Delivering a presentation or speech can be nerve-wracking, especially when there is something important on the line, like enlisting investors for your business, getting a good grade on an assignment, or rallying support for a cause.

While not everyone is built for the spotlight, effective communication is by far one of the most vital skills to have in business and it can affect your career, relationships, and future successes.

If speaking to a crowd is not your strong suit, don’t be dismayed. Here are some tips for improving your speaking abilities so you can deliver a killer presentation with ease and wow your audience.

Practice, Practice, Practice

To sell others on what you are saying, you must know your topic inside and out. For instance, if you are trying to land a new client for your business and need to give a sales presentation on why they should choose you for their business, then you should cite those reasons clearly and convincingly and be ready to refute any concerns they might have.

Prepare your presentation well in advance. That way, you have time to practice it alone, and in front of others. Run through it several times so you have not only memorized it, but so you understand it and your rendition comes out naturally, rather than rehearsed.

Most presentations are given a set time limit. This includes any questions afterwards. Respect your audience’s time and attention span by keeping it to the point. Rehearse with a stop watch so you do not go over the allotted time.

Understand Your Audience

Who is your audience? Are you are speaking to peers, employees, employers, or a group of investors?

Knowing who will be receiving your speech can help you to refine its contents to better suit the demographic you are speaking to.

What do they want to know? Try to understand their motivations and appeal to what matters to them so you can capture their attention quickly and give them the information they need to stay intrigued.

For instance, if you are an employee pitching an idea to the board of directors, you will want to have their business interests in mind and appeal to their perspectives by offering them a solution to their problem or a way to increase profitability.

Alternatively, if you are speaking to a group of students, you might try to insert some humor or interactive elements to keep your listeners involved.

Researching your audience prior to speech day can also help you anticipate some of the questions they may have so that you can prepare answers in advance.

Vocal Variety

Your voice is the tool you use to carry your words into your audience’s ears. Therefore, it’s important to be meaningful with what you say and how you say it.

When practicing your speech, pay attention to the words as you say them. If your tone remains flat throughout your delivery, you might need to add some “vocal variety”, which means to mix up your vocal patterns (pitch, rate, and volume) in accordance to your speech so people don’t tune out of your presentation.

Tips for adding vocal variety to your presentation:

  • Speak slowly to emphasize a point or word.
  • Speak quickly to brush over contextual points or to express enthusiasm.
  • Intermingle a warm or conversational tone of voice to draw attention to important points.
  • Vary your volume. While you will want to be speaking loudly for people to hear you, lower your voice for more serious notes and heighten it for attention.
  • Use pauses for dramatic effect, to give listeners time to absorb information, or when transitioning from one topic to another.
  • Don’t forget to breathe. Say phases altogether and group ideas intentionally. Enunciate.
  • Don’t fill silences with distracting noises, such as “umm”.

The key for successful vocal variety is to match your expressions and delivery with the content of your speech so your ideas and knowledge are communicated to your audience in the most effective way.

Body Language Talks

Your voice may be what people hear, but the audience will be looking at you while you are talking. Your body language can be a powerful addition to your presentation or it can end up distracting people from your speech. Use it to compliment your speech by practicing intentional movements, such as hand gestures and eye contact, so you don’t end up fidgeting, looking down while speaking, or remaining in one spot throughout the presentation.

Body language tips:

  • Make eye contact with individuals in the room.
  • Be aware of your facial expressions. Smile, laugh, relax you face.
  • Walk around.
  • Use hand gestures to describe points.
  • Don’t slouch or cross your arms.
  • Practice using props. If you are including a screen presentation, practice your speech with a remote or laptop, and point to it to reinforce points.
  • Always face the audience.
  • Pass around any handouts, business cards, proposals, etc. before or after the presentation.
  • Bring a water bottle with you if you will be speaking for a while.

Your body language has the potential to help or harm you and audiences are largely perceptive to nervousness or stress. Stand tall with your shoulders back and look at your audience to evoke a strong sense of confidence and win their trust.

Don’t Let Technology (or Other Equipment) Fail You

Visit the presentation room beforehand if you can. When using equipment, such as a projector, screen, or microphone, check to see that everything is working so you won’t have any technical issues on the day of your speech.

Tour the stage or space where you are presenting and stand behind the podium to get comfortable with your surroundings. Bonus if you can rehearse in the room. Write down your speech or break it into cue cards to rest on the podium for reference.

Nothing takes the wind out of an audience’s sails more than having a speech delayed because of technical problems or even worse, encountering issues mid-presentation. Familiarizing yourself with the equipment and room can prevent any of these venue blunders.

Tackle Public Speaking With Confidence

Public speaking gives the majority of people anxiety, and in fact, many celebrities, public figures, and politicians still get nervous before delivering a speech, taking the stage, doing an interview, or getting behind the camera.

The key takeaway? Practice profusely and be as prepared as you can so you are in a position where you can feel comfortable and confident before it’s time to speak. If you feel nervous, try to use that energy towards expressing your passion to engage your audience. And lastly, don’t forget to end on a good note by giving your audience a call to action (sign up with us, fund us, support us, buy from us, etc.) and thanking them.

How do you calm your nerves before delivering a presentation? Share your tips below!

Posted by Kristy DeSmit

Kristy is a blogger, Twitter enthusiast, and company legalese interpreter.