Last week I was asked to speak to my son’s 6th grade class about how to make great presentations.
I said yes but then realized I’ve trained thousands of adults, but never any tweens. My son gently pleaded, “Mom, please don’t suck.”
As a parent, I was thrilled. Clearly and confidently conveying a message is one of the most important skills for anyone. It’s never too early to learn, practice and polish presentation skills.
I was terrified.
Nine Tips to Win Over a Crowd
“No matter how old you are, or what you are presenting,” I told the room of 6th graders, “if you do these nine things, you will look confident, sound credible and connect with your audience every single time.”
- Be Prepared. Practice out loud, not just in your head. Record and watch yourself on video. Don’t read your notes.
- Take 8 deep breaths. Everyone, even the most experienced presenters, gets nervous. Don’t try to fight it. A few deep breaths will decrease your heart rate and help calm the nerves.
- Look your best. Be comfortable but look polished. A little over dressed is better than a little under dressed.
- Smile. Pleasant, engaging facial expressions make people want to listen to you. Your goal is to be likable.
- Make direct eye contact. Look right into your audience’s eyes for at least one full sentence. Then move to someone else. Hit each person eyeball to eyeball.
- Project your voice to the back of the room. Speak louder and slower than what feels normal.
- Stand up straight and proud. Minimize movement from the waist down. Face the audience at all times.
- Use big, natural gestures to visualize your words. Arm movements convey confidence, enthusiasm and passion.
- Create simple, compelling image-heavy visuals. The purpose of visuals are to help your audience remember key points. Excellent visuals elicit a emotional response and build a connection with your audience; they shouldn’t put your audience to sleep.
I was relieved not one 6th grader fell asleep during my presentation.
Maybe they’ll ask me back.
Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults and has more than 20 years of experience teaching presentation skills to executives, managers, college grads (and now middle schoolers). Connect with Marta on Twitter @MartaSteele.