Courtesy of Nick Gold
- Nick Gold is managing director of Speakers Corner, a UK agency representing public speakers.
- He said work presentations should focus on two or three key points and keep slides under 10 words.
- Gold shared eight strategies to help you deliver an engaging speech and calm nerves.
Presenting at work can be daunting, whether it’s to a screen of faceless avatars or a crowded room.
Nick Gold, the managing director of Speakers Corner, a UK agency for public speakers, shared eight tips for nailing — and even enjoying — your next work presentation so that you keep nerves at bay and colleagues, clients, or investors engaged.
1. Practice your presentation beforehand — but don’t memorize
Gold cautioned against learning a presentation by rote. He suggested thinking about a presentation as several stories, each with a point, to allow yourself flexibility while speaking.
“It’s about understanding your content and the stories you’re telling,” he said. “How you deliver those stories might change word-by-word each time, but the underlying stuff doesn’t change.”
When you’re in a meeting room with 15 people in front of you, pretend you’re in a coffee shop telling them about the topic, he advised. “By doing that, they’ll relax into it and you’ll relax into it,” he said.
2. Put your own spin on what you’re saying
When you’re told by your manager or another colleague you have to speak, it can be hard to make it engaging for the audience, Gold said.
The starting point is putting your own spin on it. That will help with nerves, too, he said.
“Don’t be fearful about taking it in a direction where you feel comfortable with the subject matter,” Gold said.
He suggested starting by telling a story or anecdote for two minutes to help calm nerves and put the audience at ease.
“When you get to the trickier parts and the parts you’re slightly nervous about, where you’re not as eloquent or you show your nerves, they’re already on a journey with you,” he said.
“They’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
3. Avoid information overload
When giving a presentation, you might get imposter syndrome and feel you have to “validate” your expertise by trying to prove how much you know about a subject, said Gold.
The result, Gold said, is that “people are bombarded with information and therefore they take in much less, and you’re not getting the key points you want across.”
Choosing two or three points to get across to an audience can ensure they take away critical information.
“There’s no harm in giving a presentation with less data, and then following up with a handout,” Gold added.
4. Keep each slide to 10 words at most
If you rely too much on PowerPoint slides, the audience will focus on reading them and likely zone out, Gold said. He suggested keeping them to seven to 10 words, so that they remain a prompt and not something that distracts the audience.
“You want it to be something that gives them a visual trigger to remember what you said after the presentation rather than being the actual presentation itself,” Gold said.
5. Know who’s in the audience, but remember this can change
Whether you’re talking to senior management or your closest coworkers, you need to tailor your presentation to who’s in the room, from different personalities to different demographics, said Gold.
Even if you’re told exactly who’s going to be there, you should be prepared for last-minute changes, he warned.
“You might know everyone who’s going to be in the room, but you have no understanding of what’s happened to them that day,” he said.
6. Remember the audience is on your side
The audience is actually “desperate” for you to perform well, Gold added.
“The only people who want you to succeed more than yourself are the other people in the room — because they’re stuck in that room. All they want, for the 20 or 40 minutes that you are standing up there, is to enjoy themselves,” Gold said.
When a speaker goes onstage and tells a joke or a story, you can see the audience visibly relax, he said.
7. It’s okay to not know the answer to questions
Set out at the start whether you will take questions from the audience throughout a presentation or at the end, Gold advised.
He suggested that, if you don’t know an answer, tell them that it’s a great question but you don’t want to answer off the cuff. Ask them if you can get back to them with more information the next day, he added.
8. Virtual presentations should be more conversational
“You don’t get the energy you get from a person onstage,” Gold said of presenting virtually.
No one should speak on-screen for more than seven minutes without interacting with the audience, such as by asking questions or having discussions in virtual breakout rooms, he said, as audiences need more stimulation if they’re watching remotely.
“One of the things that came out of virtual presentations is an understanding that the conversation is more important than the presentation itself. Embrace it,” Gold added.