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Win hearts, impress clients: Smalls ways to boost your presentation skills

~This blog is written by the MPN team; please share your best practicesbelow~

Whether you're pitching to a client or talking with coworkers, strong presentation skills will help you land your message and achieve your goals. While presentation skills come naturally to some, most of us need help! Between developing strong speaking skills and creating a bit of stage presence, there are lots of little things you can do to make your next presentation stand out to your audience.

Here are five tips to take you from good to great.

1. Start with a story or a puzzle

We've highlighted the importance of storytelling in business before, but when it comes to winning a client's attention, few things hold the same impact as a story. Microsoft tech evangelist and distinguished engineer, James Whittaker, talks about storytelling as the key difference between transmitting facts to an audience and changing the way people think.

"Storytelling, good storytelling, is the one skill that can even the playing field. Nothing else can draw attention to the human condition or to a good cause. When storytelling is absent, the merits of a cause, no matter how important, go unnoticed and unappreciated."  - James Whittaker, author of The Storyteller's Spellbook 

To be effective, your presentations need to make the audience feel something. You can do this by telling an engaging story, or asking the audience to solve a puzzle. That engagement is what will make your presentation memorable.

2. Identify your key talking points

To make sure you get your key points across, make a bulleted list of the most important notes to hit during your presentation. In your prep work, create a kind of cheat sheet you can refer to when building out your narrative. Think about the who, what, and why of your presentation, then build off that framework. That one or two sentence summary will help you stay focused throughout the process.

"If you can't write your message in a sentence, you can't say it in an hour." - Dianna Booher, author of Communicate with Confidence

3. Don't memorize a script!

You may be tempted to imagine what you would say word-for-word when giving your presentation, but the best speakers are often remembered for giving very natural speeches. A memorized script can come across as inauthentic or even boring. The best presenters speak naturally and comfortably about a topic, with or without a script.  

4. Find your speaking style

In her book, What is Your One Sentence?, Mimi Goss discusses the importance of personal style in speaking. Your natural speaking style is unique to you, and only you can define that style. That style is based on your personality, your experiences, and your background, which can all be brought in to make a presentation more engaging and interesting for your audience. Finding your speaking style can take time and practice, but a great way to start is by listening to other speakers who you admire, and pulling some of their flair into your own presentation style.  

"You learn to speak from the deepest sense of yourself - who you are, what you want to communicate, and to whom." - Mimi Goss, author of What Is Your One Sentence?

5. Practice like you present

Of course, the best advice to help you become a strong presenter is to practice, practice, practice. Practice in front of other people. Practice distracted. Practice so much that your message becomes ingrained into your speaking style, that even if the conversation moves in an unanticipated direction, you'll know how to make your point effectively. Even if it's with coworkers, your boss, a friend, or a random person you meet in an elevator, practicing your presentation skills will help you gauge audience reactions to what you're saying and adjust as needed.  

What tips do you have for Microsoft partners looking to improve their presentation skills? Share your thoughts below!