Whether you’re pitching for new work, speaking at an event or hosting training sessions for your team, feeling confident in your presentation skills is essential to running a business. Sharing your ideas can feel intimidating, whether it’s to one person or 100 people, and you’re not alone if you feel this way. Research shows that as many as 75 per cent of adults feel anxious about public speaking, and many people worry about judgement from others while underestimating their own ability. The good news is learning how to improve presentation skills isn’t as daunting as you might imagine. It all comes down to two key areas: preparation and practice. Here’s how to hone your presentation skills and ensure your message stands out.

Follow the Rule of Threes

Managing director of NRG Solutions Steve Herzberg standing and smiling with an open mouth and arms outstretched as if he is addressing a room full of people.

People are busy and the human mind is complex. So, getting your listeners to take in everything you present is a hard task – and the truth is that your audience will forget 80 per cent of what you say in your presentation, says Steve Herzberg, managing director of corporate training organisation NRG Solutions.

To make sure your main messages squeeze into the prized 20 per cent the audience will remember, he recommends an effective presentation technique structured around repetition and the “rule of threes”. 

“Three sections and pieces of information is normally about right when you’re organising your content,” says Steve. “You have an introduction, where you explain [that] you’re going to cover A, B and C. Then you have your middle where you outline your three key messages: A, B and C. Then you recap what you’ve covered, which is A, B and C.

“When you’re coming up with your three key points, think about your audience and the outcome or action that you want to achieve with the presentation.”

Use Visual Aids Selectively

Voice and public speaking coach Sally Prosser posing in front of a light grey background. She is standing and smiling with her arms crossed. 

We’ve all watched PowerPoint presentations where the slideshow takes over and the presenter reads the slides instead of engaging with the audience. Voice and public speaking coach Sally Prosser says simple slides with very little text will help you maintain a connection with your audience and convey your key messages effectively.

“The best slide [presentations] don’t make sense without the presenter also being there,” she says. “You want to think of it like a triangle, where you're the head of the triangle and you've got the audience and your slides. You can refer and look to your slides when you need to, but it’s important to look back to your audience. The slides support you – you don't support the slides.”

Corporate training specialist Steve Herzberg preparing a ‘Presenting with Confidence’ presentation using a laptop and keyboard while sitting at a table in a home setting.

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Sharpen Your Public Speaking Skills

A head-and-shoulders portrait of Kelly Dickens from Inspection Express. She is smiling and looking directly at the camera.

Tightening up your public speaking skills will help you clearly articulate your message and keep your audience engaged. Kelly Dickens, who is the head of growth at Inspection Express, a cloud-based property inspection tool for property managers, says she was terrified of public speaking and would avoid it “at all costs” in the early days of her business. But when her company grew from four staff to 35 with a base of 3000 clients, she could no longer ignore it as a necessary skill.

“As the business grew and with success came more opportunities to share our story,” says Kelly. “Others in the industry are interested in our story. With my experience and coaching, I now have more confidence to speak up for the company, run better meetings and say ‘yes’ to PR events that will help us grow. Presenting still terrifies me, but I know practice makes perfect, eventually.”

Taking a deep breath before you start speaking helps to calm your nerves, improve the quality of your voice and focus your mind on your key messages, Sally explains. “Take a big breath in before you start, then a big breath out and then a big breath in again. It will make such a difference.”

Focus on Your Audience

A close-up view of a person’s arm with their palm facing up to show they are talking. The person is presenting to a room of people in an office setting.

Whether your audience is a potential new client, a room full of conference attendees or your own staff, always put them first. “Good presenters are always focused on their audience because presenting is all about them, not about you,” says Steve. To maintain connection with your audience, he recommends regular check-ins. “You might ask: Has anyone ever experienced that? Who’s seen version two? You want the audience nodding, not nodding off, and staying engaged.”

Sally says vocal variation is one of the most effective presentation techniques to maintain audience engagement. “Vary the pitch of your voice. If you’re talking about numbers and there’s been an increase, go up. If there’s been a decrease, go down. One of the main reasons people become disengaged is because a voice becomes kind of like a metronome that keeps going at the same pitch and pace.” Pausing between sentences or slides is also helpful, she says.

The same goes for your body language. “Whatever you’re saying, align it with your body. If you’re talking about the past, move your hand to the right. If you’re talking about the future, move your hand to the left. If you’re communicating an idea, be open with your body language. Use open gestures rather than folding your arms,” says Steve.

Practise Your Presentation Skills

Steve says presentations are a lot like comedy gigs in that the more you do them, the better you get. “The best comedians are always working. They’re always beavering away writing content and delivering it, and I find the best presenters present a lot. They’re not trying to do it perfectly, but they’re delivering messages to staff and clients on a regular basis in a variety of settings.”

It’s advice Kelly says continues to pay dividends in her growing small business. “Just say yes to public speaking opportunities. Once you do your first presentation, other opportunities will open up for you."

Essential Equipment for a Seamless Presentation

You’ve got the expert tips, now it’s time for the essential tools that will help make your presentation memorable. Visual aids such as printed flyers, brochures and business cards can summarise key points for your audience to think about once your presentation is complete, or provide detailed information with a neatly presented handout or booklet created using a laminator or a binding machine.

Upscale your presentation with a projector and screen so you can reach each audience member, even those in the farthest corner of the room. Wireless presenters allow you to flick through your slides without having to walk back to your laptop, and a remote with a laser pointer will help you emphasise the most important points. And be sure to avoid any awkward tech delays by setting up and testing your gear before you commence.

What to Try

A GIF series of products helpful for presentations, shown on various brightly-coloured backgrounds. Products include things like laser remotes, clipboards and projectors.