Henri Eliot, CEO of Board Dynamics, has a look at ways to improve your public speaking.

Preparation required

A good presentation can enhance your reputation, advance your career and help establish you as an expert in your field. So why do so many presenters seem intent on boring their audience to tears?

You must prepare, as reading your notes or the text off your PowerPoint slides is unacceptable and you probably won't be asked to speak at another conference ever again.

The late, great Steve Jobs, one of the outstanding presenters of our generation, spent days on end rehearsing important presentations.

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When invited to speak at a conference, you must ensure that you have time to prepare and always ask yourself if the audience is right for you. Do you know enough about the topic? If not, ask a colleague to co-present to cover the areas outside your expertise.

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From my personal experience, I always ask the conference organiser what they would like the presentation to achieve and also for information about the audience. Your presentation should meet both objectives.

The most powerful messages are targeted, relevant and to the point. It is a common mistake for presenters who are passionate about every detail of their topic to presume everyone else will be too. Information must also be as up-to-date as possible.

Don't be afraid to use humour to engage your audience but not too much. It's not a late night stand up comedy routine. I would recommend restricting humour to the start and finish of your presentation. Otherwise it can be risky.

The most effective speakers tailor their language and style to suit the audience as well as their material.

Few speakers are naturally brilliant. Most who perform well have learned to do so, often by practicing in front of friends or even using a coach. This can help you become more self-aware and build the skills you need to communicate with confidence, clarity and credibility.

A public speaking coach once told me that "You must let your own personality come through and you can only start to do that when you're self-aware and well prepared."

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Death by PowerPoint

Visuals are important - they can add interest, highlight key points and provide a speaker with useful prompts. They can also kill a presentation stone dead; just think of endless PowerPoint slides crammed with reams of information - often referred to in business as 'Death by PowerPoint.' Keep it to a minimum, if you must use slides, and focus on using relevant visual images with a few key words.

Question Period

There are two fears associated with taking questions - that no-one will be interested enough to ask anything and that if they do, you will be left floundering for a sensible response. Both can be overcome.

Some speakers have been known to plant someone in the audience to get the ball rolling. And, while it is impossible to predict the detail of a question-and-answer session, it is possible to prepare.

Top ten tips for directors

1. Actively seek opportunities to practice and build your skills, particularly in front of lower-risk audiences.

2. Promote yourself as a speaker to relevant industry groups, such as a local chamber of commerce or to your industry conference organisers.

3. Have a conversation with your audience and bring a personality. They don't want a lecture!

4. Don't cram lots of data into your presentation. Your purpose is to engage and inspire the people in the room and leave them wanting to see you again.

5. Don't read from a script. We read to children to put them to sleep, so don't do that to your audiences. Use a natural, conversational speaking style.

6. Prepare highly visual and interesting slides rather than the typical, boring heading and bullet points.

7. Build rapport and interest by using relevant short stories, metaphors and analogies to make a point.

8. Be aware of your body language and ensure it is congruent with the message you want to send.

9. Practise a lot and then practise some more! Learn from golfing legend Gary Player who said: "Well, the harder I practise, the luckier I get."

10. Get a coach. Your reputation and the reputation of your business depends on your performance; you want to be memorable for the right reasons!

Henri Eliot is CEO of Board Dynamics.