I wanted to outline some tips on giving a great presentation. I’m not a good public speaker, but these are some of the things that I want to get better at.

Practice Your Presentation Out Loud

I think that most people who are afraid of public speaking are mostly afraid because of lack of preparation. Writing good slides is completely different than being able to present them. Unless you are a natural, you will need to practice your presentation out loud, with the same volume that you plan on presenting with. Stand in front of a mirror, look at yourself in the eyeballs and say the presentation out loud. It doesn’t matter how many times you read your slides or practice your demo, you will immediately know what needs to improve when you start talking out loud. It’s like magic, don’t avoid it. I personally will hide in my car, and pretend like I am talking on the phone and practice my pitch many many times. By the time you present, if you practiced enough, your entire presentation will run on auto pilot. I also recommend possibly recording yourself on camera, and reviewing your own presentation. You will notice new things and are guaranteed to improve.

Know Your Audience

The audience is selfish. They only want to hear about things that are interesting to them. If you presenting to management, focus on business imperatives, customer value, how it improves sales, and concrete statistics; things that they care about. If you are presenting to engineers, focus on performance improvements, implementation, security enhancements, or maybe code examples (depends on the engineers). If you are presenting a technology to a group of zebra enthusiasts, talk about why that technology matters to zebras, how it can be used to make zebras happy, how zebra zookeepers can benefit from your technology. You get the idea.

When reviewing and writing your own presentation, ask yourself: “why does the audience care about this? who are they? and what do they want?”

Slow Down and Pause

Slowing down and pausing is a minor tweak that makes a major difference in a presentation. After every slide, or logical break, just stop talking for 2 seconds. It will feel like an eternity to you, but it feels very natural on the audience side. This can do a number of things:

  • Give those who are not paying attention a chance to start listening
  • Serves as an opportunity to drink water, look at the clock, adjust your attire, or survey the audience
  • Gives an opportunity for your audience to ask a question
  • Collect your thoughts and think about what you want to say next

If you really want to feel powerful, do a longer pause and just stare at your audience. Seriously, just stop talking for 4 to 5 seconds and stare at your audience and then return to your presentation like nothing happened. I guarantee you, during those 4 to 5 seconds, your audience will stop taking notes and look up from their phones and you will own their attention again.

Concise Slides

Your audience can only do so much at once. Most of them can’t or won’t read your slides AND listen to you at the same time. If you give them a novel to read on the slides, they are either going to ignore you and read the slides, or deem that the slides are too long to read.

Think of your slides as markers in a race. If you have ever run a 5k or a half marathon or whatever, you would know that every once in a while there might be a marker when you need to change direction. You don’t need a marker every single step of your race, you just need it every once in a while. Your slides should be like this. YOU are the presentation, not your slides. Don’t let the slides steal your spotlight! Just use the slides as a guide for you and your audience, when you are about to start talking about something else. The slides are also useful for hints for what you should talk about next, and provide a little color for the audience to look at. If there are more than 15 words on your slides, think about doing some truncation.

Strong Summary

I see too many presentations that have weak endings:

  • “sorry, that’s all I got for you”
  • “umm yeah, and thats my last slide”
  • “shucks, it looks like we are out of time”

Don’t apologize for finishing your presentation. You are done, because you decided to be done. You are finishing right on time because you practiced your timing. Give your summary and thank your audience for the time and attention they have gifted you. Possibly give your call to action. Here is a rough template for your words (really depends on type of presentation):

“Today we talked about X, Y and Z and this is why I believe that W. Thanks for your time.”

Today we talked about how to give a good presentation by practicing out loud, knowing your audience, slowing down, having concise slides, and giving a strong summary. Thanks for reading.