How to pull off a powerful presentation

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We've all heard the statistic that more people fear public speaking than death. Many of us struggle through presentations, hoping that the crowd is kind.

As a business professional however, presenting your analysis, negotiating deals or being able to persuade others of a course of action is now a core skill. Rather than dreading the next time you will be in front of an audience, here are five ideas to get you presenting confidently and with power.

1. Nail the basics

You have less than a minute at the start of your presentation to make an impression and convince your audience that you have something noteworthy to say. This means you need to have a firm grasp of delivery basics: relaxed breathing; open, stable body language; connecting with the audience through well-timed eye contact; and a clearly audible, well-articulated voice.

Take a presentation course where you will be videotaped and given tailored, individual feedback, or tape yourself presenting and ask your colleagues how you fare with these basic elements. Is your voice controlled or are you speaking too quickly? Do you modulate your tone so that you sound interesting? If you walk and talk during the presentation, do you pause to engage with your audience and help them connect with key points? Is your body language inviting or do you have any distracting movements?

2. The rise and rise of the story

The new presentation standard is not Steve (Jobs) or Anthony (Robbins); it's TED (Talks). Audiences have come to expect visually rich presentations that distil complex concepts into an entertaining, educational 18 minutes. The secret? TED talks rely heavily on storytelling.

Storytelling is a powerful way of drawing your audience in and holding their attention. While you no longer need a campfire or the ability to draw amazing cave pictures, many of the same elements used by the ancients still apply. Neuroscientists say that this is because storytelling fires a particularly influential part of our brain: the sensory cortex. The sensory cortex helps our brains translate our experience of our senses e.g. sounds, visuals, touch and smell.

3. Be yourself

Are you authentic when you present? Do you explain your experiences or just provide a boring list of facts? Audiences are now more sophisticated: they want to share real interactions with presenters who have "been there". They want to hear the real story of how you got the job done - warts and all. Sharing your failures, wins, conflicts and personal insights is another form of storytelling.

Being yourself also demonstrates your "character" - an element that TAI Group research suggests is responsible for up to 60 per cent of the success of your presentation. This contrasts with their findings that the content of your presentation is responsible for less than 10 per cent.

4. 'Feeling' the room: Harness your emotional intelligence

It's not enough to have a great presentation. You need to harness your emotional intelligence to feel the room and tailor your talk accordingly. This could be by telling different personal stories depending on your audience. Humour is another way to connect emotionally. As you move through your presentation, try to gauge how the audience is responding. Have they understood your message? Have you evoked the right emotions to persuade them of your viewpoint or change their minds?

5. Practice, practice, practice

Being natural while still taking in the room's 'vibe' requires practice. Lots of it. According to Carmine Gallo (in Forbes), Dr Jill Bolte-Taylor practiced her life-changing TED presentation on her experiences as a stroke victim over 200 times. Rehearsing many times helps you get into the flow in front of the crowd.

Practice in a place as close to the final presentation environment as possible and in front of others. Many committed presenters visit the presentation forum before their session so that they are intimately familiar with the space upfront.

The writer is founder and chief executive offcer of HNI Training and Coaching. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.

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