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Since leaving the world of newspaper journalism in 2006, I have done a lot of public speaking at conferences and corporate events. But it was not until the past few months that I decided I had a glaring need to up my game.

It's not that I was a bad public speaker. Rather, after every presentation, I had a nagging feeling that things could have gone better and smoother. The content was solid but it did not come off as well as I had expected.

Equally troubling: Even though I'm comfortable on stage, it was obvious my presentation skills were far from perfect.

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So I hit the books and videos to learn more about the tricks and habits of good public speakers, and how they put together their presentations.

My reading list included Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun; The Naked Presenter by Garr Reynolds; and Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte.

The biggest lesson - and something that should not have been a surprise - was the importance of practising and rehearsing a presentation.

It seems like a straightforward proposition but it was not something I had really done. Most of my presentations consisted of putting together a PowerPoint deck a few days before speaking, and then pretty much adlibbing.

Unfortunately, this approach does not work if the plan is to make a great presentation, rather than just go through he motions.

Another key lesson was the need to think about your target audience. You need to make sure your presentation meets their needs and interests.

Again, this seems like a no-brainer but it had not been a priority. Reaching out to a target audience includes doing things such as highlighting local companies so people can relate to things in their own backyard.

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Although my presentation skills still need work, I'm feeling a lot more comfortable. I know the material inside out. I have done hours of rehearsals. And I have developed techniques to engage an audience.

For other entrepreneurs, the biggest lesson I can pass along is do everything you can to put your best foot forward.

Do your homework and be prepared - whether you're presenting at a conference, in a meeting or during a sales call.

Making an investment in your presentation skills will make a big difference in how people think about you and your business.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.

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