Bluewood Top Tips for your soft skills

Audiences want presenters to look open, interested and engaged, reading from a script with your arms crossed and mumbling your way through a talk will not win over your audience – you’ll be lucky if they pay attention for more than a few minutes. Once you’ve lost the attention of the audience, they won’t hear your message and are much less likely to act on what you are saying.

The soft skills you should be using to support your presentations can be split into a few different areas; we’ve looked at each to help show what you can do to make the most of the delivery and to boost your performance.

Hand Gestures:
Using your hands to help accentuate points, engage the audience and look inclusive will make you look more interesting and can help win over the listeners. You don’t need to wave your arms around wildly, but using hands to back-up what you are saying can be very useful non-verbal support for your content.

Eye Contact:
If a presenter doesn’t look at you, it’s hard to feel included and you certainly won’t feel they are trying to connect directly with you. Making frequent and regular eye contact, even if you are presenting to a large group will make a big difference to the attention each audience member gives you.

Pushing your shoulders back and holding your head high is a confident pose, it will help the audience trust your message a little more and will give you a boost too – this is great to do, especially if you are feeling some nerves. Watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on some of the research and science around body-language, and how you can; ‘fake it, till you make it’:

It sounds simple but if you look a little cold or unhappy on stage, then that’s probably what the audience will be thinking of you too. A smile will boost your confidence but it will help the audience warm to you too. You can still come across as serious about your topic and offer a smile here and there, but obviously beware of doing it when talking about a crisis or bad news.

Listening to a presenter with a monotone, same tempo, same volume voice is an easy way to drift off to sleep. You have to accentuate and vary your delivery to keep the listeners engaged. The areas to think about are:
• Pitch; keep away from a monotone and vary your pitch when you can, even slight variations help to engage the listener.
• Volume; aside from just making sure you speak loudly enough to be heard, you can also use volume to really hit home the important points.
• Speed; talking too fast is a sure way of losing the audience, they need time to consider and digest what you say, if you talk too fast they will miss crucial parts. Use pauses before or after main messages and if you are communicating a complicated idea or list of facts, make sure you slow right down to give the listener time for them to sink-in.

Sitting down:
It’s often easier/better to present standing up, but in very small groups or a meeting this isn’t always appropriate. Even if you are sitting down, it’s still important to think about your body-language:
• Place your feet firmly on the floor to ‘ground’ you and stop you shifting about.
• Sit upright and right back into the seat of the chair so you have a solid stance.
• Don’t cross your arms; it can make you look nervous, bored and defensive.
• Keep your hands on the table in front of you and use hand gestures to back-up what you say.

There are a lot of elements to think about when it comes to soft skills and some people will have to work harder at it than others. Try and get feedback on your next presentation or watch yourself on camera to help you to assess what needs work. Try to add one element at a time, rather than trying to do too much to start with. And remember that this is an area where; if you can make small changes you will see big improvements.

Written by Will Edwards – – March 2015

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