Giving a good presentation, as with any kind of public speaking, is something that we tend to think of an innate ability — but it isn’t. In fact, it’s something that can be learned just like any other skill, and it’s just a matter of practicing and implementing some good advice. Recently we put out the following query:
What’s your main tip for giving presentations (whether it’s for work, college or anything else) in front of a group of people? Personal stories and things you have learned on your own are welcome, especially if it’s something many people tend to neglect.
The below are the comments we got back in response, which I encourage you to have a good read through. These are the main suggestions people have made so far (if you have your own advice to share on giving good presentations, please submit a comment here):
- Know the topic of your presentation inside out (EDITORS NOTE: This was the main piece of advice – I have not published every comment sent to us along these lines) (link)
- Build on the personal experiences and beliefs of the audience (link)
- Confidence is key. To help you deliver more confidently, consider focusing on just 3 or 4 ‘friendly’ members of the audience (link)
- Always try to get the audience participating (link)
- Consider these for your opening/closing statements: statistics, rhetorical statements, stories, declarative statements, humor or Aesop’s fables (link)
- Use printed slides (link)
- Tell a story (link) (several comments have mentioned the power of stories)
- Pay attention to your slide designs (link)
- If you’re presenting with another person, never let them struggle (link)
- Take pauses (link)
- Relax, loosen up, and have fun (link)
- Show passion and leave time for Q&A (link)
- Be authentic to yourself and don’t try to copy someone else’s presentation style (link)
- Practice your presentation while doing some mundane activity, such as cleaning. If you can do it then you know you have it 100% memorized (link)
- Design and delivery matters (link)
- Use a clean and clear template (link)
My main tip for successfully making a presentation before a group of people is to know your stuff. This means, that you should know what you are going to present so well that even if you lost your referral notes or cards, or even power point slides, you would still be able to give the presentation effectively. By knowing the essential parts of the presentation by heart, you get to give a smoother, simpler, and more comprehensive address compared to when you have to refer back to your notes constantly. In case the presentation is too long to cram, find three main points that can work as a summary and create your presentation around them. I once carried the wrong laptop to work due to being nervous and in a hurry. I only noticed this during the meeting. Since we could not postpone it, I had to apologize, explain my predicament, and give the presentation from the top of my head. While I did not have the colorful and engaging power point slides to boost my presentation, I was still able to make my pitch and get the support I needed. Sometimes eloquence is all you need to put across a point.
--Jay Scott, Pugsquest
A big part of my job is writing presentations, building visual presentations, and providing general guidance to attorneys for their courtroom presentations.
The single most important tip is that the most effective presentations bend to the audience, meaning they build on the personal experiences and beliefs of the audience. When you ground your presentation in what your audience has experienced and wants to believe, you will drastically increase the level of engagement and responsiveness.
Beyond that, it is so important for speakers to find their own identity in their presentations. Audiences can tell when a speaker is not being genuine that this negative trait has a significant spillover effect. Speakers should not try to be someone they are not. They need to build the presentation around who they are and who their audience is. That is when the best presentations happen.
--Thomas M. O'Toole, Ph.D., Sound Jury Consulting
Giving presentations or even public speaking for the first few times can be not only challenging but completely nerve-racking. Confidence is the key to giving an effective presentation. Confidence comes with knowing your material thoroughly beyond what you will be verbalizing, understanding the technology you will be using, and keeping nerves under control.
Nerves and presentation skills go beyond studying and practice. There are certainly a few techniques that can help. Focussing on 3 or 4 'friendly' members of the audience strategically placed can help by making an audience feel more engaged. Holding a personal conversation with them rather than speaking to a crowd is both calming and can gives the feeling that you are addressing the wide audience.
Taking a breath and remembering to pause is an effective way to calm any nerves, emphasize each point, and to let your audience absorb information. Underlining words that require a pause after in your notes makes giving a presentation much easier.
--Ajmal Dar, Moccasin Guru
My best presentation tip has to be connecting with your audience. Every time I had to make a university presentation, I always make questions to my audience and make sure they participated. It's the same at work. I always make questions to different people to establish a connection. At some point, you will be almost having a conversation, since everyone will feel part of the presentation, and the engagement will be more significant.
--Hugo Guerreiro, Who Is Blogging
There are two areas that most presenters fail to plan for. The opening and closing. A presenter must get their audiences' attention in the first seven seconds. An opening does not start with thanking someone or fill those seven seconds with blah, blah, blah! No, a presenter needs an opening to fit his or her goals and topics, and it has to be relevant to the audience members. It is all about them, after all. If it is not, then you should rethink your approach.
I recommend one of the following eight options.
Use numbers if they would support the subject matter. It is a great way for one to remember the point you are making. For example, if you were going to share how you could help the audience improve sales by 50%, that would grab their attention and listen more.
2. Rhetorical Statement
This is a great way to get the audience's attention. For example, an opening for presentation skills might be, If a person's number one fear over death is public speaking, then why would anyone want to do it?. That would get their attention to listen if it would help them learn how to reduce his or her fear factor.
This is when you retell a story about something or someone. A great way to start would be, As I was driving here this morning, I was thinking about XYZ. Then you would tie that story into the presentation.
4. Personal Story
Personal stories work great. The more vulnerable you can be, the better, as it lets others know that now everyone is perfect. Not even the experts.
A quote should be very impactful and relate to the topics at hand. If you can make the quote from someone within the audience's knowledge, their CEO for example would make it more personable.
6. Declarative Statement
A declarative statement should be on the controversial side. Not combative but to make one really think about what you said.
Humor is not a joke. It must be relative, non-threatening, and not demeaning. If you make it about yourself, it can make it more personable.
8. Aesop's fables
Researching Aesop's fables can be a great way to get a point across. It takes some time, but it can be VERY powerful.
The closing can come from the eight opening options as well; however, there is one difference, it must include homework. For example, you might ask them that the next time they are in a business meeting, look for XYZ. Or you may ask them to email you the one thing they are going to implement in their workplace that they learned from your presentation. The more tangible, the better.
--Parker Geiger, Personal Branding Center
Whenever I had a work presentation, I’d prepare a nice presentation to go along with it. For some reason, I would always forget the slides' order or explain something ahead of time, so the slide wouldn’t have any purpose. Now, this isn’t that bad but the problem was my concentration - whenever I messed up, I would become nervous and completely lose focus.
To avoid such situations, I started printing all of the slides ahead of time and using them as my personal notes. Oftentimes I would add comments or remarks as well and have all the information in one place. Having printed slides helped me a lot with the presentation structure and my delivery became much more coherent. Most importantly, I stopped losing focus and achieved a balance between my visual aids and the content I wanted to present.
--Tom Winter, DevSkiller
Tell a story.
Although it can be difficult to make a scientific talk interesting and stimulating, there are numerous ways to make data appealing and engaging to the audience. There should be a logical flow to the content of your presentation, with a beginning, middle, and end. Each presentation slide should build on the previous one and unfold your message like a story. This ap proach will keep your audience involved and engaged.
--Dr. Vikram Tarugu, Detox of South Florida
Develop slides which are visually stunning.
For certain educational and science talks the usage of technologies and multimedia has been mandatory. When planning the presentations, there are some basic laws to obey. Next, hold them easy, with no confusing plain backgrounds. Then hold words to a minimum — your slides need not be an oral introduction copy. When using terms, make sure that the font is big enough (at least 20 points) to be clearly recognizable. Using diagrams to demonstrate the case, then help it. Use inspiring and thought-provoking pictures, and a fantastic picture will offer the viewers a lasting impact on their minds. Properly mark the statistics, and do not fail to mention statistical facts. You shouldn't focus solely on slides and multimedia to display your job, as they reflect a limited portion of a good presentation tool kit.
--Eliza Nimmich, Tutor The People
I had an internship once which required me to do a lot of presentations in random classrooms my junior year of college. Us interns were assigned different classes two at a time based on our availability throughout the semester. One tip I learned and will never forget is when my team leader told us one day to never let your partner struggle. What she meant by that is when they run out of things to say or become tongue tied, sweep in to their rescue. That way the message is not lost in the delivery and your partner doesn't feel awkward. It helped me gain confidence and it also allowed me to constantly have a clear mind when presenting in front of those I do not know.
--Nilaja Croft, Leda Health
As a professor at the University of Florida, I give multiple presentations and lectures each week, although they are all online now due to COVID. The most important tip for giving a presentation is to insert brief pauses that fit naturally into a presentation. When presenting a lot of information to an audience or a class at once, it is easy to push through the material and keep going, especially if there is limited time. But the audience needs time to reflect especially for any information that is particularly important or interesting. As a presenter, it is important to make points resonate and make them memorable and taking a pause and looking out over the audience after making a poignant point so you can see if it resonated and for them to take notice of the significance of the point to help better ensure it is retained and remembered.
--Andrew Selepak, PhD, aselepak.com
Over the years I’ve given and attended presentations, I believe I’ve identified three key components of an effective presentation: Succintness, a strong start, a good story.
Succintness: As the saying goes, “don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” It’s the same way many articles turn out to be less interesting because they’re filled with too much fluff. Get to the point, discuss it briefly, move on.
A strong start: Like in boxing, you want to inflict damage on the onset with a stiff jab. When giving presentations, it’s best to catch your audience’s attention right from the get-go. Once you do that, it’s only a matter of maintaining that by making concise points.
A good story: Everyone loves a good anecdote because it adds an element of realism to it. These stories make the presentation more relatable to the listeners, and that will keep them hooked the entire time.
--Ben Walker, Transcription Outsourcing
Relax, loosen up, have fun. That’s three tips that’s really rolled into one. Public speaking can be daunting for anyone, but if you’re passionate about the topic you’re about to discuss, it would be a lot easier to do this. Just trust your knowledge and be yourself. Once those butterflies in your stomach disappear, you’ll be able to speak more fluidly and discuss things accordingly.
--David Weingot, DMAC Security
Here are my top tips on giving presentations:
1. Outline the goals of the presentation at the beginning. This way, the listeners know what to expect.
2. Use plenty of audio-visuals to illustrate your main points. Whether you're relying on good old PowerPoint or something fancier, this is key. The use of text should be limited to short bullet points. Instead, many presenters tend to dump long block quotes in a tiny font size. The result is always the same - most people in the audience are squinting trying to read the quote and so completely ignore what the speaker is saying in the meantime.
3. Do not read from a prepared script. As an academic historian, I've had to put up with countless conference presentations which involved the presenter reading their paper in the most boring tone of voice. There's no better cure for insomnia. Listeners appreciate a bit of spontaneity, so it's far better to use notes instead.
4. Show passion for the subject. If you yourself seem bored, you can't expect your audience to feel otherwise. Use body language - eye contact, the occasional hand gesture, move around from time to time, etc.
5. Leave time for Q&A at the end. Obviously this varies from setting to setting and topic to topic, but it's always a good idea to leave a few minutes for questions from the audience. One way to get the ball rolling is to pose a couple of open-ended questions yourself on the last slide of your presentation.
--Borislav Chernev, PhD, MarkInStyle
Here are 2 tips for giving effective presentations:
1. Connect with your audience. Start your presentation strong and convey your passion. By doing this, you’ll be able to capture their attention, and hopefully hold it for the duration of the presentation. Even so, get straight to the point of your message. You may have captured their attention, but the average person’s attention span only lasts for 20 minutes. By keeping it brief and impactful, the greater the chance your audience will absorb the message.
2. Be a human. Unless you’re an astronaut, your audience will most likely be human as well. Use body language and variations in your voice’s pitch, tone and speed to help convey your message. Smile and make eye contact with your audience. Tell personal stories that your audience can relate to by letting them know that you’re human too.
--Jacob Martinez, SwiftClean
We all want to give entertaining and informative presentations. And we don't want to be mundane and boring that our listeners would sleep through our presentation. So as for me, the number one tip I would give you in giving presentations is to have fun when giving your presentations. Be enthusiastic and be energetic. It may sound difficult but it’s easy if you know and study the presentation you are about to give. And as for an example, when I was about to give a presentation to my company, I practiced it with my wife. She was attentive and understood the points that I was getting at. So when it came to the time of the presentation, everybody in my company enjoyed the presentation and was congratulating me on a job well done and a great presentation.
--James Irwin, Windproof Gazebos
Make it interactive, anecdotal, and energetic.
For starters, you should be definitely modulating your tone of voice to make your delivery upbeat and chipper. After all, if you’re not excited about our slides no one else will be. Varying your pitch, speed and volume will keep the people on their toes and (at least to some extent) wake them up from the notorious slumber of cookie-cutter presentations.
Stories, anecdotes, and personal examples are scientifically proven to be much more memorable than statistics, tables, and numerical charts. The latter are often unavoidable, but try to spice things up by making the figures relatable or bringing attention to an unexpected correlation that can be a great insight into how to improve things. Anything, that exemplifies the data from an unconventional perspective or has a direct impact on specific attendees is certainly worth pointing out.
Interactivity is the fastest way to engagement. Never try to put anyone on the spot, but as you present feel free to ask questions, go (slightly off tangent) and create opportunities for a dialogue with the audience. If you can demonstrate that you relate to their plight and understand their pain points, they’ll be more than happy to pay attention to any suggestions you present that may bring them closer to a solution.
--Bart Turczynski, ResumeLab
I feel that my main tip for giving effective presentations is to tell a story.
Stories are not only extremely engaging, but they also allow the audience to follow your thought process till you reach the conclusion. This way, your audience understands clearly how you reach your conclusion and what your conclusion is, making the presentation clear and effective.
An example would be a presentation my group and I gave to propose solutions to reduce social isolation in a community. My group and I told a story of how an elderly, living alone, felt depressed because she could neither go out nor have anyone to talk to. This was until a volunteer visited her. The volunteer lent a listening ear to her and even pushed her on the wheelchair to a playground to play with kids.
Hearing this story, I feel that it engages the audience to empathise with the plight of the elderly and shows how we came to a solution from there.
--Clovis Chow, TimeOrganizeStudy
People tend to make one of two mistakes when making presentations. The most common one is to freeze because of being nervous and intimidated. This is normal if you’re making a presentation for the first time or don’t have much experience.
The other mistake is basically the opposite: for fear of freezing, some people decide to talk faster and without pausing to think about what they’re saying. Sometimes they end up making little sense because they’re too focused in keeping the speech flowing.
When I was a student one of my professors, an economist, often went live on TV to comment on economic policy. He told us something that I never forgot and that is paramount. to a successful speech, whether on TV or as a presentation in any other setting: the key to perform well in a presentation is to focus on keeping the flow of speech steady while remembering to breathe and take pauses as though to listen to your own words and make sure you are making sense.
--Jacques Buffet, Zety
As an engineer, I have given a number of presentations ranging from small groups to filled auditoriums. My main tip for a successful presentation is confidence. Having confidence makes you a better presenter and it will help you connect with your audience.
Many people struggle with presentations because they are nervous. I was really nervous when I was asked to present to the CEO of a multibillion dollar company and his advisory board.
Here are four easy techniques I used to overcome my nerves and present with confidence:
1. Practice outloud before giving the presentation (preferably in front of a mirror).
2. Force yourself to smile. Even though this might sound cliche, smiling is scientifically proven to relax you. When you smile, your brain releases the feel good hormones- dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. These will help relax you and give you more confidence.
3. Presenting to a large group can be intimidating so pick out a few different people in the audience and picture them as your friends and family. Make eye contact with them throughout the presentation. This will help you not get sidetracked or overwhelmed by looking at all of the people in the audience.
4. Remember to breathe. Taking deep slow breaths will slow your talking down and help calm your nerves. Focus on your breathing will distract you from being nervous. The calmer you are, the more confidence you will gain as you are presenting.
The presentation will be more enjoyable for you and your audience if you present with confidence.
--Meagan Bukowski, Engineering Expectations
Main tip: Be authentic to yourself and don't try to copy someone else's presentation style. When I was a member of Toastmasters I received feedback that I did not move around the stage or gesture enough--I stood in one place and essentially moved my arms just from the elbows. To help overcome this, I paid close attention to other presenters who better commanded the stage and forced myself to stretch my movement comfort zone. I learned to take a few steps to emphasize a speaking point and to make my gestures more extreme than felt natural. I did not, however, emulate a fellow speaker who was praised by some for her overly dramatic stage presence and ridiculed by others for her use of Jazz hands while speaking about serious topics. Imitating her would have been inauthentic.
--Stephanie Cory, stephaniecory.com
The best advice I ever got was to practice a presentation while you clean inanimate objects. If you can deliver your entire presentation without mistakes while you're actively cleaning a table and chairs - you know you've got that sucker 100% memorized. That can give you the confidence to reduce the shakiness in your voice and throw in a few extra smiles and jokes because you're essentially giving the speech on autopilot. I've used this technique when delivering a presentation to a small room of people and even a room of 200 attendees and it's worked flawlessly.
--Syndi Braun, The Social Robin
When making presentations to any group, we aim to capture our audience get them to listen to us with their eyes, ears and their hearts. We present or speak to provide information, motivate, inspire or transform people.
So what does it take for us to present effectively and yield the result we desire?
I have learnt that design and delivery matters. I learnt about the need to ensure that the four basic learning styles, the visual, auditory, kinesthetic and emotional are considered. Our delivery must be intentionally designed to ensure no learning style is left behind.
Let me explain this. Have you noticed how plain some powerpoint presentations are and how impersonal the scrolling can be? If you have, I am sure you have noticed how some people might be looking away from the presenter, bored and not engaged. Yet some visual and auditory learners may be fascinated and attentive.
I have found that an emotional learner might struggle to pay attention and grasp what is being said, if there is no story to help them feel and understand the presenter. I am one such person. While like everyone else, I learn using all four styles, I am predominantly an emotional learner.
To avoid losing some learner types, a presenter might bring the same facts being presented to life by telling a story. A relevant story that assures the audience they are not alone. Once people feel connected, they will pay attention and remain engaged.
As I co-designed and co-facilitated civic education workshops back home in Zimbabwe, I ensured that the visual learner was catered for through providing written materials and capturing what was being said on flip charts. The auditory learner was catered for through speech and CDs. The emotional learner, through stories or activities that gave them an opportunity to feel and questions that elicited their feelings. We intentionally created activities where participants would move to ensure that the kinesthetic learner felt included. Design was fun knowing that our aim was to maximise participation. Our evalutions always affirmed how well we facilitated.
While four types may not be catered for at the same time, it is possible to design presentations in such a way that all feel included and participation or attention is maximised.
As we ensure that all learning types are included, it is important to know that the body of a speaker is an important resource to be fully used to make effective presentations. Lisa Nichols taught me that speaking is a full body sport.
From head to toe, we use ourselves to communicate the message we have to our audience. We pace up and down, we jump if we have to. We look and connect, we raise our voices or whisper. We keep silent for a while, we call out and the audience responds. Our energy either makes our presentation lifeless or full of life.
--Francisca Mandeya, inspireyourself.ca
Apart from public speaking skills, the template of the presentation displayed is very influential for the course of the presentation. The selection of fonts, visuals, colors, and other elements need to be considered. Clean and clear are keywords that you need to apply when making templates. Everyone is a visual learner and can remember information faster through eye-catching pictures. Look for the right pictures to balance out the written information. By looking at the pictures, the audience can immediately know the message you want to convey. Make separate notes that you can hold on to. However, you shouldn't write the exact same thing on the slide as it will bore your audience. Insert the material in the form of bullet points into the slide, then explain the points with your notes.
--Dev Gunawidjaja, Wall Street English