Guide to Giving Great Presentations
The skill of giving presentations is a very important one for your career. Whether you are a fresh graduate, a middle manager, a senior executive, a salesperson, or an entrepreneur, you need to be able to give good presentations. You might be presenting to your customer, supplier, boss, team, board of directors, investors, or even a public official. The ability to deliver a solid presentation is a critical skill to help you make connections, get people to buy-in, and convince others to do what you think is the best course of action.
However, most people are afraid of public speaking. In multiple surveys and polls, the fear of public speaking consistently shows up as one of the top things people are afraid of. For example, a poll conducted by Gallup in 2001 showed that 40% of people are afraid of public speaking and, interestingly, that number is higher for women (44% of women vs. 37% of men are afraid of public speaking).
From my experience presenting in the corporate world, lecturing, and teaching people how to do presentations I realized how quickly people can improve their presentation skills by following a simple guideline. In some cases, it was a single session that gave people a major improvement in people’s presentations.
I want to share with you the three main steps you can use to deliver a great presentation. Hey, you might even enjoy doing presentations:
1- Set your “Take Home Messages” (Your Goal)
Before you start any presentation, ask yourself what the purpose of the presentation is. What do you want the audience to get out of your presentation? Pick one to three messages you want your audience to take away. Don’t do more than three points otherwise you will dilute your message and people will not remember anything.
Once you set your key points, you have a direction for your presentation. You now can determine if the presentation was a success or not. If your goal was to get your audience to take action then you can see if they take that action after the presentation (e.g. buy, invest, change behaviour, etc). Your goals can also be simply to inform people about something, which you can measure.
If you don’t set your take home messages, you will end up doing a “spray and pray” approach hoping that your audience will like something from what you throw at them. Not a good strategy.
2- Build Your Storyline (Behind the Curtain)
Your next step is to decide how you will deliver your key message(s) to the audience. This is where the bulk of the work is, which is invisible to everyone else. Here you will develop the content, supporting material, visuals, settings, and medium.
- Cater the presentation to the audience: Take into account the audience’s size, age, experience, beliefs, agendas, and expectations. A presentation to investors will be different from a presentation to your team. They will both want to know about the company vision, but investors will want to know “how much money do you need, what will you do with it, and how much will you make?“. Employees will want to know “how will we accomplish the vision and how do we fit into the picture?”. Anticipate the audience’s questions and address them ahead of time.
- Orchestrate your settings: If you have control over where and how the presentation will be delivered, set it so it maximizes the impact of your key messages. Pick the venue that fits your crowd, minimize distractions, set your stage, set your screen and sound so sure everyone can hear and see well. If you cannot control these, then make the best of the settings. Many companies (e.g. Apple) put significant effort into setting the stage when launching new products.
- Choose your medium: Decide how you will deliver your presentation. You can use a presentation software such as PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, Google Slides, Open Office Impress, or many others. You could decide to make a video to go along with the presentation or to replace it altogether. You might decide to deliver a speech without slides (either by choice or due to the settings).
- Develop your content: Build your storyline by deciding what you will say, show, and do. Here are some quick tips:
- Decide on length of the presentation: Is it 5 minutes or 1 hour?
- Get to the point & remove clutter: Keep what adds value and toss everything else
- Use visuals: Pictures and graphs deliver the message more efficiently than words and are more memorable (label your graphs)
- Use props to support your presentation. For example: The brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor got a real human brain on stage during her talk about her experience of getting a brain stroke (2:28 mins)
- Answer the “So what” question in each slide. Tell the audience what you want them to get out of each slide
- Deliver one point per slide with supporting material for each
- Make it flow like a story. Set the stage (problem or issue), say what needs to be done, close with expected results
- Make it personal: Put your touch into the presentation to make it unique to you.
3- Deliver it
Now its time to deliver your story. This is the part everyone sees and thinks about when you mention presentations. If you do the first two parts above well, this part will be easy. Here are things to consider:
- Decide where to stand: Remove all obstacles between you and the audience
- Speak loud enough so everyone can hear you (don’t mumble)
- Set your tone to fit the circumstances: Speak calmly if your purpose is to calm an angry audience down. Add energy to inspire action. Change up your tone throughout the presentation (e.g. more energy at end when you are calling for action)
- Dress appropriately: Dress more formal when presenting to a serious crowd and more casual for a casual crowd
- Engage the audience: When appropriate interact with the audience to get more engagement
- Tell the audience when you will take questions: after or anytime during the presentation. You can also set regular intervals within the presentation for questions
- Don’t use hand notes: It’s a distraction. Use the slides to guide yourself. Use notes if you have a long speech and no slides
- Body Language: Stand straight, make eye contact with the audience (don’t just fixate on an individual), and use your arms to direct the audiences’ attention
- Eliminate distractions: The common distractions to watch out for are hands in pockets, fidgeting, giving your back to the audience, standing in front of the screen where the slides are projecting on your face and body
- Go early and set up: Make sure everything works well (sound, seats, projector, etc)
- Practice: Run it in your head and/or do a live run to a friend or alone. Time yourself.
- Smile (unless the occasion is inappropriate)
- Break the ice: Start the presentation with a joke, an interesting fact, or a thought provoking question
- Use humour carefully: make sure it doesn’t distract from the message and does not offend anyone
- Be yourself: It sounds cliche, but the point is to deliver the presentation like a storyteller not a like a robot. Put your personal touch so people can identify and connect with you
Here is a presentation by Eli Pariser (Beware online “filter bubbles”) and five reasons why its a great presentation (below)
Here’s what’s great about this presentation:
- He delivers one “take home message” (raising awareness about an issue)
- He gives his presentation like a conversation
- He provides supporting material and visuals without distracting from the topic at hand
- His body language & tone matches the occasion. Notice that how effectively he uses pauses in his speech
- He concludes by calling to action at the end
Follow the three steps above the next time you’re ive a presentation and I’m sure you will notice a significant improvement.
Share your experience. What works for you? What problems do you face?