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How to overcome those presentation nerves


Keep content clear and relevant, bring it alive with stories and think ahead for a good presentation.

You deal with patients and relatives every day, you communicate with your management team on a daily basis, so why, when asked to do a presentation to the board, do you suddenly doubt your ability to string a sentence together?

Presenting to an audience can be daunting but, with a few tips, you can get your message across and perhaps even enjoy the experience.

The most important thing is content. Your key message should be the one thing that you want your audience to remember or do as a result of your presentation. Ask yourself the question then write down the answer.

What you write won’t be perfect but it’s a start. Is it concise and easy to understand? Is it specific, clear and relevant to your audience? Test it on a few people.

Once you have your key message, start to populate your presentation. Set out a structure of what you are going to say and in what order. Use stories and examples to back it up.

Statistics are fine but keep these to key facts – long lists of numbers will send people to sleep.

Then think about how to present it. PowerPoint is probably the best method but it can be the death of a really good presentation. It is there to reinforce what you are saying – not replace it. Your audience should be listening to you, not watching your slides.

It’s easier to listen to someone if they use a natural conversational style. Act as if you are talking to someone; focus on one person at a time but not for too long or they may feel intimidated.

Feel free to use your hands to emphasise points or move around but not too much as this may distract people.

Also, show some of your personality – you’re not a robot.

Finally, while preparation is good, don’t rehearse your presentation so much that you have memorised every word.

Andrew Fisher is team leader – communications at NHS Employers. He has worked in communications at Connecting for Health, the Environment Agency and the Consumers’ Association

PowerPoint tips to keep your audience attentive

  • Slides full of bullet points don’t work. Sparse slides are more effective in getting your key message across.
  • Use an image or photograph with little text. This attracts the attention of your audience because they will ponder how the image is linked to what you are saying.
  • Limit your number of slides. If you’ve got 20 minutes. you’ll need no more than 10.
  • Stick to a font size that people can read – 30 is about right. Use key words rather than long sentences and keep plenty of white space.
  • Keep away from animated text. People are there to listen to you, not watch words whizzing around from all directions.
  • Don’t read your slides – what’s the point of you being there? You may as well have just sent them a written report.
  • Your slides shouldn’t make sense to anyone who reads them in isolation from your presentation. It’s what you say that’s important, not what’s on your slides.



Readers' comments (7)

  • 'Your slides shouldn’t make sense to anyone who reads them in isolation from your presentation. It’s what you say that’s important, not what’s on your slides.'

    I'm not 100% sure about that first sentence.

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  • I am!

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  • Look, you know what you want to say you have worked it all out. Done your power point presentation (even though Power point is so passe now.)
    But the real crunch is standing in front of all those people who might know a lot more than you do, actually.( But you never really know this until you start your presentation).

    So just think of your audience as "a row of cabbages", it really helps to overcome any anxiety you feel. What do a row of cabbages know about the topic you are the "expert" in?

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  • I like the cabbage idea but I just wonder, isn't there a danger that you might talk down to them? (or lapsing into a fit of giggles!).

    it reminds me of the advice in some books of management where you imagine somebody in authority you feel overawed by without any clothes on so that they are exactly the same as everybody else. this has worked well for me.

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  • Anonymous | 4-Aug-2012 12:24 pm

    Anonymous | 4-Aug-2012 4:35 pm

    I come across these presentations (slides only) on the net, and it is interesting to work out what the accompanying words would be.

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  • I have downloaded loads of slide shows from lectures from the internet on subjects of interest and they can be very useful if they make sense!

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  • furthermore many lecturers offer their slides as a support to learning and also for those who were unable to attend their lecture.

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