Most Important Presentation Skills (With Examples)

By Matthew Zane - Jan. 25, 2021
Skills Based Articles

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Skills Based Articles

Whether it’s professionally or personally, the chances are that you’ll give a presentation at some point in your life. With the right presentation skills, you’ll open up new doors for professional growth and be a more confident individual overall.

We’ll cover what presentation skills are, how to improve your ability to present, and showcase your new skills.

What Are Presentation Skills?

Presentation skills cover a range of abilities that allow one to effectively engage their audience and get information across in a clear way. In today’s world, the persuasive power of presentations is more important than ever.

Before we get into the various skills that can make you a better presenter, let’s cover the different scenarios in which you might give a presentation:

  • Delivering a presentation to colleagues, employees, or subordinates about new technology, processes, goals, etc.

  • Drumming up investor interest, either for a new business or for your current business’s expansion.

  • Teaching your team a new skill.

  • Deciding between two or more alternative options or solving a problem with a current system.

  • Progress reports.

  • Selling a product or service to a client.

  • Motivational speech

  • Interviewing for a new job or promotion

  • Saying goodbye to a colleague (or introducing a new one)

  • Giving a speech at a family function, like a wedding.

As you can tell, the different situations you might have to deliver a presentation can be wildly different. However, general presentation skills will aid you regardless of if your presentation’s primary purpose is to inform, persuade, motivate, or entertain.

Types of Presentation Skills

Being a skilled presenter requires a constellation of hard and soft skills. As you read through this list, think about where you’re naturally strong and where you could do with some improvement:

  1. Research. The first step of any successful presentation is the research and preparation phase. First and foremost, you have to become an expert on the content you hope to deliver. It’s also essential to research your audience to know which information is most pertinent for them.

  2. Planning. Once you’ve completed your research, it’s time to develop a plan. During this phase, you’ll prioritize which information gets put front-and-center, and which is less vital for your ultimate goal.

    Before you start drafting your presentation, it’s crucial to keep your goal at the forefront: what do you want the audience to do after listening to your presentation?

    Whether it’s convincing a client to purchase a service, landing your dream job, or getting a few laughs at a wedding, your presentation’s goal should always be central in your plan.

  3. Organization. Audiences prefer presentations that are well-thought-out and delivered in a logical order. Before you even step foot in the room, you should know what you need to do to set up, have all your notes in order, and be aware of your allotted time.

    You should also always arrive early for a presentation, so you can organize anything that needs organizing before you start. That way, you won’t kick off your presentation futzing with wires while your audience starts drifting to their phones.

  4. Verbal communication. No surprises here, verbal communication skills are downright essential for an effective presentation. Even if you have very rigid notes to follow, being quick on your feet to answer questions or alter your content for the audience’s benefit will serve you well during presentations.

  5. Nonverbal communication. Good body language means standing up straight, not fidgeting too much, and maintaining eye contact with your audience members.

    Additionally, your inflection, pace, and energy are all elements of nonverbal communication. Adjust these according to your audience (through research or in real-time), and you’ll be a more effective presenter.

  6. Public speaking. Some people get nervous just thinking about speaking publicly. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is crucial to keep your nerves under wraps for delivering the most effective presentation possible. Audiences are less likely to trust presenters who don’t appear confident.

  7. Memorization. We’ve all seen presentations where the presenter is just reading directly off his Powerpoint slides – we don’t need to tell you that those presentations are unequivocally bad. It’s fine to have notes as a reference, but the more time you can spend looking at your audience rather than the sheet in front of you, the better.

  8. Writing. Being a good writer will help keep your presentation organized and give a boost to your credibility. Before you can commit your content to memory, you need to develop that content.

  9. Story-telling. Not all presentations require story-telling, but it can be a very effective method of grabbing your listeners’ attention. It can be a hypothetical story that presents a question or problem, a real story that leads into your main argument, or a story that continues throughout to illustrate the duller facts your presentation covers.

    While we tend to associate story-telling with more informal presentations (like a maid of honor’s toast), it can be equally effective in a professional setting.

  10. Rhetorical skills. Rhetoric is all about persuasion: how are your words going to induce action from the listener(s)? Rhetorical appeals are classified under three headings: ethos, logos, and pathos.

    Ethos establishes credibility in the speaker and trust in the listeners through confident delivery and expert testimony. Logos covers your presentation’s logical thrust through statistics, models, comparisons, analogies, etc. Pathos is your presentation’s emotional appeal, supported by vivid language and stories that promote certain values.

    Every presentation will contain some element(s) of these rhetorical appeals, but the weight each gets depends on the situation.

  11. Active listening. Pay attention to which parts of your presentation are grabbing listeners and which are falling flat. If your audience’s eyes start glazing over or phones start coming out, you know you’re losing them.

    Additionally, some presentations have a Q+A segment, so be ready to shut up for a second and give your full attention to each question.

  12. Adaptability. Like the above point, being able to adapt on the fly sets top-tier presenters apart from merely good ones. For instance, if you can tell your presentation isn’t working, you can open up the floor and ask for questions as a way of determining your audience’s priorities.

    Using the ample research you conducted, you can start steering the presentation towards areas of genuine interest.

  13. Delivery. We bet you’ve heard some of the same Dad jokes multiple times in your life. Sometimes they’re hilarious, and sometimes they induce an eye-roll. The difference? Delivery. Pace, timing, tone, and enunciation/inflection are all important elements of good delivery.

    It’s a tough thing to practice, but if you’ve got an anecdote to share in your presentation, maybe try it out on a few people beforehand using different delivery methods and see which works best.

  14. Technical skills. All right, you’re all set with the perfect presentation, you walk into the room, and the A/V set up isn’t what you were expecting. Well, if you followed our advice above, you showed up a bit early and had time to fix it.

    Either way, being handy with different presentation software and just generally technologically-literate will lessen the stress associated with technical difficulties.

  15. Analysis. Phew, your presentation is done. Time to forget about presenting until the next one comes up, right? No siree – now is the time for you to take a step back and evaluate your performance.

    What went well, where could you improve, and how did the audience respond? If you want to improve as a presenter, you must be continually tracking your strengths and weaknesses.

How to Improve Your Presentation Skills

  • Watch and learn. You’ve seen presentations before, but to prepare for your own, try watching presentations to learn what works and what doesn’t. If you’re presenting at a conference, attend other presentations and pay attention to how the audience responds. Your audience probably won’t be much different.

    Alternatively, you could watch TED presentations and pick up tricks from the best in the business.

  • Practice. Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. Rehearse what you want to say, either on your own or with an audience of friends. You can even record yourself speaking and pinpoint weak areas and strengths. The more you perform your presentation, the more comfortable you’ll be delivering the real thing.

  • Visualize success. What speakers often forget is that audiences want you to do well. They’re there (more or less) of their own volition, and they want to hear what you have to say. Take that nervousness you’re feeling and transform it into excitement.

    Athletes don’t visualize themselves missing shots or losing games, so why should you picture your presentation bombing? Think about how awesome you’re going to do, and you’ll do better.

  • Exercise/drink water beforehand. The human body responds to stressful situations with a whole host of unwelcome physical side effects. If you stay hydrated and get some light exercise in beforehand, you’ll flush the adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) right out of your body.

  • Adopt a power stance and smile. Just as exercise and hydration help keep your body regulated, so does powerful body language. Standing straight with shoulders squared and a smile on your face, and your body will be tricked into thinking you’re in a confident and commanding position.

  • Engage your audience. The best presenters are also first-class entertainers. Don’t go overboard and start practicing your comedy routine, but lightening the mood with a joke or two can go a long way. Be sure to greet your audience enthusiastically.

    Additionally, you can get the audience involved with call-and-responds by asking for questions and posing your questions.

  • Don’t get defensive if you’re stumped. There might be moments when an audience member asks a question, and you don’t have an answer. Don’t try to equivocate or dodge the question because people will see what you’re doing. It’s okay not to know everything, but pretending you do will only deteriorate your listeners’ faith in you.

  • Keep it concise. People won’t be upset if you wrap up earlier than expected, but they might be a little peeved if you start running over your allotted time. Cut irrelevant information, and your audience will thank you.

  • Take your time. All right, so we just suggested keeping things short, and now we’re telling you to take your time. What gives? Well, you should always include a bit of padding into your presentation. For example, if your presentation is meant to be a half-hour, try to get it down to 25 minutes, so you have some wiggle room.

    That way, you won’t feel rushed to get through your material. You can take pauses, slow down your speech, and add emphasis when appropriate.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a natural showman or a super-shy introvert, keep the above tips in mind to improve your presentation skills. Because the chances are, you’ll have to give a presentation at some point in your life. With a little practice, you’ll have audiences clamoring for more.

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Matthew Zane

Author

Matthew Zane

Matthew Zane is the lead editor of Zippia's How To Get A Job Guides. He is a teacher, writer, and world-traveler that wants to help people at every stage of the career life cycle. He completed his masters in American Literature from Trinity College Dublin and BA in English from the University of Connecticut.

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