Speaking publicly — whether running a meeting or as a presenter, keynote speaker, panelist or event host — is a valuable opportunity to communicate expertise, strengthen credibility and showcase your personal brand. Presenting in front of audiences, large or small, also boosts professional visibility and sparks network growth and business opportunities.
While what you say (and how you say it) shapes the audience’s impression of you as a speaker, building that impression begins beforehand with how well you prepare for the engagement. With focused planning and practice, even those who shy away from presentations can deliver talks confidently and lead meetings effectively.
Here are some important tips to follow before addressing the room:
Thoroughly research your audience
Who is attending, why are they attending and what questions might they have? Effective speakers relate to their audiences, so it’s important to understand the group, anticipate its needs and tailor your message accordingly. Research in detail who will be in the room and what problems they may have that you can help solve. For recurring events, look into past topics, speakers and presentation styles to find out what was most effective.
Meticulously proof visuals
Mistakes on slides, handouts and other materials can cause embarrassment and undermine a presenter’s credibility. Don’t skip or rush through proofreading. Even if you have a fantastic team that creates high quality materials regularly, read everything out loud, paying close attention to phrasing, spelling, punctuation and formatting, as well as key facts & figures. If you created the materials yourself, ask a colleague to double-check everything too.
When developing a presentation, remember that less is more for slide content and count. Visuals should aide and enhance what you speak about, not restate the presentation verbatim. Don’t wait until the eve of a presentation to review content and how you’ll discuss it. Audiences can tell when a speaker is unprepared or unfamiliar with slide content and it can negatively impact their impressions and interest.
Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again
Know your presentation inside and out, including what you’ll say, when and how, as well as the content on each slide, handout etc. While you don’t want to sound robotic, you should be so well-versed in the presentation that you can transition confidently and comfortably from one topic to the next. If there’s a complex area that often trips you up, slow down and sort out word choice beforehand so you speak clearly without hesitation.
When rehearsing, determine key performance aspects, like when to slow down or pause, ask questions or joke with the audience, as well as overall pace and timing. Vary cadence and inflection, which will help with audience engagement. Use open, positive and energized body language so you’re more watchable and memorable. And most importantly, know how long you’ll speak for and how much time you need to address each topic (without rushing or skipping key points) and allow for Q&A.
Anticipate potential problems
Know yourself and what you need to present successfully. For example, if presenting in a large room, ensure you’re visible from all areas by requesting a raised platform to speak from or an open center aisle to move about the room easily. For those with quiet voices, plan to use (and practice with) a microphone. Adjust podium mics for height beforehand and, if you usually move around, request a wireless lapel mic.
If you sent a presentation file to the event organizer ahead of time, arrive at the event extra early to ensure your file loads and displays properly before the event starts. (Bring a backup with you on a USB drive or make sure you can access via email too, just in case!)
Find out who will introduce you and, if possible, connect with them ahead of time. Help inform their introduction by discussing key points from your background that are relevant for the audience. Most importantly, make sure they know how to pronounce your name. Write it out phonetically if there’s a good chance for mistake.
Plan your outfit
Personal appearance and style matter when you’re the center of attention in a room. Dress for the audience and wear something that feels and looks good from head to toe. Choose a sharp, well-fitting outfit, but nothing that’s uncomfortable or restrictive, especially if you plan to walk around or gesture frequently.
Remember, even if you stand at a podium or sit behind a table, people will likely see your entire outfit at some point, so details matter. (Shine those shoes!) Plan two outfits well in advance — what you’ll wear, as well as a backup in case there’s a problem. This alleviates the night-before panic when your favorite tie has a spot on it or a dress wrinkles badly in transit.
Read more about your professional image in What Your Style Says About Your Personal Brand.
Have a current bio, headshot and LinkedIn profile ready
Presentation announcements and promotions will likely include (or link to) your bio, headshot and possibly LinkedIn profile. As such, update all to include your current title, board positions, professional memberships, volunteer leadership roles, awards etc., which speak to your credibility. Make sure your headshot looks like you today, not 10 years ago, and your LinkedIn profile includes at least topline information about what you’re doing now.
For more guidance on a great headshot, check out our inaugural Ask The Experts interview featuring insights from a leading headshot photographer.
Public speaking and presentation skills reflect your personal (and company) brand, influence the impression you make on others and impact professional opportunities. Careful and thoughtful research and preparation, as well as presentation content and delivery, provide the foundation for a strong and successful performance.