You may not be doing a TED talk, but there’s no reason that you can’t become a better presenter. Accounting and finance professionals today need to have strong verbal presentation skills. Whether it’s talking to a cross-functional business unit, or presentation in front of senior leadership, you need to be able to communicate clearly.
Here are 4 ways to substantially improve your presentation skills.
Deconstruct Great Speakers
Deconstruct great speakers. Sugata Mitra, for example, creates presentations that engage, inspire and educate. He creates a unified, consistent message, which he supports with visuals, stories and a small bit of humor. He keeps the audience in mind the whole time, while delivering his message in an accessible way.
Watch this TED talk to see Sugata Mitra presenting.
Structuring Your Presentation
- Create a clear message – What is the message you are trying to deliver? What is the purpose of the presentation? If the material you include does not support your purpose, it needs to be removed. This will keep your presentation succinct.
- Know your audience – Who is your audience and what are they hoping to learn?
- Flow – Make sure your presentation flows smoothly from topic to topic. Only use slides to anchor the presentation.
- Get Comfortable – Get as comfortable as possible with your material. The more you know your presentation, the more confident you’ll feel and appear.
Read “10 Tips for More Effective PowerPoint Presentations” to avoid creating the “death by PowerPoint” effect.
Desensitization is a type of behavioral therapy that, “aims to remove the fear response of a [trigger], and substitute a relaxation response” (from Simply Psychology’s “Systematic Desensitization”). In other words, whether it’s fear of spiders (we are shrieking quietly to ourselves inside), or public speaking, there is a way to calm your nerves and move forward. Here’s what Simply Psychology recommends:
Step 1 – Stress leads to shallow breathing. This tells the brain that there is a dangerous situation afoot. Breathing deeply short circuits the stress response by letting the brain know that there is nothing to fear.
Step 2 – Create a fear hierarchy. Start with jotting down which parts of the presentation you find the least stressful, continuing to add to the list until you reach the areas that cause the most stress. For example, prepping the presentation may create stress, but only a small amount, whereas the presentation itself is likely the most stressful part of the process.
Step 3 – Visualize yourself at each step of the presentation process. Breathe deeply and let your body become calm. Only move on to the next step of the process when you feel relaxed with the previous visualization.
The more you present, the less afraid you’ll become. Consider going to an organization like Toastmasters, where everyone is there with the goal of becoming a better public speaker. Go to the website and click the “find a club” button in the top right-hand corner to locate a Toastmasters near you.
Pro Tip: Practice your presentation in front of a friend and ask them to give you constructive feedback. Film yourself so that you can see any presentation missteps that need to be addressed.
Great presenters are great storytellers, even if it’s only helping people see the story behind the numbers. Create presentations that focus on a central message. Keep your audience in mind. Ensure that your presentation flows from one topic to another. Integrate slides with data, key takeaways and visuals. Desensitize yourself to the stress that comes with the thought of public speaking, and consider joining Toastmasters. Strong presenters are made, not born, and a determination to become a better public speaker can be the bridge to improving your presentation skills.
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