Actors can teach you a lot about making presentations. Whether you have to present during an interview or as a regular part of your job, the techniques used by movie and TV stars can help you perform more effectively. Here’s ten techniques gleaned from actors and the coaches who train them, to help you overcome your nerves and deliver better presentations.
1. Good presentations require great preparation, but do not start by writing your presentation out like an essay. Caroline Goyder, a former acting coach at the Central School of Speech and Drama who helps business leaders to communicate effectively says, “Writing it down tempts you to just read it out, which gives a dead, impersonal delivery.”
2. When thinking about what you want to say, turn your attention away from yourself and to your audience. What problem do they want you to help them solve? Then consider how you overcame that problem yourself and describe how you did it. This results in a more personalised presentation and builds a link between you and the audience.
3. Note the points you want to make on sticky notes, in the form of pictures if you like. “Many actors use this trick to learn scripts as the brain remembers pictures for longer than words,” says Goyder. It leads to a more fluid and personal delivery than reading out a pre-written script, and you can easily swap the notes around to try out different structures for your presentation.
4. Know all the points in your presentation inside out, but feel free to improvise when it comes to making them. This keeps your delivery fresh, however many times you have made the same presentation. Ed Brodow, a former actor who is now a professional speaker and negotiator, says improvisation led to one of his signature stories, about how he knocked his grandfather’s false teeth down the toilet. “It succeeds in getting the point across with warmth and humour,” says Brodow.
5. Practise. Deliver your presentation into an audio or video recorder so you get used to what you sound and look like to an audience. Then deliver it to a live audience of colleagues, friends or family. Ask for constructive feedback.
6. Make like Anthony Hopkins . Use what actors call personalisation. When Hopkins was playing serial killer Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, he helped convey the inner anger of Lecter by reaching into his own experience of being so angry that he felt like killing someone. You can use this technique of tapping into your own emotional experiences to bring the impact of emotions such as joy, surprise or fear into your presentations.
7. Find a visual way to back up your points, but try to be original rather than just using Powerpoint with words and graphs. Ed Brodow once beat up a rubber chicken as part of a presentation. It’s off the wall, but people remembered it.
8. When it comes to delivery, take it slowly. Goyder cites a technique used by actor Ewan McGregor: deliver one thought at a time. Putting pauses between each thought helps you slow down. This is useful as nerves tend to speed up speech. Imagine you are delivering each point to one member of the audience and wait until you can see from their face that they have got it. This is a technique used by stand-up comedians.
9. Take a tip from George Clooney, and think of the audience as close friends. “It makes you warm up and smile,” says Goyder.
10. Finally, there is one tip you can try out right now. Many television and radio professionals use this technique to ensure that they come across as twinkling, charming and friendly. Think to yourself, “I’m beautiful; someone loves me; I have a secret.” Keeping that in mind, say what you have to say. Try it now with the next person you speak to. It really works.