Keys to Taking Your Presentation Skills to the Next Level

Once you’ve mastered basic presentation skills, you may want to take your presentations to the next level, especially if they are important to your academic work or career. When you feel you’re a “pro” at giving a basic presentation, you might want to hone your skills and techniques even more. One thing you might want to try is experimenting with unusual formats and techniques.

Here are some examples of what you can do when it comes to formats and techniques to take your presentation to the next level:

    1. Include more audience involvement. The more you invite your listeners to actively participate in your presentation, the more interested and dynamic it will seem. You’ll find a separate article on how to do this, but it is one technique that should be considered. You will need to be very comfortable in front of your listeners, with your knowledge of your material, and in improvising.
  1. Ask for questions at the beginning of the presentation, as well as at the end. Like the first technique, this is not one that is for the novice presentation-giver, for a few reasons. You’ll need to be aware that your listeners’ questions may reshape the flow of your speech. But it’s a great way to jump start interest in your material.
  2. Start your presentation with a powerful slide show. For example, if your presentation is on providing clean drinking water to a third world country, your slide show could depict the current effects of unclean water on the country’s residents. This technique will immediately gain your listeners’ attention. However, you must be able to get images that will accurately depict your topic.
  3. Use a combination of music and images. Music can set a mood, gain listeners’ attention, or serve many other purposes. When you combine images or photos with effective music, it can be a powerful combination.
  4. Use “live” models or props. If it’s appropriate to your presentation topic and easily done, think about using a real or live model or prop. For example, if your speech is about animal shelters, consider bringing in a puppy or kitten for use in your presentation. However, you must first get approval from the facility and keep the animal in a kennel for its protection. Another example is if your presentation is on an element of design or construction, bring in a scale model that can be easily seen by all members of the audience.

Make the Focus of Your Presentations Your Visual Aids

The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” is true, and knowing this can be especially helpful when you’re giving a presentation. Whether the goal of your presentation is to present this quarter’s sales results or persuade the audience to recycle, you can find many visual aids that cannot only enhance your presentation but be its primary focus. However, the visual aids must be:

  1. Appropriate for the topic
  2. Appropriate for the audience (especially an audience that may include children)
  3. Visually meaningful.

Here are some examples of how you can use visual aids as the focus of your presentation.

  • Use comparisons, especially if your presentation contains a lot of data. Comparing it to last year’s numbers or competitors’ numbers, for example, are a few techniques to make the data more meaningful to the audience. If your speech is talking about landfill use, you could compare the amount of the trash in landfills to other well known icons like the height of the Empire State building.
  • Use visually stunning slides. Even if your presentation is presenting data, it can be presented in bright colors or images that capture attention. You must also make sure they are still easily read.
  • Use live or scale models. For example, if your presentation is on how a single flaw in the design of a building can impact its strength, create a model that will demonstrate how the building would be impacted. Or if other buildings have already been impacted and you have photos of them, use actual photos of the impacts. This can make your presentation much more dramatic.
  • Make sure your slides or images tell a story and flow with your presentation. You can’t make the visuals the focus of your presentation if they do not flow along with your content or there are obvious holes or leaps in points. If you can’t create or find the right visuals to go with each of your points, then you shouldn’t make the visuals the main focus of your presentation.
  • If appropriate, combine some of your images with complementary music for added impact.

A presentation with a visual focus can be dramatic and memorable, if it is done correctly. You must be comfortable and familiar with the facility’s media system, and it’s even more important to practice your presentation on-site.

Creating Effective Visual Aids Enhances Your Presentation Skills

You can make your presentation more meaningful and attention-getting by using effective visual aids. Remember though, the visual aids must relate to your topic and/or a specific point in your presentation. If they don’t, they will be distracting rather than helpful.

Creating Effective Visual AidsYou’ll also remember from other articles on this site that you can use a variety of visual aids, from live models to flip charts, hand outs, and slide presentations. To decide which kind of visual aid best suits your presentation, first look at what you need to depict. If you’re presenting a lot of data, a PowerPoint presentation or chart, graph, or similar graphic will be most appropriate. Otherwise, consider using photos, live or scale models, as well as bullet lists for text.

Once you’ve determined what your visual aids are going to be, here are some dos and don’ts for making sure they are as effective as possible:

  • DO make sure your listeners will be able to see your aids clearly. If they must be able to read them, make sure everyone can read them as well. They will not be effective if they can’t be seen or read.
  • DO use visual aids that illustrate a point, provide statistics that back it up, or similarly relate to your topic or point. Using a visual aid just for the sake of having one will be obvious to your audience, and ineffective.
  • DO use dramatic visual aids. For example, if your presentation is on the impact that Hurricane Katrina has had on New Orleans since it occurred, use “before” and “after” photos of the same location.
  • DO use music to go with your slides, if it is appropriate and does not interfere with other parts of your presentation.
  • DO practice using your visual aids. If you wait until the day of the presentation to practice with them, you might realize that they don’t work, or there are other technical glitches you didn’t expect.
  • DON’T read your visual aids word for word—you are likely to not only bore your audience, but insult them. In most instances, they will be able to read for themselves.
  • DON’T pack too much information on one PowerPoint screen. Two to three points is usually all that can fit on one slide and still be read by your listeners.

Use Lists to Imporve Your Presentation Skills

Another technique for taking your presentation to the next level is to include a list in it. This doesn’t mean grocery lists, lists of terms, or definitions. Those are sure to put your listeners to sleep in minutes. Instead, think about the Top 10 Reasons Why… For example, if your presentation is about why listeners should adopt their next pet from a rescue shelter, make a list of the Top 10 reasons.

Using lists like these are a great way to gain audience attention. They have been used successfully in a number of media forms, including online, in newspapers, radio, and television. Think about some of the popular television shows that use these lists as their basis. For example, “The Top 20 Best Dressed Actors,” “Top 20 Tragedies of the Year,” etc.

Also think about what makes these shows successful. In addition to the lists, there is usually a brief (and often humorous) commentary that explains why that person or event made the list. This is a great format to use in a presentation as well. Also notice that these lists are counted “down,” saving the most dramatic person or event as No. 1. This builds listener attention and excitement. They want to know what No. 1 will be.

Going back to the previous example, the Top 10 Reasons to Adopt a Pet from a Shelter, each reason could have a dramatic, funny, or touching image to go with it as the presenter builds to the No. 1 reason. The images that could be used are of dogs and cats with owners or at rescue shelters, with the final image being a puppy or kitten going home with a new family.

Lists can be used in a number of ways, as part of your presentation, or as the basis of the entire presentation. They can be funny, interesting, thought provoking, or sad. Remember that if your presentation garners an emotional response from the audience (if appropriate) it will be much more effective and remembered long afterwards.

Just make sure that the list you include relates to your topic. Throwing in a list that has nothing to do with your subject will only be distracting. It should also be accurate. For example, if your list contains the Top 10 cities in the nation that were most impacted by the residential real estate crash, do your homework and back up your list with actual numbers. If your list is subjective, then say so and invite responses from your listeners. That’s a great way to invite participation and gain audience attention.

How to Use Humor to Take Your Presentation Skills to the Next Level

How to Use Humor to Take Your Presentation to the Next LevelOnce you feel you’ve mastered the basics of giving a presentation, you may want to incorporate humor into your next speech. Since humor is a bit of a risk and can depend on the delivery, it is not always a good idea for a novice presenter to try this technique. However, if you’ve gotten to the point that you feel comfortable in front of an audience, it is an excellent way to improve a presentation.

Here are some tips and advice for how to use humor in a presentation.

  • Make sure humor is appropriate for the topic. There are simply some topics that do not lend themselves to a humorous anecdote, like a tragic event, natural disaster, etc. If your topic is along those lines, save humor for a different presentation.
  • If you can, pepper some humor throughout the presentation. Some people like to open with humor, or close with a funny story, or do both. For a really memorable and attention-getting presentation, try adding some humorous stories, cartoons, images, etc., throughout the presentation.
  • Keep the humor short. You want the humor to enhance your message, not overwhelm it, especially if you use it throughout the speech. You need to find the balance between professional/speaker and stand-up comic. You also want to remain credible to your audience. So while you can use humor throughout the presentation, keep it brief.
  • Your humor MUST relate to your topic. Don’t use funny stories because you thought they were funny if they have absolutely no relevance to your topic. The funniest thing may have happened to you just before you entered class, but if you can’t somehow tie it back to your topic, it will just sound out of place if you mention it during your presentation.
  • Involve the audience in the joke. This isn’t always an easy thing to do, and may backfire on you, so you really need to feel confident and comfortable before attempting this. However, it can be a very effective way to gain the audience’s attention. You can do this by asking the audience a question or doing a traditional (but funny) “Knock, Knock” joke in which the audience must respond. You can also ask for a volunteer to come up front so you can ask him a question that is part of the joke or story. Involving the audience is always a great way to gain attention.

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