Presentation Skills

How Yoga Can Improve Your Presentation Skills

life lessons from yoga

By Lesley Nevills

Yoga can help you polish your presentation skills. If you practice yoga, you probably know that the lessons you learn on the mat can enrich your everyday life. They can help you learn and improve other skills, such as giving presentations. Here is some yoga wisdom to help you still your mind and body so you can present with confidence, ease and intention.

  1. Don’t create problems

Watch your self-talk. When presenting, how many times do you tell yourself something negative like, “Oh, I messed that up,” or, “I forgot to say that.” Self-talk becomes part of our subconscious and our brains can’t distinguish between what we think and what’s really happening. Next thing you know, you find yourself doing exactly what you were telling yourself not to do. “I better not forget to say this,” and guess what, you forgot to say it. In yoga class, my mantra is no think, no problem. A problem is only a problem if you tell yourself it is. So stop thinking about things as problems.

  1. Balance effort and ease

Relax, let go and trust yourself. Learning a new skill requires effort, and the newer the skill the more effort it takes—like learning new yoga poses. As your skill grows, the less effort you need to expend. Look for that point when you’ve gained enough competence that you can relax, let go and trust your new ability.

  1. Stay on your own mat

Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others is detrimental to your confidence. I see participants sabotage their performance all the time in yoga class and when I facilitate presentation skills workshops. The first person to stand up and deliver a practice presentation sets the standard for the rest of the group. If that first presenter does an amazing job, others make comments such as “I don’t want to follow that,” and “Thanks for setting the bar so high!” In yoga class, nothing makes me fall out of a pose faster than noticing how steady someone behind me is.

  1. Learn to be still

Be still and your audience will pay attention to your message and perceive you as confident and credible. Many yoga instructors say that shavasana, the relaxation period at the end of the class, is the most difficult pose. When I taught yoga, I could see the constant micro-movements, adjustments to get comfortable, scratching, itching and twitching that would go on during these last few minutes of class. By not being still, you distract your body from total relaxation. The same is true for presentations. If I focus on how you windmill your arms or pace like a caged lion, I’m not paying attention to your words and you’re not achieving your objective. Excessive body movement communicates low confidence and distracts your audience. Learn to be still.

  1. Be one with your intention

Keep your intention front and center when planning and delivering a presentation. In yoga, you must focus solely on the pose you are striving to achieve. When preparing for your presentation, start by identifying your intention or objective and focus on it. Participants often struggle to clarify their objective into a succinct statement. Once they do, they can easily determine what content to include. New presenters think that they need to share everything they know about a topic or subject. In reality, the opposite is true. Give your audience only what they need to know for you to achieve your objective. If you can get your message across with three key points—why add more? Many people try to cover too much and end up having to cut information on the spot.

  1. Get grounded

Plant your feet, breathe, own the space you take up, and use purposeful movement and gestures that reinforce your message. We spend so much time in life and in presentations in our heads—thinking, processing, judging and planning. By grounding yourself, you can get out of your head and into your body. Try this effective yoga technique to ground yourself before you deliver a presentation: while standing, separate your feet about hip distance apart. On your exhale, visualize your breath going out through your feet down into the floor beneath you and creating roots below you.
What about you? Do you have any lessons from the mat to share?

4 Tips for Job Interview Success

by Alan De Back

With the start of the new year, many people decide that the time is right for a job change. Because the market is so crowded with job seekers, you need to distinguish yourself from the competition during the interview process. In addition to preparing for possible questions, how will you use all the skills in your communication toolbox? Here are four job interview tips that will give you an edge.


  1. Align verbal and non-verbal communication

Your non-verbal communication can either confirm your answers to interview questions or totally erase the meaning in your words. Everything from eye contact to posture can impact whether your words are believable. If your body language is inconsistent with your words, you lose credibility. A few tips:

    • Maintain confident eye contact
    • Keep your posture open (e.g. arms not crossed in front of you)
    • Use gestures to emphasize important points


  1. Adjust voice and tone

You need to adjust your voice and tone to the interview situation. If your voice and tone don’t reflect the confidence to make your words believable, your answers to questions are unconvincing. The best answers in the world will be disregarded. Some tips about voice and tone:

    • Practice raising volume if you are soft-spoken
    • Avoid trail-off at end of sentences
    • Prepare to use more inflection if you tend to be monotone


  1. Use concise and clear language

Your interviewer wants to get as much information as possible about you as quickly and efficiently as possible. Complex and difficult-to-understand answers to questions will not help you build a case for your candidacy. Both the actual words you use and the structure of your answers have impact. Some tips:

    • Avoid acronyms and slang that may be unfamiliar to the interviewer
    • Consider whether to use complex technical terms
    • Structure your message in the active voice to make your message concise and clear


  1. Listen and focus

Although you will be talking a good deal as you answer interview questions, your ability to listen and focus on the interviewer is critical to your success. Active listening will ensure that you fully understand the questions you are asked. The ability to focus on what you are seeing and hearing will help you realistically assess whether the job and the environment are a good fit. Here are some tips:

  • Do not interrupt the interviewer
  • Listen carefully to pick up cues about what is important to the interviewer
  • Focus on what you see and hear, and adjust your responses to questions accordingly


How can you be sure that your communication tools are supporting you during the interview process? Consider taking video of a practice interview and watch it with a critical eye. This is the best way to get real-time feedback as you prepare for the interview.

Heighten your awareness of the components of your communication package, and your answers to interview questions will have more impact!

5 Things to Know About Your Non-Technical Audience

presentation to non-technical audience

by Jody Bruner

Technical writers often find themselves needing to make important recommendations to clients or business readers who have little or no technical knowledge. Being able to get through to a non-technical audience is crucial because you need them to quickly make the right decisions for the right reasons. Missing the mark can derail important projects, hinder progress and erode your credibility.

The secret to communicating with your non-technical audience is having a deep understanding of their needs and prior knowledge, and using this knowledge to plan your message strategically. Knowing your audience helps you satisfy their needs without compromising the integrity of your message.

The following questions come from our Writing Technical Reports workshop’s Situational Analysis. It’s a tool for analyzing your purpose, audience and context as you create your message.

  1. What does your audience know about the topic?
    Assume they know much less than you do, even if they are technical. As the person preparing the recommendation, you have the advantage of having immersed yourself in the topic, so you know more than anybody. We recommend assuming your audience is ignorant, but not stupid. There’s a big difference in this distinction! By assuming ignorance, you give your audience the information they need without dumbing it down or being disrespectful.
  2. How much detail do they want?
    As the writer, you likely find your topic interesting and have invested a lot of time and energy in it. It’s human nature to want to share and take your audience through your thought process. But they are not as interested as you are, so don’t burden them with too much detail, especially up front. The audience is most interested in the results of your analysis, so put your findings up front. Tell them what you want from them, how they will benefit and, if relevant, what it will cost. Then, in the body of your talk or report, support your recommendation and its benefits with the necessary detail.
  3. What are their strategic goals?
    Consider how your recommendation will further your audience’s agenda. Are they looking to improve productivity? Increase revenue? Solve a specific problem? Have you identified an opportunity? Link your recommendation explicitly to your audience’s strategic goals.
  4. What are their fears and frustrations?
    Your decision makers want to look good to the people they report to—shareholders, senior executives, or clients. They want to make good decisions as quickly and painlessly as possible. A clearly presented proposal gives your audience the confidence they need to know they’re making the right decision.
  5. What objections do you anticipate?
    As you build a comprehensive profile of your audience, you will see your message from their point of view. You’ll be able to anticipate and address their questions and concerns. This deep preparation gives you confidence in your message and gives your audience confidence in you.

Using these questions to profile your audience before you start writing your report or presentation is the best way to stay focused on what they need to hear as opposed to what you want to say.

If you or your team could benefit from learning more about this and other tools for communicating to non-technical audiences, please contact us to learn more.

10 Tips for New Grads: How to Succeed at Your First Job

communicating first job

by Jody Bruner

Last post we discussed how high impact writing can help land your dream job. Here, we are going to focus in on newly graduated millennials. While an astonishing 87% of new graduates see themselves as prepared to enter the workforce with the skills they gained from their education, hiring managers don’t agree.

A recently released study from PayScale (an on-demand compensation data and software company) and Future Workplace (an executive development firm) shows that 44% of managers feel writing proficiency is the hard skill most lacking among college graduates, and 39% feel presentation skills is the second most lacking.

Communicating on the job is different from the communicating you did at school. You’re not writing or speaking to show your understanding or that you can argue a position in the same way you did while you were in school. Still, once you are working, you’ll find your day is full of communicating: writing emails, having conversations and thinking critically to move projects forward. Mastering these skills is what we teach.

Here’s some advice to pass on to any new grads you know.

Writing tips 

  1. Many boomers feel your writing skills have been destroyed by text and instant messaging. That’s not true, of course, but it’s important to match your writing style to your reader. Use IM style when you’re writing to a peer, but standard English when writing to your boss or a client. Be smart about it.
  2. Not sure what standard English is? For starters, be certain your grammar is correct. If you’re doubtful about a sentence’s grammaticality, turn it into two simple sentences. It’s always better to be simple and grammatical than complex and ungrammatical. Curious about grammar? Learn one rule each month. There aren’t that many, and you’ll probably learn them all in one year.
  3. Get to the point when crafting your message. Avoid rambling and try not to bury your key message. Look at your message from your reader’s point of view and ask yourself what information would be most interesting and useful to them.
  4. Writing an email? Make your subject line descriptive so the reader will know what the message is about and what they need to do with it.
  5. Make your message look inviting. Use whitespace, headings and lists.

Presentation tips

  1. Video yourself to see your strengths and weaknesses. Do you speak in a monotone? Do you use fillers such as like, um, ah, you know? Do you have any distracting physical habits?
  2. Rehearse a lot! The better you know your message, the more confident you will be when delivering it.
  3. Remember you’re the presentation, not your PowerPoint presentation. Avoid a closed captioned deck. If your audience can read along, what the point of presenting?
  4. Involve your audience. Ask them questions and invite them to ask questions.
  5. Ensure your words, voice, tone and body language are in synch.

I’ll add the advice I always gave my own kids as they were growing up: always offer a firm handshake, smile, and make eye contact when you meet people.

What’s the best advice you either give your own kids or received from someone you respect?

When Concise PowerPoint Slides Aren’t Enough

by Nancy Lefneskipowerpoint slides tips

In our presentation skills workshops, we ask participants what they find most frustrating about other people’s presentations. They invariably say, “PowerPoint slides that have way too much information on them.” Yet when we suggest that presenters design concise slides using the 6 x 6 rule (keeping slides to a maximum of six points and six words per point), we sometimes hear that won’t work for them because:

  • they have to send the deck as a pre-read
  • they have to leave it as a takeaway
  • they can only have three slides total
  • they have to send it to people who won’t be at the meeting and who need a full briefing

If you are faced with similar challenges, consider the following strategies:

Give your audience time to absorb your slide

If you have busy slides, give your audience enough time to read them before you start talking. Try reading the slide to yourself twice. That should give your audience enough time to read and process the content.

As much as we like to think we can multi-task, audiences can not effectively listen to a speaker and read slides at the same time. If the presenter is talking while the audience is reading the slides, the audience actually absorbs less information than if they tried to do either task alone.

Create two slide decks

Create one deck of concise slides to project during your presentation and create a second slide deck for a pre-read or takeaway. This second slide deck can have busier slides that include the additional information you intend to add verbally in your presentation.

It might be easiest to create the full version first, then edit it down to key words for the presentation version.

Use the Speaker’s Notes feature

Create one deck of concise slides to project during your presentation and add details the reader needs to know in the notes section. Print your slides as “Notes Pages” for the pre-read or takeaway. To add notes, select “Notes” on the task bar at the bottom of the slide window.
If you are forced to use a busy deck that contains detailed charts and graphs, we recommend you summarize the key message from each slide in the speaker notes section. If you don’t and you leave it up to the reader to analyze the data, table or graph, they may come up with a different conclusion than you intended.

Focus your audience’s attention

If you are forced to project a chart or graph with a lot of information during your presentation, help your audience get the key message quickly. Before you show them the slide, tell them what they are going to see and what the key message is. For example, BEFORE you show them the slide, say something like, “Now that we’ve looked at the sales targets, let’s look at our sales results. We are above target in all areas except X and Y.” THEN show them the slide and tell them what column they will find X and Y in. Your audience’s attention will go directly to where you need it to go.

Remember, when you are designing slides, every choice has a consequence. Choose the strategy that is most likely to help your audience and help you reach your presentation objective.

Four Tips for a Successful Sales Meeting

by Leigh Geraghty

If you ever have to sell a product or service to internal or external prospects, you will find yourself at sales meetings or having to give presentations. I’ve learned that to be successful at selling, you need to “shut up and listen.” An effective sales meeting or presentation should be a dialogue or conversation, and in the spirit of dialogue, you should talk less than half of the time. You need to get your prospects talking, listen to what they have to say, and then respond in a way that shows you were listening.

Here are four strategies that have served me well in my career selling to both internal and external prospects:

1. Ask questions

Prepare key questions in advance. Salespeople often launch into a presentation without making sure they understand what their prospect cares about. Instead, open by asking questions to learn about your prospect and their needs. For example:

  • What happened that led to this situation?
  • What specific examples can you share that demonstrate your concerns?
  • What must we consider in the solution we provide?

Then, continue to ask questions throughout your presentation to confirm your assumptions, check for understanding and assess how your prospect feels about your product or service.

2. Pause frequently

Encourage your prospect to ask questions throughout. Their questions will tell you a lot about their interests.

Welcome interruptions. Pay attention to your prospect’s body language. If they appear to have something to say, pause and give them a chance to speak.

3. Listen more than you talk

Pay attention to what your prospect is saying, and jot down key words and phrases. Incorporate their language. Tailor your talk to focus on their needs, concerns and interests. For example, talk about how your product or service will solve their specific challenges.

By listening more than talking, you will follow the 80-20 rule and ensure that 20% of your presentation is about you, and 80% is about your prospect, their situation and their needs.

4. Keep it brief and focused

Don’t ramble. Deliver each key point briefly and succinctly. Then give your prospect a chance to comment and ask questions. Respond to questions and check for understanding. Once you are confident that they understand a point, move on.

Become comfortable listening more and speaking less, and you’ll feel more confident that you are proposing the best solutions. Your prospects will reward you with more trust, more sales and greater success.