There are a handful of techniques that will help you go from a bad speaker to a good one. I learned these from amazing speakers through out the years by asking for feedback. Here is what I have learned:
Don’t speak too fast or too slow. Respect the pauses. We have a distorted sense of time when we are presenting and we usually end up speaking too fast. Slow down. But you should also not speak too slowly as that would be boring :)
It is not so much about how fast you speak, but the pauses you make. Respect the pauses and give your audience time to digest the content.
Present with enthusiasm. If you don’t have enthusiasm for what you are presenting, no one else will either. If you don’t have it, fake it and it will become true.
Have as little text as possible. Favour images instead and try to make them humorous.
The slides should support your point and not make it. Your voice and what you say is what counts.
In all my recent presentations I had zero text (except for titles). It is more work but it pays off. You can always have images instead of text. For example, let’s say you have a slide talking about the people who worked with you on a project. Instead of listing their names have a group picture, or individual pictures.
Keep it simple and high level. Favour less information over too much. If part of the audience is non technical make it understandable for everyone. You can do this by avoiding domain specific terms or by explaining them. You might feel tempted to give lots of information with great detail. I’ve done this, don’t make the same mistake! The presentation will be confusing and most people won’t be impressed. You will bore them and they will consider you disorganised.
Use a remote. Detach yourself from the laptop. You should be able to move during the presentation and to use your hands to express yourself. This is hard if you need to stay near the laptop.
Show the viewers you thought about them. They love this! Even if it is a presentation that you do many times. Try to change the examples so they resonate with you audience.
Make the audience feel you thought about them when creating the presentation.
Practice the presentation at least a couple of times. It shows when you are not prepared. The more important a presentation is the more you should invest. If it is an important presentation practice it in the most realistic way possible. If you can, practice in the room where you will give the presentation. This will help you detect unexpected issues early on, like:
- bad internet connection that breaks your demo
- connection problems between your laptop and the TV/projector
- too much light making your slides hard to read.
Close all applications and tabs not related to the presentation. Especially chat applications which might show notifications. Having tabs open that are not relevant can distract and confuse your audience, or worse it could embarrass you.
Pre-open all the tabs and applications you might need. When I have a demo I create a second desktop for it with all tabs and programs ready. Then I seamlessly move from the presentation to it and back by using the trackpad. This way I don’t break the flow by minimising the presentation to move to the demo or by searching for the links I want to show.
Arrive early to setup. Something might go wrong and it will annoy the audience and stress you. People don’t like to wait around watching you setup.
Have contingency plans. How much you should invest in this depends on how important the presentation is and whether it can be postponed if something fails. Examples of contingency plans:
- have your presentation in a USB stick so you can use someone else’s laptop to present in case yours fails
- have a video of the demo in case it malfunctions
- be ready to present without slides in a last case scenario (e.g. the power goes out, or the projector fails).
I’ve seen the last example happen. The projector failed, the speakers did not have a backup plan and they lost their cool. They did not take responsibility for the situation. They panicked and demanded a second chance to present. They were confident they would get one since this was an important presentation and it was not their fault the projector failed. They did not get one.
Don’t expect life to be fair; if it is important be prepared.
Ask for feedback when the presentation ends. Preferably from the best speaker, since you want to get the expert feedback. But also from someone with less knowledge about the topic. This way you can check whether you were interesting enough to grab their attention and if the presentation was clear enough for them to follow. I get this is not always possible, but do it when it is. I do this at work and I’ve learned a lot from my coworkers.
Start preparing for the presentation as early as possible. We have presentations at work whenever we ship something to a client, like a new feature. Given that I know this I start noting down anything that might be interesting for the presentation as soon as we start the project. This allows my brain to work on the background on interesting things I can show. It also allows me to gather inspiration from whatever I see or read in the meantime. With this technique I’m not as dependant on inspiration of the moment, because I have weeks to gather this bit by bit, in a way that does not feel like work.
Finally, I find people often blame their bad presentations on the topic. They say it is boring and it could not have been made interesting.
Yes it can!
Believe and remember this:
It is not about the topic. Any topic can be made into an interesting presentation.