I’m working as an intern for my dream company. It’s a really exciting situation, but it’s also really, really scary! I want to make the best impression possible on the people I work with, because I really want to end up working full-time for this company when I graduate. So far, I think I’m doing pretty well, but I’m kind of freaking out about my latest assignment. I have to give a presentation to a bunch of the company’s higher-ups, including some guys with a ton of power over whether or not I eventually get a full-time gig with this company. I’m very worried that I’m going to blow my big shot.
I am actually really confident that I understand what I have to present on. But, the thing is, I’m not at all confident about my presentation skills in general. I don’t know how to speak in front of lots of people. I really want to come off as a professional. Experts, can you help?
It’s natural to be nervous the first time that you give a professional presentation to a group of people who can have an impact on your professional future. But don’t panic! It sounds as if you really know your subject, which is a great position to be in for your first big presentation. As for the presentation itself, we can help by laying out a few things to think about as you prepare.
Speaking in front of groups isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone, but it’s a skill that can be learned. If you’re not sure how well you’ll handle speaking in public, we highly recommend that you give it a shot before your presentation. Preparing to speak in public can mean something as simple as practicing in front of a few friends or loved ones. You can even practice in front of a mirror or in front of a pretend “audience” of empty chairs or stuffed animals! As with all things, practice makes perfect in public speaking.
Learn the basics of speaking in front of a group by grabbing a book or reading up on online tips. Among the most important things to master are the ability to speak at the right pace (many of us have a tendency to speak a little too fast when we’re presenting) and the ability to project our voices to the whole room while using our eye contact and body language to make sure that everyone feels as if they are being addressed.
To be comfortable when giving your presentation, you’ll certainly have to know your stuff. That means preparing for your presentation early and mastering everything ahead of time — with plenty of time left over to practice in front of a mirror or in front of a volunteer audience. If you’re still fine-tuning the presentation itself just a day or two before the big day, you won’t have enough time left over to hone your presentation skills using the actual material from your presentation. Plus, leaving things to the last minute will make you more stressed out, which will limit your ability to do a good job preparing and a polished job of actually performing the presentation.
Finally, on the big day, help yourself out by showing up with all the little professional details you’d expect from a presenter. This includes dressing well, as you’ll want to look just a little better and more put-together than you would at a normal day of work. A presentation will feel easier if you look the part and are at the more polished end of what is appropriate for your working environment.
The presentation itself should be given with professional materials, too. Custom printed folders containing printouts and key points can be a stylish way to make a professional impression. If you’re using a PowerPoint presentation or other visual aids, those should be crisp, stylish, and professional: take an extra moment to get the color schemes and fonts right, match the style of visual materials throughout your presentation, and invest in quality computer programs, poster printing services, and other tools as necessary. You don’t want your presentation to look amateurish or homemade — this isn’t a middle school science fair, after all!
There’s a lot that you can, and should, do to make your presentation look professional. But don’t worry too much! The goal is to allow your presentation itself to shine through and be taken seriously. And since you seem to know your subject well, you can be confident that the core of your presentation is going to impress your higher-ups. So practice hard, dress well, show up with the right materials, and then try to relax: you’re going to do a great job!