If you have to speak in front of a large group at work — do you have the skills to nail it? Or are your hands getting sweaty just thinking about it? A fear of public speaking is pretty common, in fact one study estimates at least 77 percent of the general population has experienced it. Whether you’re in the office or on a video call, leading team meetings and sharing company-wide updates is a regular part of day-to-day work. Especially if you’re a manager. If you can strengthen your presentation skills, you’ll be a better leader for it.
“Every manager has a reason to present,” said Veronica Millan, CIO of Boston-based marketing communications network MullenLowe Group. “Managers need to be able to explain what their team does, their accomplishments and how they are tracking — all things that their boss [and team] will enjoy knowing.”
What Are Basic Presentation Skills?
- Know your audience
- Know what to share, and what not to share
- Do your research beforehand
- Practice ahead of time
- Be confident
Even if you are anxious, public speaking and presenting can’t be avoided. Focus that nervous energy on the message — be transparent and direct when you have status updates or information to share. Presenting well will leave your team inspired and excited. Letting worry take over might leave everyone confused and unclear on what to do next.
“At a software company, employees are everything — and presentations can go a long way toward building employee engagement,” said Apratim Purakayastha, CTO at New Hampshire-based e-learning company Skillsoft. “The best presenters in the world can captivate the audience even without any visuals, just through what they communicate.”
Know Your Audience
The key to a successful presentation is to think of your audience as participants, as well as viewers. Before drafting a slideshow or writing a presentation script, prepare by considering who you’ll be talking to and what you want them to take away. When Purakayastha presents, it’s usually for one of three groups: Customers, peers and higher-ups.
“It’s important to identify what the takeaway messages are, before writing down a single word in a PowerPoint presentation.”
“When I talk to our customers, I present our product vision and roadmap, and how we can best meet the customer’s needs,” he said. “For employees, I present product strategy and employee feedback. I also present our market strategies to shareholders.” Each of these groups need something different, so it’s important to consider that as the presentation structure is developed.
When you’re beginning to come up with a presentation format or ideas, you have to ask yourself questions about your audience: What are they interested in? What will get them excited? What are their biggest concerns? Answering these questions will help you create a presentation that leaves the biggest impact on your viewers.
“It’s important to identify what the takeaway messages are, before writing down a single word in a PowerPoint presentation,” said Purakayastha.
Know What to Share and What Not to Share
For work to run smoothly, transparency is invaluable. Keeping your team up-to-date on operations, strategies and the decision-making process is essential. When presenting to your team, focus on clarity, and make sure that your audience understands the information you share and knows how it applies to them.
“My approach is that most information should be shared,” said Randal Pinto, CTO and co-founder at London-based cybersecurity company Red Sift. “The more information people have, the more independent they become to make decisions that are aligned with the company goals.”
“The more information people have, the more independent they become to make decisions that are aligned with the company goals.”
However, in some cases, transparency is a double-edged sword. Don’t hide any big details from your team or customers, but be careful sharing information that can be harmful or demotivate people. For example, harping on every minor customer issue or highlighting your team’s inefficiencies without offering a path for improvement can all be exhausting. Knowing what not to share is often just as important as knowing what you’ll share.
“Typically, you don’t want to talk about unconfirmed items in your roadmap publicly,” said Purakayastha. “When you’re speaking to shareholders or business analysts, for example, you should talk about facts, but not make speculations."
Do Your Research
The most effective presenters are able to share valuable information, and do so in a way that is impactful and engaging. To prepare for your presentations, become well versed in the topics you’ll be presenting, so that you can do so with ease. If you’re making a funding pitch to potential investors, for example, collect as much data as possible to show you’re an authority on the subject and that you can be trusted.
“It’s really embarrassing to get caught flat-footed, or to have a black hole in an area you should know about,” said Purakayastha. “You don’t want to overwhelm the listener with a lot of data and insights, but you have to have the facts to back yourself up.”
Pay Attention to Timing
We’ve all been there: you’ve been in a meeting for over an hour, the host shows no signs of wrapping up soon, and your eyes are starting to glaze over. Time is a valuable resource, and your audience will start tuning you out if you take too long.
“Early in my career, my tendency was to over-explain and be too detailed,” said Pinto. “Over time I learned that you have just so much of your audience’s attention span.”
Whether you’re presenting a financial report, explaining new OKRs or describing a new product’s features, ration what you share and be concise. When mapping out your presentation, budget time at the end for a discussion or questions. If you really want to become a more effective presenter, ask your attendees to give you feedback too.
“Suppose you have 30 minutes for your presentation — having 30 charts is probably not a good idea,” said Purakayastha. “You can consider having a dozen charts or so, at most.”
Practice and Be Confident
Thankfully, presentation skills can be improved fairly easily — all it takes is practice. If you’re really concerned about getting it right, have a coworker or friend sit in while you rehearse. Ask them where you could improve or if they have any advice. Take every presentation as an opportunity to test out new methods and hone your style. A slideshow is just one way to share info — experiment with different technologies, audience participation exercises or unique openers.
“Don’t forget to be creative about it,” said Millan. “If you master presenting something in a particular way, try presenting in a different way. Think about how else the material can be shown and try it out. That forces you to grow.”
“Structure and backup details are valuable, but you really have to feel competent and comfortable.”
Practicing ahead of time helps you become more comfortable speaking in front of others, but it can also help you build confidence in yourself as a presenter. Though it may be hard to internalize, the fact that you’re being asked to present means that you have some authority on the subject, even if your audience is in a more senior role — take pride in your work and focus on sharing your knowledge as best you can.
“Structure and backup details are valuable,” said Purakayastha. “But you really have to feel competent and comfortable. That’s more important than anything else.”