Ten Tips For Giving A Successful Presentation


Giving a successful presentation is not the same as giving a great speech.

For some – those who envision a future basking in the glory of a standing ovation on the main stage at TED – that may seem a little disappointing.

For others – for whom simply the thought of standing up and addressing a few colleagues is enough to set off a recurring nightmare about delivering a speech from the main stage at TED – understanding that can go a long way to assuaging such fears.

The point – and the reality – is that most day-to-day business presentations are not seismic singular events. They are, however, a key building block to career success, so it’s worth investing time in learning how to do them well.

The following tips will help you create a successful presentation that will keep your audience engaged from start to finish. At the very least, they’ll help you present with both confidence and authority. After that? Well, next stop, TED…


Ten Tips For Presentation Success


1. Frame your message to your audience


Your audience’s attention level will be in direct proportion to the relevance and importance they place on your topic. Find ways to demonstrate this – an interesting (relevant) case study or other story, for example, or an arresting statistic that will force them to sit up and take notice right from the top.

Remember to frame your message to that audience’s needs or wants. (Every audience is different, even if the key messaging is the same.) In some cases, you may be speaking to a group of people, but there will be one key decision maker you need to convince. In this case, the frame of the message will be angled to that person.


2. Choose a structure to fit your objective


Before you start thinking about content you need to be clear about why you’re giving the presentation. Start with the end in mind and clarify your objective in one sentence. Then consider the structure or storyline you want to use.

Most presentations follow a three-act structure which, at the very least, has a beginning, middle and end. You’ll also need to ensure you answer the What, How and Why questions – not necessarily in that order – but there’s a lot more to choosing your structure than that.

Your story line will follow a different ‘model’ depending on whether you want to inform, persuade, inspire or entertain.

See our blog on Seven Storytelling Techniques To Structure Your Presentation for more information on this.


3. Keep it simple, even if it’s complicated


 Anyone can give a long, detailed presentation packed with ‘information’. But a presentation that’s clear, concise and delivers meaning to the audience requires a bit of thought.

Having coached executives for critical presentations on everything from the sale of a nuclear power plant to the launch of a new dementia drug, we’ve seen a lot of highly technical presentations. But if you want to hold attention and gain the trust of your audience you need to boil it down to a simple story.

Start with the key message you want to get across, which is your presentation in one sentence. Think about what you’re talking about but also why it’s relevant to your audience.

Develop your ‘headlines’ or main points from there. Arrange your headlines so that they link together to form a coherent story (following the structure you’ve already decided on). If you find you’ve added in something that doesn’t relate to the key message, consider putting that slide into the appendix. Add in only the necessary detail to give your story credibility.


4. Start with a bang not a whimper


The beginning of your presentation is crucial for getting the attention of the audience and establishing your presence as a speaker. You need to make an impact quickly, ideally in the first minute, or the audience will start to lose interest.

Showing the audience a gap in what they know or in their current way of thinking is a great way of arousing curiosity. Or you could start with a story, a question or simply a picture. Remember: your attention-grabber has to be appropriate to the audience and the situation – if you’re presenting to senior managers, you wouldn’t start with a long personal story; an arresting statistic might work more effectively.

Also consider your setting. In a conference, for example, you can spend longer bringing the audience into your world and demonstrating why your content will be relevant to them.


5. Connect with the audience


At the beginning of the presentation, smile and make eye contact with everyone in the room (or ‘sweep’ the room if it’s a large audience). This may seem obvious but many presenters fail to do it, especially nervous ones. Use the word ‘you’ or ‘we’ as often as you can to make the audience feel included in the ‘conversation’. And interact with the audience by asking questions (either direct or rhetorical) or referring to people in the room.


6. Finish as strongly as you start


The final minute of your presentation is as important as the first. It’s the last thing the audience will hear before you take questions. Always signal you are coming to the end – this invites people to sit up and listen more carefully. Then capitalise on their attention by using the opportunity to reiterate your key message or summarise your main points. Ideally, your final words should leave people with a thought-provoking take away.


7. Use visuals to back up your messages


Vision is the most advanced of our senses, which means no matter how compelling a presenter you are, people will be drawn to your slides. Your slides are your back-up, not the main event. They should complement the verbal story you are telling, therefore limit your use of them and the amount of time they’re displayed.

When it comes to slides design there’s no one-size rule. The best way to approach the design of your deck is to consider the three Rs:

  • REDUCE the amount of content so you don’t overfill slides;
  • REPLACE as much of the text as possible with graphics or images;
  • REVIEW your key message and get rid of slides that don’t support it (they can go in the appendix).

Remember: if your slides contain a lot of information or complex content you will need to work twice as hard to hold the audience’s attention.


8. Harness the power of your voice


The voice is an extraordinary tool for inspiring and engaging audiences. Yet most people completely underutilise it. To create an impact and hold the attention of your audience you need to use a variety of pace, rhythm and melody.

Your tone of voice should also mirror the intention of your thoughts, or you won’t sound believable. And don’t forget your body language. The variety of gestures you use and balance of movement with stillness (if presenting standing up) will also contribute to how you’re your message is received.

See our blog on Using Your Voice to Bring Your Presentation to Life for more information on this.


9. Tell stories, where you can


If you use stories in your presentation, your audience is more likely to engage with – and to remember – your points afterwards. Stories help us to pay attention and connect us with the person who is presenting. As Mario Jaurez, founder of StoryCo, says, “A good story, told well, cuts through the noise and builds an immediate emotional bond with people who matter most to your success.”

It’s sometimes helpful to start with a story, to set the mood or bring the audience into your world but you also need your entire presentation to tell a story (see Tip 2).


10. Don’t just practice, rehearse


Most people practice to ‘get the words right’, rather than rehearsing their delivery. But it’s only when you say something out loud that you notice the parts that don’t flow or words that trip you up. Rehearsing the presentation out loud will enable you to get a feel for what to emphasise more, where to slow down and speed up and where you might drop in energy.

It can make the difference between a good presentation and a great one.


Over the past fifteen years, we’ve helped hundreds of people structure and deliver winning presentations and pitches. If you’d like help with your presentation skills or want to work on business storytelling with a qualified coach, talk to us