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How to Improve Presentation Skills: Your Delivery is the Key

Categories: Business Presentations

One of the primary reasons why people run into trouble when giving presentations is because they focus only on the content. There are two equally important components to any presentation: the content and the delivery.

It’s All in the Delivery

Without a powerful delivery, your audience could have read an article or even browsed through your slide deck.

Your dynamic delivery is what brings your presentation to life for the audience. As the great writer, Maya Angelou, said, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”

Vocal expression

Have you ever considered the sound of your voice?

Many of us cringe to hear ourselves on a recording. Do I really sound like that, you wonder?

Perhaps we are being overly self-critical, but the way you speak – including your pitch, volume, and speed – will significantly impact how you are perceived and your overall success as a speaker.

Let’s take a look at the main factors in your speaking voice, and what can be done to maximize your vocal appeal.

Pitch

The Huffington Post reported on a study in the following article: “Male CEOs With Deep Voices More Likely to Have Market Success.” Male or female, your voice does play a big part in audience perception.

When stressed, our voices tend to rise, but the deeper the pitch, the longer people will listen to what you have to say. You can learn to gain control over your pitch and bring it into a lower range.

Volume

Is there anything more irritating than people who speak so softly that they cannot be heard? Yes, those who always sound like they’re shouting are equally irritating.

Being able to control your volume, and vary it, will help you hold the audience’s attention.

Speed

Along with volume, speed of delivery is important to master when presenting. The normal speaking rate in the U.S. is between 160-200 words per minute. If you speak too rapidly, people cannot absorb your information. They’ll leave the presentation exhausted from trying to keep up – or worse, they’ll give up and tune you out. If you speak too slowly, you’ll lose their attention.

How do you know whether your speed is on track? Reading aloud can help you assess your rate. Take 160 to 200 words from a book or magazine, and time yourself as you read them using your normal speaking pace. Based on the results, you will know whether to slow down or speed up your normal rate.

Pausing

The pause is as critical in oral language as punctuation is to written language. An effective pause emphasizes what has just been said, or what is to come. This brief pause focuses attention and ensures your audience will be waiting to hear whatever comes next.

In addition to the human voice that Angelou references, it also takes body language, eye contact, and a lot of practice to bring a message to life.

Body language

As you are speaking, your body language might be telling its own story. Based on your body language, your audience might perceive you as confident or nervous, open or closed off, calm or nervous, energized or exhausted, engaged or bored. All of these interpretations can impact how your message is received!

Posture and Movement

For a confident posture try the following steps:

  • Stand with your feet about 6 to 8 inches apart, parallel to each other with toes pointed straight ahead.
  • Keep your chin parallel to the floor.
  • Flex your knees and put your weight on the balls of your feet. (This position will decrease your tendency to rock or sway.)
  • Put your arms loosely by your sides and pretend that you are reaching for your back pockets; that will bring your shoulders back a little.

Now your shoulders are over your hips, your back is lengthened, and your posture is straight.

Comfortable movements will relax both you and your audience. Pacing is distracting. Instead, use your movements to establish contact with your audience. Take two to three steps, stay and “visit” there, speak a bit, and then return to your place in front.

Movement should be intentional. As you are moving, be sure to avoid blocking the screen or getting behind people in the audience. No one likes a speaker at their back. At the same time, getting physically closer to your audience increases attention and interest. It also encourages a response if you are asking questions.

Gesturing

Have you ever seen the movie "Talladega Nights" with Will Farrell? Ricky Bobby has just won his first car race and is on camera. He starts answering the reporter’s questions but then realizes, “I don’t know what to do with my hands…”

The scene is comedic, but many people really don’t know what to do with their hands when they are speaking in front of an audience. We have seen hands in pockets, arms across the chest, parade rest (hands behind the back), fig leaf (hands clasped in front), tyrannosaurus rex (only the forearms move), and many others.

How do you gesture effectively?

Actually, the most effective gestures are the spontaneous ones that arise from what you’re thinking and feeling. They help the audience members relate to you and what you are telling them. A speaker who uses natural, appropriate movement is much more appealing and persuasive than someone standing behind the lectern, hands rigidly clasped in front (or behind) their body.

Here are some more specific tips for gesturing:

  • Use the upper half of your body, with broad, flowing movements.
  • Keep your palms open. Move your arm and hand as a single unit, gesturing up and out toward the audience. Use either one or both arms.
  • Vary your gestures; don’t use the same motion over and over again. (It starts to look like a quirk and will be highly distracting.)
  • Scale your gestures to the size of your audience. Bigger audiences need bigger gestures.
  • Nod and smile to emphasize what you’re saying.

Eye Contact

Most people know that eye contact is an important element of communication. We look at people when we talk to them. Eye contact can be a sign of mutual respect and can also show that you are confident in what you are communicating.

How do you translate eye contact to a group setting when you are delivering a presentation?

Some speakers try to establish eye contact by slowly moving their eyes across the room, like their eyes are a slow-motion spotlight. Other speakers make eye contact more like a sprinkler, stopping briefly at intervals as they scan the room. Unfortunately, neither of these techniques makes the audience feel like you’ve connected with them.

One way to connect with your audience through eye contact is to focus on one person for a single thought or sentence. Then move on to another person for the next thought or sentence. Try to focus on people randomly rather than in a row to create a more natural feel. When you are speaking to a very large audience, you might not be able to connect with an individual but you can focus your eye on a specific segment of the audience. Everyone in that section should feel like you are looking at them. Effective eye contact will help your audience feel like you are talking directly to them, and not at them.

Practice

One of the best ways to improve your presentation skills is to practice. Keep in mind, you cannot practice a presentation delivery in your head.

Practicing requires that you deliver your presentation out loud, incorporating all of the delivery techniques that you will use in your actual presentation. In other words, practice the presentation as if you were presenting to a real audience. You can also record yourself practicing, to see and hear what areas need additional polish.

Experiment with your posture, movement, gesturing, volume, pitch, and speed to find what works best for you. Remember not to memorize your message. You want the presentation to come across as natural and authentic.

Conclusion

Once you start to practice these presentation skills, you will notice a difference in how your audience responds, and an increased confidence in yourself!

If you’d like to learn more about how to improve your presentation skills contact BRODYpro today.

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