Presentation and confidence

The word ‘confidence’ comes from the Latin ‘fidere’, to trust. To me, having confidence means that I trust I can do a thorough, thought-provoking and entertaining presentation.

I always think of presentations as gifts. I give my considerable experience, knowledge and ability to the audience, and I give it fully and generously.

What is confidence?

Confidence is believing in yourself and your abilities, skills and experience. Confidence comes from knowing what you are talking about, because you have expertise in a subject, and believing that you have the ability to communicate this knowledge.

What does it feel like to be confident? If you are confident you feel:

  • equal with others, ie. not intimidated or patronised
  • energised and motivated
  • passionate, unable to stop talking about what you do and want to see happen
  • committed, prepared to act
  • affirmed, by others and by yourself

Before giving a presentation, it is useful to think back to times when you were supremely confident; recall those examples and consider what the circumstances were. Try to capture the scene in your mind, try to experience the feeling again, and then try to remember what it was that enabled you to feel that heightened confidence. Recall one visual element which you associate with that strong confidence and keep it in your awareness when you begin your presentation. This could be someone clapping loudly, a smile from an admirer or praise from a relative.

Top Tips for a Successful Presentation

Love your subject – be irrepressible about it
You need to love what you are talking about. How can you expect others to enjoy and understand what you are saying if your heart is not in it? If you are enthusiastic and excited, this will be passed on to your audience.

You need to be thoroughly prepared. Very few people can make a presentation without good preparation. I find that if I write out my presentation in full a few days beforehand, and then make some succinct notes on cards, sometimes I do not need to use any notes at all. The purpose of notes is more to arrange things in my mind and jog my memory than to give me words to read out. Reading from notes is rather dull and boring – very few speakers can do it and maintain the attention and interest of their audience.

Know what you know and what you do not know
Be honest – blaggers are easily spotted. It is best to be authentic and to be yourself at all times. You must also sometimes be humble and be prepared to learn from others.

You can assume that people have not come to hear something old and familiar, so try to be different or provocative. Challenge your audience: make them use their brains. Persuade them to engage with you, to participate and co-create the presentation experience.

Make an entrance
Ensure you make a stunning entrance. For example, try the ‘royal entrance’. Walk onto the stage as though you are the Queen, and then stand for at least 30 seconds before saying anything, surveying your ‘subjects’ with a hint of a smile. Then make eye contact with someone in the front row and say a slow 'hello'. It raises expectations and gets the audience’s attention.

At the very beginning of your presentation, do something unexpected so that you change the audience’s expectations of the event completely. If you can disperse their preconceptions (and in some cases prejudices) you will have their full, unadulterated attention. This puts you in control.

This surprise need not be lightweight, but it should be a light touch, even mercurial. Remember that a good presentation has an element of performance in it.

The most effective way to control your audience is to ask questions. The saying ‘the one who asks the questions controls the conversation’ applies equally to an audience. If in doubt, ask a question!

Play with your audience – they are all yours! Use ‘tie-downs’ such as ‘Has anyone been to…?’ or ‘Can someone explain to me how this works?’ Involve the audience without browbeating them. Ask their opinion and their advice. Use the front rows and make eye contact when you do ‘tie-downs’.

Sometimes, if the space allows, it helps to move among the audience. You could sit down with them as you talk or move to the back of the room to deliver part of your presentation.

Breathing and pauses
Your breathing will make or break your presentation. Always take longer breaths than you think possible, which will give you time to steady yourself if you are nervous. Remember that breathing is constricted if you are sitting down. Make your presentation standing up, so your diaphragm is unobstructed and you can breathe freely.

Use pauses to give you time to collect your thoughts. Pauses are a dramatic way of emphasising information and they allow the audience time to assimilate what you have just said and to do some work themselves. Bear in mind they will remember perhaps ten per cent of what you say, so make it as easy as possible for them by giving them time.

Punchlines are best delivered when you have allowed a long enough pause for the audience to be at their most expectant. So pause for slightly longer than you dare. Watch a good stand-up comic to learn how effective this technique can be.

Stance and posture
Never stand in one place like a statue. Come out from behind the protection of the lectern and move around a bit, but do not pace from one side of the stage to the other. If your audience want to practice neck-loosening exercises, they will go to Wimbledon.

In the same vein, do not fiddle with yourself! Some presenters have funny little habits: scratching the end of their nose, running their hand through their hair or shooting their cuffs. Once or twice may be fine, but if you fiddle too much it will turn you into a caricature.

Smiling is good – leering or grinning (even if you’ve just made a particularly good joke) is not. And never laugh at your own jokes.

Make eye contact with at least everyone in the front row and some in the next rows back. If you want to point to someone, never do it aggressively, as though you were accusing them. Turn your hand over so the palm is facing up and indicate in their direction with all your fingers out and slightly bent – this is affirming and not confrontational at all.

Do not spend half the allotted time telling your audience what you are going to be telling them - just get on with it!

Ensure your presentation has a beginning, a middle, and an end which brings the ideas round full circle. It is a good idea to spend a few moments at the end reminding the audience of the key things you have said, and also to finish with a thought-provoking or unexpected statement or question. Questions motivate the audience to work with the topic. It gives them something to take home with them, something which will help them remember you.

Why use Powerpoint words when you have a perfectly good voice? Powerpoint is unnecessary competition for the audience’s attention. Use it only for images, as a backdrop or to reinforce your verbal delivery. You can modulate your voice, build in highs and lows, speed it up or slow it down, to great effect. No Powerpoint presentation can do that.

Enjoy the experience!