To succeed in an industry as competitive as financial services, advisors need excellent communication skills to connect with, and attract, new clients, says George Torok, owner of Speech Coach for Executives in Burlington, Ont.

While you may have previously stumbled through your presentations by reading the text on your PowerPoint slides, Torok has good news: natural talent is not a necessity for effective public speaking. Public speaking is a skill that can be learned and enhanced, he says.

Here are five tips you can use to improve your presentations:

1. Visualize your audience beforehand
Try to understand the mindset of your audience while preparing your presentation, Torok says. For example, if you’re going to be speaking to retired steelworkers, tailor your talk to retired steelworkers. Their concerns will be different from those of small-business owners.

“Use words or analogies from the way they see life,” Torok says.

2. Master the material
Rehearse your presentation beforehand using the same body language and posture you would while presenting to your audience. If you’re going to be standing during your presentation, train for your speech by standing and presenting in your office or home, Torok says. Get comfortable with both your words and your body language.

It’s OK to use cue cards or props, Torok adds. But never read directly from a script or from your PowerPoint slides.

“If you’re reading the slides,” Torok says, “[the organizers might say,] ‘We don’t need you there. Just send the slides next time and we’ll read them ourselves’.”

3. Learn the logistics of the event
Even if you haven’t arranged the presentation, it’s still important to map out the territory in which you will be working. If you’re speaking at a conference, Torok suggests, arrive early to figure out where the washrooms, exits and other sessions are located. Audience members will look to you as an authority, and you can put them at ease by introducing them to their surroundings.

4. Pay attention to your audience
“There are people who love to speak,” Torok says, “but that doesn’t make them a good speaker or a good presenter. It just means they enjoy making noise.”

A good speaker is one who pays attention to the audience members and will frequently gauge their reactions, making adjustments as needed. For example, the length of time you spend on a particular topic will depend on the level of engagement the audience shows toward that topic.

5. Ask key questions
One technique in building engagement is to ask your audience questions throughout the presentation. If you’re introducing a new product, for example, you might do a quick poll asking who has heard about that type of product or is interested in learning more about it. Says Torok: “If nobody raises their hand, then it’s probably not worth talking about.”