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Most of us are born without the presentation gene, yet it’s hard to imagine your career going anywhere unless you can deliver an effective speech. Even for professionals who appear confident, presenting can a real struggle.

You’ve probably had to sit through presentations that were so bad you felt like strangling the guy just to put him and the audience out of their misery. On the other hand, however, you’ve also seen presentations that were so inspiring they changed your life.

Having the opportunity to connect with an audience and communicate your vision and passion for a subject, can be a wonderful experience. It could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make an impression that might impact your future. It can either be a gateway or a stumbling block to professional growth. The choice is up to you.

Here are a few simple rules to giving successful presentations.

  • Have a good pitch—Select your main point of view and build a storyboard around that. Prepare a slide show, but remember to only use one slide per thought. Keep the number of slides down to the number it takes to effectively present your pitch, and allow a few minutes per slide.
  • Open with a good icebreaker—Open with something to break the both tension. It will break yours as well as theirs. It can be: a welcome gesture, engaging or humorous anecdote, graphic or video, or some combination. Keep it relevant and appropriate. Don’t open with a joke. It can backfire on your. Joke delivery is important, and if you’re nervous, you may flub up your beginning.
  • Use repetition–First tell the audience what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.
  • Don’t read slides–Know the pitch without having to read cues on your slides. Speak in your own words.
  • Engage the audience—To get your audience to engage, ask questions. Ask questions or try offering an answer and asking for a show of hands. Your goal is to make the audience part of the experience.
  • Use effective pauses– Be comfortable with silence for two or three seconds. It’s a dramatic way to make a point. Avoid ahs, uhs, and other fillers to fill uncomfortable silence. These can annoy and detract from your presence.
  • Make eye contact—Have direct eye contact for a few seconds per person. If eye contact is too short, you’ll fail to engage. If it’s too long, it becomes uncomfortable.
  • Use hand gestures—Hand gestures can be engaging and interesting. You don’t want to fidget, hold onto things, or put your hands in front of you, behind you, or in your pockets. Nervous habits can be distracting.

Remember, you probably weren’t born with this ability, but you can master it with practice. If your company hires a speech coach for executives and up-and-comers, get in on it. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Being comfortable comes with experience. It may take a while, but it’s worth it. Soon, you’ll be able to give killer pitches, and knock ‘em dead presentations!


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