For many candidates the act of standing in front of a board or selection panel can be the most difficult part of giving a presentation. But make no mistake, as well as the content and structure of a presentation, how it is delivered is also key.
To help build up ‘stage presence’ or ‘strong delivery’, a few easy tips can have a big impact.
A big mistake I see with candidates is that they move their bodies too much. They sway from side to side, shift their weight from one leg to the other, fidget with their hands (clicking a pen is very common) or play with their hair. People do this naturally when they’re nervous, but it’s distracting for the assessors and can make the speaker seem weak, even if their content and structure is good.
Simply keeping your lower body motionless can dramatically improve your delivery and impact. Plant your feet and try to stick to the spot. There are some people who are able to walk around a stage during a presentation, and that’s fine if it comes naturally. But the vast majority are better off standing still and relying on hand gestures for emphasis.
Perhaps the most important physical act when presenting is making eye contact. Eye contact is incredibly powerful, and it will do more than anything else to help your talk land with the panel. Conversely, poor eye contact can make candidates look unconfident and possibly untrustworthy. Even if you don’t have time to prepare fully and have to read from cue cards, looking up and making eye contact will make a huge difference to the outcome.
If the panel has 4 or 5 people, pick a couple of the most ‘friendly-looking’ and engaging people and look them in the eye as you speak. Think of them as friends you haven’t seen for a while, whom you’re bringing up to date on your work! It may require a conscious effort from you, but it is essential. At the very least you should make eye contact with anyone who asks you a question.
Another issue for inexperienced speakers is nervousness, both in advance of the presentation or briefing and while they’re actually in front of the panel.
Acknowledging nervousness can create engagement with the panel. Showing your vulnerability, whether through nerves or tone of voice, is one of the most powerful ways to win over an audience, provided it is authentic. Remember the panel wants you to do well – they have been in your position in the past.
Some experts recommend that people spend time before a presentation striding around, standing tall, and extending their bodies as these poses can make you feel more powerful. But I think the single best advice here is simply to breathe deeply before you begin to talk. It works, I know as I use it all the time!
In general however, candidates worry too much about nervousness. Remember, nerves are not a disaster. The panel will expect you to be nervous to some degree. It’s a natural body response that can actually improve your performance. It gives you energy to perform and keeps your mind sharp. Just keep breathing, and you’ll be fine.