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How Can I Get Better at Presenting?

5 simple tips to captivate a crowd of any size

Early on in my career, I struggled to communicate in front of a crowd.

I felt nervous. My ideas weren’t clear. I was downright terrible! And I knew I needed to do something about it.

I got some professional training and worked hard to improve. And I’m grateful. If I hadn’t, my career would have been dead in the water.

So if you want to take on more responsibility at work, you’ve got to be a great presenter. 

Leaders who can’t confidently communicate their ideas to a group – whether it’s an audience of ten or 10,000 – will never reach their full potential.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I interviewed Oz Pearlman for my podcast, How Leaders Lead. Oz (pronounced “Ohs”) is a professional mentalist and magician – and let me tell you, this guy knows how to command a stage.

(By the way, if you don’t know what a mentalist is, watch this quick video of Oz with the Baltimore Ravens and see for yourself.)

Leaders who can captivate and connect with a crowd have a huge advantage over those who can’t.

So if you want to command a stage, keep reading.  I’ve got five simple ways you can improve your presentation skills.

1. Be relevant to your audience

Often in leadership, you’ll find yourself saying the same big ideas over and over again, just to different groups of people.

It’s tempting to just roll out the same spiel. But Oz reminds us how important it is to tweak our content so it’s relevant to whoever’s in the audience.

“I want to appeal to the people in that room,” he says, “and I want to know the ins and outs of what makes them tick.”

Did you watch that clip I mentioned earlier with Oz and the Baltimore Ravens? Now, he could have done any trick with them – guessing a car or a color or any number of things.

But those guys live, breathe, and sleep football. So instead, he had them think of who they’d play in the Super Bowl, and what the score would be – and he guessed THAT instead.

Take the time to tailor your content to your audience.

You’ll get their attention. More importantly, you’ll earn their respect, because you took the time to show you understand what matters to them.

2. Get confidence with proper prep.

Did you know 90% of the anxiety we feel before getting on stage comes from a lack of preparation?

If you struggle with confidence in front of a crowd, the trick is to prepare more.

Legendary NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald understands this powerful link between preparation and confidence.

I asked him once what made him so good at performing well in big games. I’ll never forget his answer:

 “When I step on the field it gives me unbelievable confidence knowing that I did all the work already,” Larry said.

“I know the opponent that I'm playing against,” he continued. “I know my plays. I know the technique I'm going to use. I've done all of this, all week. Now let's go out and execute and have fun.”

For Larry Fitzgerald, preparation isn’t just a part of his craft. It’s a source of confidence.

So do the prep beforehand. Get ruthlessly clear about your ideas. Dig into the research. Practice in front of a few friends.

When it comes time to take the stage, that preparation won’t just make your talk better. It’ll also give you confidence because you know you’ve done the work.

3. Use emotion to underscore key points.

Usually, the point of a presentation is to get people to take action or remember something important.

But too often, presenters don’t actually get their big ideas across. They bog down their talk with too much information. Or they fail to actually express them in a way that will stick with people.

The trick, Oz says, is to make those big ideas stick by connecting them to something memorable or emotional.

For him, that means mind-reading tricks.

But assuming you’re NOT a world-class mentalist, try telling a story.

Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner suggests people are 22 times more likely to remember something if it’s wrapped in a story. 

It doesn’t matter how “good” you are at presenting if people don’t actually remember what you said and take action. Strategically use emotion and story to underscore your big ideas, and your presentation will stick with people long after your talk is done.

4. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Early on in my career, I would listen to myself present. And if I messed up, I’d feel awful – because I really wanted it to be perfect.

The reality is, nobody really likes someone who’s perfect. People want to know you’re real.

So ditch the idea that you’re going to be perfectly polished and have it all together on stage. Instead, be yourself. It’s the only way you can connect with people.

Throw in a little self-deprecating humor so people feel like they know the real you. And if you mess up, just make a joke about it and move on. It will actually humanize you and make you even more appealing to your audience.

5. Connect directly with people.

One of the biggest mistakes Oz sees people make when presenting is to just address the crowd as a whole.

Nothing takes the energy out of the room faster.

Instead, he says, “Look some people in the eye and see that connection. See their faces. See the audience’s reactions and learn a little bit more from them.”

If you can walk out into the audience, throw out questions, and get people interacting, even better.

When I present, I try to speak like I’m talking to just one person across the table – even if the room has a thousand people in it.

When you get personal and create that give-and-take with the audience, you’ll find a whole new level of energy and connection.

As a leader, you’ve got to be comfortable in front of a crowd. It’s a vital skill if you want to share your ideas and vision.

If you’re not the presenter you want to be yet, that’s okay. It’s a skill you can improve.

Hopefully these tips give you a starting place – but don’t be afraid to go out and find a speaking coach who can help you improve even more.

November 15, 2022