Woman standing and presenting

Career Catalyst: Preparing to present

career presenting Mar 25, 2023

It is a truth universally acknowledged that more people fear public speaking than death. A few years' ago, I was fortunate to attend a course at RADA on how to improve my presentation skills. As a result, I have 10 top tips to help you prepare and deliver when the stakes are high.

1. Breathing

Remember to breathe deeply from the stomach, before speaking. Greg de Polnay, my trainer, observed that I often ran out of steam towards the end of a sentence. I was, due to my anxiety, literally forgetting to breathe. As a result, my audience couldn't hear me. The sequence to remember is therefore: think, breathe, speak.

2. Standing still

Moving around is distracting for your audience. To command attention, stand with your feet apart, upright but relaxed. This posture conveys confidence and  helps keep you anchored to the ground. If you stand on one leg or lean to one side you can convey instability.

3. Practice

Before you deliver your presentation, practice out loud. Record yourself so you can see how you’re coming across. Once you’ve delivered your presentation much of it will ‘stick’ so recall is easier if you have had at least one run-through.

4. Engaging your audience

Before you start your presentation, engage eye contact with your audience and smile. Say ‘Good morning everyone.’ Give your name and position. Do this slowly. This can feel artificially slow when you're doing it, but it really does create an impact. Try it out, using your name and title. Imagine. there. is. a. full. stop. after. each. word.

5. Impressions

People are more likely to recall what you say if you’ve engaged them through your body language and tone.  Focus on how you want your audience to feel about you. Consider what feelings you want to convey.

6. Presentation structure

This approach will work for any presentation, no matter how long or short.

  • Ask yourself what concerns does your presentation address?
  • Identify your topic
  • Have three headings representing three key themes of your topic
  • Under these headings create three bullets with one key point to make for each
  • As you talk, make the link between each theme
  • Conclude with a call to action. What do you want your audience to do

7. Use visual images and metaphors

Bring your presentation to life. Stories make an emotional connection with your audience.

8  Language

Use three positive action verbs into your presentation, words you want the audience to respond to. For example,

‘I want to inspire and encourage you to take that first step out of your comfort zone…’

9. Use Pauses

Especially if you are making points. Let the audience digest what you’re saying before moving on. Look for the audience’s reaction before moving on.

10. At the end

Say ‘Thank you for your time.’ Smile, look at the audience, count to three. Then and only then, sit down or exit. Pausing shows respect for your audience and gives you authority.

In conclusion...

Preparation and practice will help you deal with the very normal anxieties that giving presentations can induce. Your audience is not the enemy. People are there to hear what you have to say. Take your audience with you and they will respond warmly to your efforts.

About the author: 

Anne Wilson (SFHEA), is Head of Careers at the University of Warwick and part of WHEN’s Career Accelerator programme delivery team. Her blog, www.thecareercatalyst.co.uk is aimed at women working in Higher Education. Anne is actively involved in the development of female staff and students at Warwick.