Presenting with confidence: the art of delivery

In this post we will explore what makes a good presenter and how this can help you become more confident presenting.

Person on stage talking to an audience.
Photo by Product School on Unsplash

Introduction

You’ve done all of the hard work planning your presentation and designing your slides, now it’s time to stand up and deliver. Presenting in front of an audience can be intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. This post will explore:

  1. What does a successful presentation look like?
  2. What strategies can help you deliver presentations more confidently?
  3. What are your barriers and how can you overcome them?

To see all our posts and resources which support presentation skills please visit Start to finish: Present like a pro.

What does a successful presentation look like?

The first step to delivering an effective presentation is to be able to recognise what one looks like.

Watch the presentation below. Amalachukwu is talking to a group of students about what to expect when applying for a job. Make some notes about what you like and what could be improved about their delivery.

The content isn’t important here; we are focusing on the delivery.

Example presentation video. Captions available in player.

What did you think?

Here are our thoughts:

There were lots of great things about this presentation including; the presenter seems confident, had a good stance, kept eye contact with the audience rather than looking at the slides, and the pace at which they talked through each topic. A point for building on this good practice would be to ask the audience if they have questions.

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What strategies can help you deliver presentations more confidently?

Now that you’ve got a good idea of what to look for, it’s time to review your own performance.

As painful as it may sound, we recommend that you video yourself practising your presentation. You can then watch it back and critique your own delivery just as you just did with Amalachukwu’s presentation.

An empty chair facing a microphone in the middle of a large recording studio;
Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash

Nobody likes watching themselves on video, but doing this will enable you to pick up on things you’ll never notice while you’re actually presenting.

After this why not try delivering the presentation to friends? You can let them know if there is a specific thing you would like feedback on such your pace, eye contact or volume.

However you decide to practise your presentation, each time you do, pick one thing to improve for next time. Remember presenting is skill and as such you will get better with practice focusing on one area at a time. We have made a downloadable feedback sheet you can use if you’re not sure where to focus.

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What are your barriers and how can you overcome them?

In this part of the post we will explore some specific worries you might have about presenting and tips to overcome them.

1. Nerves

Person look stressed/worried.
Photo by ahmad gunnaivi on Unsplash

If you know that you tend to get nervous, make a plan to handle your nerves in a way which suits you best. Think about the reasons for your nerves: what do you see going wrong, and what can you do to prevent that happening?

2. Questions

You should always invite and expect questions. You can minimise questions not relevant to your presentation by making your objectives clear at the beginning. Let your audience know whether you want them to hold their questions until the end or ask during your presentation.

If you’re anticipating difficult questions, think beforehand about what these might be and prepare some answers.

Finally, if you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest. Thank the audience member for the questions and advise them you will need to look into and get back to them. Remember, questions aren’t bad; they show your audience is interested and listening.

3. Forgetting your place or needing a script

Person hiding behind a book.
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Have you ever heard the saying;

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Remembering what you’re saying is all about practice. As soon as you are given the task of presenting, work out your plan of action. It will include things like:

  • Deciding what you will cover.
  • What structure/flow will you follow?
  • Designing the slides/visual aids.
  • Practising, as much as you can, to as many people as you can.

If you do all this, you should know your presentation inside out. If you need help with planning and design take a look at these resources:

Start to finish: present like a pro
‘Start to finish: Present like a pro’ — available at www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/learning-objects/mle/packages/presentations/

4. Making eye contact

Making eye contact with your audience is a must; it shows you are interested in talking to them, and helps to get them on board with your message. Talk to members of your audience just before the presentation if you can; once you’ve been introduced to someone you’ll find it easier to make eye contact with them. If there are people in the audience you already know, that’s a bonus.

You should aim to make eye contact with one person for a couple of seconds at a time before moving on to someone else; anything longer will feel uncomfortable for you both. Remember to keep an eye out for anyone smiling and/or nodding; think of these people as your friendly faces. They will always be the easiest to make eye contact with.

5. Speaking too quickly or quietly

This is usually always down to nerves and an eagerness to ‘get it over with’. It’s something that will improve with practice. In the meantime there are some simple things you can do to help.

  • Practise using cue cards to identify where your key points are; write yourself a note to pause there for 2–3 seconds. Pausing adds natural emphasis to your words, and gives your audience time to digest the information.
  • To avoid talking too fast, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to be calm. Before you begin, take a few slow, deep breaths; talking too fast is linked to your adrenaline levels, and breathing exercise will force you to slow down.
  • Practise projecting your voice if you’re naturally a quiet talker. You want the person at the back of the room to be able to hear you clearly.

6. Body language and stance

Person standing confidently
Photo by Judeus Samson on Unsplash

A lot of your impact as a presenter comes from your body language. If you look confident, your audience will assume that you know what you’re talking about. Stiff or awkward body language such as standing still with your hands in your pockets or holding A4 sheet notes do not project confidence. It will also leave you feeling less confident.

You should practise moving around when presenting, such as taking a couple of steps every few minutes and using hand gestures to emphasise your key points. Always try to avoid having your hands in your pockets. It may not come naturally at first but you will get better with practice.

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Summary

We’ve looked at what it takes to deliver an effective presentation, and you should have some tips to help you improve on any particular areas of concern. Now it’s all about practice.

It’s also helpful to see as many examples of good presentations as you can. Watch some videos online and think about what it is that makes them effective, and how can you implement some of the good practice in your own presentations. TED talks are a great place to start.

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