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4 Different Ways to Practice Your Presentation Skills

Presentations can be nerve-wracking for anyone. Even with relative experience, you’ll never be able to predict how things will turn out. You can’t ever be a hundred percent sure about how the audience will react. If you want to be ready for anything, you need to practice and perfect your presentation skills.

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These techniques are based on activities outlined by Gabrielle Jones, an ESP teacher who writes for The Business English Experience. Jones uses these activities to teach her class about presentation delivery. To do it at home or during your free time, start by setting up a camera and record yourself while practicing. You can use the footage to review what you said, noting all the areas that need improvement.

1. Practice structure and brevity

We’ve written about the importance of structure and brevity in presentations. Practice your ability to logically structure ideas by telling a story that you’re completely familiar with and do this within 10 minutes. In Jones’ class, she asked her students to introduce themselves one by one.

In your presentation, you can do the same thing by picking out the most important details about yourself and ordering them in a way that would be easy to follow.

For a real challenge, you can also try to recall your favorite book or movie. To relay the story in 10 minutes, you have to choose the details that are most crucial to the narrative—keep your story linear and avoid segues.

2. Practice transitioning from one idea to the next without losing sight of your main goal

When tackling a variety of topics, you need to know how to properly transition from one idea to the next. Practice your ability to sequence various ideas while keeping in line with your main goal. To do this, Jones asked her students to relay instructions describing a certain process.

A few of them described how to use gadgets like Google Glass while some talked about studying at university and filling up your car with gas. Choose a process you know well and try to describe it step by step. Use words like “first of all,” “then” and “finally” to help audiences keep track of the progression of your ideas.

3. Practice making an impact through rhythm and intonation

Adding variety to your speech allow audiences to distinguish the emotions and attitudes in your presentation. Avoid a monotone and deadpan delivery by practicing your rhythm and intonation. This is best done if you already have a presentation prepared.

You can also use a presentation you’ve delivered in the past or something you commonly give every now and then (like a sales pitch or a quick introductory seminar for new hires). Deliver your speech as you would in front of an audience. Give yourself time to pause in places that need a more dramatic effect.

Add feelings to your voice by changing up your intonation. Be mindful of what mood you’d like to express and experiment by reading your speech in several different ways.

4. Practice improvisation and responding to difficult questions

As we mentioned earlier, there’s no way of knowing how your presentation will turn out. Practice your ability to think on your feet by doing some improv exercises. Try some of the common techniques comedians and actors use.

Aside from improvisation, you should also practice how to navigate through difficult (and perhaps aggressive) questions. Do a quick Google search for an article on any topic that interests you.

After reading it, scroll down to the comments section and browse for one that you disagree with. Imagine that this was a comment in your own presentation. How would you answer it? To make things more challenging, look for comments posted by “trolls” and think of a way to handle the situation.

You can do these activities at once, or focus on the ones where you think you need the most help with.

Need more help improving your presentation skills? Download the Definitive Guide to Designing Presentations for Business. If you have your own tips and tricks to share, give us a shout out by clicking on our social media links

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Featured Image: Glen Wright via Flickr

Speech Writing Tips: Don’t Forget, It’s Not an Essay

What makes the best public speakers so enigmatic and memorable? How are they able to capture and retain the attention of their audience for so long? Aside from practicing good delivery, their secret is also in the way they write speeches.

Speech Writing Tips
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We can call a presentation a success if the audience is able to connect and engage with the speaker.

To get there, they need to be able to follow the flow and logic of your arguments. While having a PowerPoint deck can certainly help in that front, the way you share information is just as crucial.

John Coleman of the Harvard Business Review reveals most speakers make the mistake of reciting an essay for their audience. Instead of working on a speech that’s concise and straight to the point, they tend to overwhelm audiences with a laundry list of information.

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For a successful presentation, don’t forget that a speech and an essay are two different things.

With that in mind, here are three speech writing tips to help you out:

Keep it short and simple

When writing a speech, be mindful of the difference between our ability to learn information orally and visually. As Coleman puts it,

The average adult reads 300 words per minute, but people can only follow speech closely at around 150-160 words per minute. Similarly, studies have shown auditory memory is typically inferior to visual memory, and while most of us can read for hours, our ability to focus on a speech is more constrained.

It will be easier for your audience to remember what you’re saying if you practice brevity and simplicity. Don’t complicate your speech by going into details. Stick to the points that is crucial to what you want people to takeaway. Start by outlining all your ideas and slowly trimming the list down as you begin writing your speech.

Constantly review previous points and use ‘signposts’

Remember when you would have to read an essay for class? If there were things you couldn’t understand, you can simply reread a certain passage as many times as you want. Unfortunately, that won’t be possible for the people listening to you speak. Apart from keeping it brief, your speech also needs a structure that the audience can easily identify and follow. Divide your key points into three main segments and introduce them right away as you begin your speech:

In your introduction, state your thesis and then lay out the structure of your speech ahead of time (e.g., “we’ll see this in three ways: x, y, and z”).

Coleman also suggests using what he calls “signposts.” Words like “first of all,” “next” and “finally” signal to the audience that you’re transitioning from one idea to the next.

Focus on telling a story

As we’ve discussed in the past, storytelling should always be an integral part of any presentation.Coleman suggests that it’s better to stick with a story, especially when you have to data to share. Instead of reciting a list of statistics, it would be better if you zeroed in on the narrative behind the numbers:

Neuroscience has shown that the human brain was wired for narrative… Lead or end an argument with statistics. But never fall into reciting strings of numbers or citations. Your audience will better follow, remember, and internalize stories.

It will also help if you stick with language that’s highly visual. Make use of metaphors and analogies to perfectly illustrate what your data or statistics mean.

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References:

Coleman, John. “A Speech Is Not an Essay.” Harvard Business Review. 2014. Accessed September 12, 2014.
Nelson, Brett. “Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?Forbes. Accessed September 12, 2014.
Widrich, Leo. “The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story Is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains.” Lifehacker. Accessed December 5, 2014.

 

Featured Image: Marijn de Vries Hoogerwerff via Flickr