"It's the beginning of the end, " you think to yourself. But is it really? Giving presentations is not that hard; it’s quite the opposite actually. It offers us a great opportunity to convey the message we want to the audience we are targeting. 

The first step is to put nervousness aside and make everything relative. But, unfortunately, this alone is not enough. Here are several effective tips for how to prepare and give clear and engaging presentations, and ultimately achieve your objective.

Make a good first impression

You don’t have a second chance to make a first impression. This fundamental rule represents a great truth, because of the way our brain automatically organizes almost all the stimuli we receive. 

Psychology speaks of the so-called mental shortcuts: cognitive rules we apply to quickly judge and decide on certain facts, even if we only have a little information. In case of doubt, we usually choose the most expensive wine because we think it has to be better. Is it logical? No. Is it reasonable? Yes.

What does this have to do with you and your presentations? It’s simple. Your audience will also use shortcuts to judge you as a speaker. After all, they have to make a very important decision: Should I really give my precious time to this person in front of me?

So always remember that your audience will immediately define their impression of you based on your clothes, appearance, body language, etc. Keep in mind that successful rhetoric begins long before the first word.

 

Fewer words, clear graphics

It doesn't matter if the presentation is in PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, or Deckset. Even the best template won't help you if you're not able to summarize what you want to express with a proper structure and attractive design

As for the presentation of the information, marketing guru Guy Kawasaki, for example, uses light fonts with a dark background, less than 25 words per page, and large, striking and clear graphics.

Images are more intuitive than text and provide an excellent way to convey emotions. It's important, however, not to fill slides with too many pictures. Instead, use large photos and graphics to illustrate the information you’re presenting in your own voice.

Know your audience

Your audience will punish you with disinterest if it detects that your presentation has already been used in other forums or was only slightly modified for the occasion. 

Obviously, prestigious, well-known speakers don’t change their presentation each time they’re in a different place, but they always adapt it to suit the audience they have before them.  When it is perceived that the speaker has thought of them and their concerns, it will decisively influence the success of the meeting.

Stories connect with the audience

Conferences and presentations, especially in a professional setting, can quickly become a litany of disjointed numbers and messages. The result: you lose the audience’s interest. 

However, it’s much easier for your audience to follow an argument if they feel emotionally connected to the speaker and if they feel that the phenomenon being described affects them personally. When you introduce your presentation with a story, you make your audience feel like they are the protagonists from the start and ensure that they follow the rest of the presentation more attentively.

The importance of 'how' versus 'what'

Only seven percent of what we say is transmitted through words. By contrast, 38 percent is communicated by your tone and voice, and up to 55 percent of our communication is transmitted through body language. It’s clear to see that not only what is said matters, but also, and very much so, how it is said. 

Therefore, instead of sitting or hiding behind a desk, it’s a good idea to give your presentation while standing. Don’t cross your legs or arms, but remain relaxed and upright, your feet slightly apart and speaking loud and clear. Watch your tone. Emphasize in places where your message requires it and introduce appropriate pauses to maintain interest.

Make eye contact to be more convincing

Who hasn’t attended a conference in which the speaker spends more time looking at the slide and reading it than interacting with the audience? This widespread bad habit not only reflects a lack of confidence; it's exhausting and boring for the audience. 

If you're trying to convince people, you have to look them in the eye. Only then does any kind of connection emerge. This doesn't mean you have to stare at individual people for minutes at a time, but rather that all attendees notice that you’re making eye contact with them from time to time. 

Practice, practice, and then practice some more

Finally, probably the most important lesson when you’re learning to give clear and engaging presentations is: you will only learn to speak by speaking.

Marcus Tullius Cicero said it in Roman times: no one is born a speaker. The more practice you have, the more confident you'll feel during your presentation. And this also applies to preparation: rehearse your presentation several times before the big day.

In conclusion

Exuding a sense of calm and self-confidence during a presentation is easier than you think. Good preparation, accompanied by lots of practical experience, will set the stage, but remember that much of your success lies in the 'how'. Smile, vocalize, use subtle gestures, and make eye contact with your audience at all times.