It’s fair to say that when it comes to presentations, you might not share the same level of enthusiasm as your colleagues. And that’s OK, presenting to an audience can be tough to pull off if you’ve struggled in the past. But like any other skill in the workplace, there’s an art to getting them right, one that comes with practice – you just need to know what to look out for.
Whether it’s for a job interview or you’re speaking at a conference, a good presentation is made up of a few key ingredients. Get them right, and your audience will walk away informed and impressed. Below, we’ll look at these elements in more detail, including how to start and end your presentation, as well as how to make the middle bit count, so you can learn how to present with the best of them.
How to start a presentation
In the case of presentations, “first impressions count” has never been truer. Your opening should set the stage for what’s to follow, drawing in your audience in a way that’ll have them in the palm of your hand. A meek and mumbly intro, on the other hand, could lose an audience to the extent it’s hard to recover. So, what can you do to make sure that doesn’t happen?
Nail the introduction
If you’re presenting to a fresh audience, they’ll want to know who you are. But simply telling them your name and job title might come across a little flat. Try turning your introduction into a story that covers who you are, what your background is, and why the things you’re about to say are worth listening to.
Hook in your audience
Looking to create an instant impact with your presentation? Making a bold statement, asking a rhetorical question, or highlighting a surprising stat can all get your audience to bite.
A strong, simple statement is a great way of surprising your audience – and they’ll be all ears when it comes to hearing how you’ll then build on that.
Meanwhile, a rhetorical question gives them something to chew over. By engaging them with this method, you’ll have their full attention.
Highlighting a particular figure or statistic is a good tactic too, having the capacity to create shock or curiosity in your audience, or even act as a call to action (“We waste [x] number of pounds a year leaving the office lights on overnight. Let’s change this”).
Use visuals to your advantage
Imagery can also be a powerful presentation opener. Whether it’s a photo, an infographic, or a chart – images and visuals appeal to your audience’s imagination and back up your key talking points in a more memorable way.
What makes a ‘good’ presentation?
Everyone’s definition of what’s good will differ, but there’s definitely some best practices that all effective presentations stick to. When it’s time to prepare for your next one, keep these effective tips below in mind…
Use the 10-20-30 rule
This is a great rule of thumb that nicely covers the length of your presentation, and what it should look like. Your presentation should, ideally:
- Have no more than 10 slides
- Last for no more than 20 minutes
- Use a font size of no less than 30 point
Sticking to these three things keeps your talk succinct and to the point, and ensures the slides themselves aren’t cluttered with too much information. Remember, you want you to be the focus of your attention – not the words onscreen.
If you want to convey more information, then create a handout for your audience to read – after the presentation is over.
Emphasise your core message
Keeping things succinct means you, and therefore your audience, won’t lose sight of the message (or messages) that you’re conveying. A good way of doing this is by asking yourself what they need and want to know, rather than what you can simply tell them for the sake of it. If you’re thinking of saying anything that might take away or dilute the message, take it out of the presentation entirely.
Show your enthusiasm
If you struggle to be enthusiastic about the topic you’re talking about, then so will your audience. Body language, tone of voice and eye contact are all effective ways of demonstrating enthusiasm. The latter, in particular, lets you build a rapport with your audience, strengthening the connection between you, your topic of talk, and those who are listening. This is especially important where remote presentations are concerned.
Non-verbal communication plays a big part in your presentation too. Send a positive message by gesturing openly, standing confidently, moving around the stage in a natural manner and avoiding things like crossing your arms, or keeping your hands in your pockets.
As for your voice, there are a few strategies that can help your audience hang onto your every word. Rather than rushing through your presentation, remember to take a breath, alter the speed of your voice when necessary and change your pitch and tone to avoid falling into a monotone delivery. Nothing sedates an audience quite like that.
Try recording yourself going through your presentation. Listening back will help show where you’re going wrong – and you can get to work on improving the pitfalls that might be holding your presentation back.
Optimise your slides
Creating an engaging presentation deck will help to make your job a whole lot easier on the day itself. When designing the look of your slides, try these:
- Create a consistent aesthetic by using the same typography and colours throughout
- When choosing your fonts, go for something that isn’t overly distracting
- Don’t go overboard on text, cover the main points, and expand on these yourself
- Keep your graphs and charts simple and uncluttered
- Use high-quality photos from stock photography sites
- Avoid using gimmicky special effects and animations
How to end a presentation
You’ve gotten through the hard part, now you’re ready to wrap up your presentation in a memorable way. In the same way you need to start strong, you should conclude things properly too. Here’s how you can do this…
Sum up the key points
Bringing things full circle helps to reiterate what the audience has just heard, making sure they leave with what you’ve wanted them to understand. Try this simple formula:
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them
- Tell them
- Tell them what you’ve just told them
Avoid the Q&A
This might seem like a cardinal sin, but hear us out: ending on a Q&A isn’t all that memorable. Try taking questions throughout the presentation instead. Or if you absolutely have to take them at the end, make sure to use one of the other tips we’ve mentioned here afterwards the Q&A session is over.
Use a call to action
You want to make your audience carry out a specific action through your presentation. But how can you inspire them? By using powerful, strong verbs and specific actions that’ll empower them to move and be moved.
End on a memorable quote
Chances are, someone from history has said something that relates to your presentation. Can’t find the words you want to end on? Turn to a memorable quote from someone with a knack for pithy, catchy one-liners instead.
Use a contact slide
If you’re presenting at a conference, then rather than a thank you slide, use this time to let your audience know how they can get in touch with you, whether it’s your email address, Twitter handle or company’s website. By all means thank the audience for listening, but don’t waste the opportunity to get them to do more on a slide that says the same thing.
Make it clear that the presentation is over
Don’t let your presentation awkwardly grind to a halt. Concluding in this way can turn a great talk into a bit of a damp squib, and leave audiences feeling uncomfortable. Be emphatic, and make sure your presentation ends with a proper full stop. Even a simple “thank you” will let the audience know that things have come to a close.
Keep your composure
After you’ve taken questions, ended on a memorable quote and the audience is starting to shuffle out, maintain that strong ending through your body language. This isn’t the time to start packing up your notes, fidgeting with your hands or slinking into the background. Wait patiently and confidently – especially when your audience are applauding you – which they should be after the tips we’ve just talked you through!
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