Make sure the sound is working. Make sure the presentation computer has all the fonts you used in creating your presentation. Bring extra plugs and dongles. 

10.  Test the clicker.  Your first experience with the clicker should not be when you're giving the presentation. I hate when the presenter makes a dumb joke about ‘oh, it's technology’. No, it's not -- you're unprepared.

11.  Practice, practice, practice.  Don't ever give a presentation that hasn't been practiced. If you do you will fail. Practice out loud and practice in front of someone. It's usually best to practice in front of someone you like and whose criticism you will listen to. 

Saying the presentation out loud will enable you to change things around and sync up your story to the slides. Saying it in front of someone will help you learn how logical your presentation really is and whether it's clear.

The more important the presentation, the more you should practice it.

12.  Stretch your face.  My words got caught in my throat until I started stretching my face. I stick out my tongue and open my mouth wide. By opening your face I make it much easier to project.

13.  Time your presentation.  If your presentation has a hard stop, make sure you're practicing against a clock. You never want the audience to get fidgety because you're running over. They'll be looking at the clock and not listening to you.

14.  Slow down.  Most of us speak too fast when we're presenting. When we do that, it's hard to understand what we're saying. Slow down and breathe. It's gong to feel very uncomfortable, but even when you slow down you'll still be talking faster than you think you are.

15.  You will feel nervous.  Most presenters feel nervous before they take the stage. Some useful tricks include talking about how you're feeling with your fellow presenters. Knowing you're not the only one who feels nervous often helps calm the nerves. Breathing helps. So does prayer.

Sometimes the best way to calm the nerves is by starting the presentation with an anecdote. You might forget what you were about to say, but you won't forget your own story. But be careful with humor. Humor is entirely dependent on culture, so different audiences will find some jokes funny and others will be offended.  

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