There are many elements to a great presentation, but being effective means giving presentations gets easier with practice and after more experience. giving you an off-the-cuff answer,” and indicate how you will follow-up.
(Also see my advice on giving a job talk and on making a technical poster.)
There are many good references regarding how to give an effective talk — that is, a technical presentation, whether at a conference, to your research group, or as an invited speaker at another university or research laboratory. This page cannot replace them, but it does briefly note a few problems that I very frequently see in talks.
Get feedback by giving a practice talk! One of the most effective ways to improve your work is to see the reactions of others and get their ideas and advice.
Think about the presentations you attend (or have attended in the past), especially if they are similar in some way to yours. What was boring about the other presentations? What was interesting about them? What did you take away from the presentation? What could you have told someone about the topic, 30 minutes after the end of the presentation?
Before you start preparing a talk, you need to know your goal and know your audience. You will have to customize your presentation to its purpose. Even if you have previously created a talk for another venue, you may have to make a new one, particularly if you have done more work in the meanwhile.
The goal of a talk you give to your research group is to get feedback to help you improve your research and your understanding of it, so you should plan for a very interactive style, with lots of questions throughout. In a conference talk, questions during the talk are extremely unlikely, and you have much less time; your chief goal is to get people to read the paper or ask questions afterward. In a seminar or invited talk at a university, you want to encourage questions, you have more time, and you should plan to give more of the big picture.
The goal of a talk is similar to the goal of a technical paper, so you should also read and follow my advice about writing a technical paper. In either case, you have done some research, and you need to convince the audience of 3 things: the problem is worthwhile (it is a real problem, and a solution would be useful), the problem it is hard (not already solved, and there are not other ways to achieve equally good results), and that you have solved it. If any of these three pieces is missing, your talk is much less likely to be a success. So be sure to provide motivation for your work, provide background about the problem, and supply sufficient technical details and experimental results.
When you give a talk, ask yourself, “What are the key points that my audience should take away from the talk?” Then, elide everything that does not support those points. If you try to say too much (a tempting mistake), then your main points won't strike home and you will have wasted everyone's time. In particular, do not try to include all the details from a technical paper that describes your work; different levels of detail and a different presentation style are appropriate for each.
A good way to determine what your talk should say is to explain your ideas verbally to someone who does not already understand them. Do this before you have tried to create slides (you may use a blank whiteboard, but that often is not necessary). You may need to do this a few times before you find the most effective way to present your material. Notice what points you made and in what order, and organize the talk around that. Slides should not be a crutch that constrains you talk, but they should support the talk you want to give.
Do not try to fit too much material in a talk. About one slide per minute is a good pace (if lots of your slides are animations that take only moments to present, you can have more slides). Remember what your key points are, and focus on those. Don't present more information than your audience can grasp; for example, often intuitions and an explanation of the approach are more valuable than the gory details of a proof. If you try to fit the entire technical content of a paper into a talk, you will rush, with the result that the audience may come away understanding nothing. It's better to think of the talk as an advertisement for the paper that gives the key ideas, intuitions, and results, and that makes the audience eager to read your paper or to talk with you to learn more. That does not mean holding back important details — merely omitting less important ones. You may also find yourself omitting entire portions of the research that do not directly contribute to the main point you are trying to make in your talk.
Just as there should be no extra slides, there should be no missing slides. As a rule, you shouldn't speak for more than a minute or so without having new information appear. If you have an important point to make, then have a slide to support it. (Very few people can mesmerize an audience on a technical topic, and leave the audience with a deep understanding of the key points, without any visual props. Unfortunately, you are probably not one of them, at least not yet.) As a particularly egregious example, do not discuss a user interface without presenting a picture of it — perhaps multiple ones. As another example, you should not dwell on the title slide for very long, but should present a picture relevant to the problem you are solving, to make the motivation for your work concrete.
Slide titles. Use descriptive slide titles. Do not use the same title on multiple slides (except perhaps when the slides constitute an animation or build). Choose a descriptive title that helps the audience to appreciate what the specific contribution of this slide is. If you can't figure that out, it suggests that you have not done a good job of understanding and organizing your own material.
Introduction. Start your talk with motivation and examples — and have lots of motivation and examples throughout. For the very beginning of your talk, you need to convince the audience that this talk is worth paying attention to: it is solving an important and comprehensible problem. Your first slide should be an example of the problem you are solving, or some other motivation.
Outline slides. Never start your talk with an outline slide. (That's boring, and it's too early for the audience to understand the talk structure yet.) Outline slides can be useful, especially in a talk that runs longer than 30 minutes, because they helps the audience to regain its bearings and to keep in mind your argument structure. Present an outline slide (with the current current section indicated via color, font, and/or an arrow) at the beginning of each major section of the talk, other than the introductory, motivational section.
Conclusion. The last slide should be a contributions or conclusions slide, reminding the audience of the take-home message of the talk. Do not end the talk with future work, or with a slide that says “questions” or “thank you” or “the end” or merely gives your email address. And, leave your contributions slide up after you finish the talk (while you are answering questions). One way to think about this rule is: What do you want to be the last thing that the audience sees (or that it sees while you field questions)?
Builds. When a subsequent slide adds material to a previous one (or in some other way just slightly changes the previous slide; this is sometimes called a “build”), all common elements must remain in exactly the same position. A good way to check this is to quickly transition back and forth between the two slides several times. If you see any jitter, then correct the slide layout to remove it. You may need to leave extra space on an early slide to accommodate text or figures to be inserted later; even though that space may look a little unnatural, it is better than the alternative. If there is any jitter, the audience will know that something is different, but will be uneasy about exactly what has changed (the human eye is good at detecting the change but only good at localizing changes when those changes are small and the changes are smooth). You want the audience to have confidence that most parts of the slide have not changed, and the only effective way to do that is not to change those parts whatsoever. You should also consider emphasizing (say, with color or highlighting) what has been added on each slide.
Keep slides uncluttered. Don't put too much text (or other material) on a slide. When a new slide goes up, the audience will turn its attention to comprehending that slide. If the audience has to read a lot of text, they will tune you out, probably missing something important. This is one reason the diagrams must be simple and clear, and the text must be telegraphic. As a rule of thumb, 3 lines of text for a bullet point is always too much, and 2 full lines is usually too much. Shorten the text, or break it into pieces (say, subbullet points) so that the audience can skim it without having to ignore you for too long.
Do not read your slides word-for-word. Reading your slides verbatim is very boring and will cause the audience to tune out. You are also guaranteed to go too fast for some audience members and too slow for others, compared to their natural reading speed, thus irritating many people. If you find yourself reading your slides, then there is probably too much text on your slides. The slides should be an outline, not a transcript. That is, your slides should give just the main points, and you can supply more detail verbally. It's fine to use the slides as a crutch to help you remember all the main points and the order in which you want to present them. However, if you need prompting to remember the extra details, then you do not have sufficient command of your material and need to practice your talk more before giving it publicly.
Just as you should not read text verbatim, you should not read diagrams verbatim. When discussing the architecture of a system, don't just read the names of the components or give low-level details about the interfaces between them. Rather, explain whatever is important, interesting, or novel about your decomposition; or discuss how the parts work together to achieve some goal that clients of the system care about; or use other techniques to give high-level understanding of the system rather than merely presenting a mass of low-level details.
(It's possible to overdo the practice of limiting what information appears on each slide, and you do want to have enough material to support you if there are questions or to show that the simplified model you presented verbally is an accurate generalization. But the mistake of including too much information is far more common.)
Text. Keep fonts large and easy to read from the back of the room. If something isn't important enough for your audience to be able to read, then it probably does not belong on your slides.
Use a sans-serif font for your slides. (Serifed fonts are best for reading on paper, but sans-serif fonts are easier to read on a screen.) PowerPoint's “Courier New” font is very light (its strokes are very thin). If you use it, always make it bold, then use color or underlining for emphasis where necessary.
Figures. Make effective use of figures. Avoid a presentation that is just text. Such a presentation misses important opportunities to convey information. It is also is wearying to the audience.
Images and visualizations are extremely helpful to your audience. Include diagrams to show how your system works or is put together. Never include generic images, such as clip art, that don't relate directly to your talk. For example, if you have a slide about security, don't use the image of a padlock. As another example, when describing the problem your work solves, don't use an image of a person sitting at a computer looking frustrated. Just as good pictures and text are better than text alone, text alone is better than text plus bad pictures.
When you include a diagram on a slide, ensure that its background is the same color as that of the slide. For example, if your slides have a black background, then do not paste in a diagram with a white background, which is visually distracting, hard to read, and unattractive. You should invert the diagram so it matches the slide (which may require redrawing the diagram), or invert the slide background (e.g., use a white slide background) to match the diagrams.
Do not use eye candy such as transition effects, design elements that appear on every slide, or multi-color backgrounds. At best, you will distract the audience from the technical material that you are presenting. At worst, you will alienate the audience by giving them the impression that you are more interested in graphical glitz than in content. Your slides can be attractive and compelling without being fancy. Make sure that each element on the slides contributes to your message; if it does not, then remove it.
Color. About 5% of American males are color-blind, so augment color with other emphasis where possible.
Make eye contact with the audience. This draws them in. It also helps you determin when they are confused or have lost interest, and whether your pacing is too fast, too slow, or just right.
Stand and face the audience.
When giving a presentation, never point at your laptop screen, which the audience cannot see. Amazingly, I have seen many people do this! Using a laser pointer is fine, but the laser pointer tends to shake, especially if you are nervous, and can be distracting. I prefer to use my hand, because the talk is more dynamic if I stride to the screen and use my whole arm; the pointing is also harder for the audience to miss. You must touch the screen physically, or come within an inch of it. If you do not touch the screen, most people will just look at the shadow of your finger, which will not be the part of the slide that you are trying to indicate.
If you find yourself suffering a nervous tic, such as saying “um” in the middle of every sentence, then practice more, including in front of audiences whom you do not know well.
If you get flustered, don't panic. One approach is to stop and regroup; taking a drink of water is a good way to cover this, so you should have water on hand even if you don't suffer from dry throat. Another approach is to just skip over that material; the audience is unlikely to know that you skipped something.
Think about your goal in giving the talk. When presenting to your own research group, be sure to leave lots of time for discussion and feedback at the end, and to present the material in a way that invites interaction after and perhaps during the talk. (When presenting to your own group, you can perhaps give a bit less introductory material, though it's hard to go wrong with intro material. It should go quickly for that audience; you ensure that everyone is using terms the same way; and it's always good to practice giving the motivation, context, background, and big ideas.)
For computer science conferences, the typical dress code is “business casual”. (For men, this is a dress shirt with slacks or jeans. For women, I am not qualified to give advice.) Some people dress more formally, some more casually. The most important thing is that you are comfortable with your clothing; if you are not, your discomfort will lead to a worse presentation.
Answering questions from the audience is very hard! Even after you become very proficient at giving a talk, it will probably take you quite a bit longer to become good at answering questions. So, don't feel bad if that part does not go perfectly, but do work on improving it.
Just as you practice your talk, practice answering questions — both the ones that you can predict, and also unpredictable ones. Giving practice talks to people who are willing to ask such questions can be very helpful.
When an audience member asks a question, it is a good idea to repeat the question, asking the questioner whether you have understood it, before answering the question. This has three benefits.
Be willing to answer a question with “no” or “I don't know”. You will get into more trouble if you try to blather on or to make up an answer on the fly.
For an in-class presentation, you will be judged on how well other people understand the material at the end of the class, not on how well you understand the material at the beginning of the class. (You do need to understand the material, but that is not the main point.)
When you present someone else's paper in class, you should cover not only the technical details (people generally do a good job of this), but also what is novel and why others didn't do it before. That is just as important but very often overlooked. Focus on what is important about the paper, not just on what is easy to explain or to give an example for.
Know what your main point is, and don't get bogged down in easier-to-understand but less interesting details. Try not to bring up a topic until you are ready to discuss it in detail — don't bring it up multiple times.
Encourage questions — it's the best way to deepen understanding — and be able to answer them. If other students wrote questions in a reading summary, be responsive to them. When you ask a question, don't assume the answer in the form of your question. For example, don't ask, “Was there anything novel in the paper, or not?” but “What was novel in the paper?” It can be very effective to ask a question that reveals understanding of a subtle or easy-to-misunderstand point (but an important one!) in the paper, because this will lead the audience members to reflect both on the paper and on the way they read and understood it. Don't be too abstruse, and don't get bogged down in unimportant details just to show your mastery of them.
Augment your talking with visuals on the board or slides. Either is fine. The board may encourage more interaction (and it slows you down in a beneficial way), but does require pre-planning; don't just go up and start drawing. Most people find comfort in having pre-prepared slides, and slides can be a good choice because they can be more legible and detailed, can include animations, etc. Don't waste a huge amount of time on elaborate slide decks, though; that is not the point. Examples are often very helpful.
Always give a practice talk before you present in front of an audience. Even if you have read over your slides and think you know how the talk will go, when you speak out loud your ideas are likely to come out in a different or less clear way. (This is true about writing, too: even if you know what you want to say, it takes several revisions to figure out the best way to say it.) In fact, you should practice the talk to yourself — speaking out loud in front of a mirror, for example — before you give your first practice talk. In such a practice session, you must say every word you intend to in the actual talk, not skipping over any parts.
It can be a good idea to keep your practice talk audience relatively small — certainly fewer than 10 people. In a large group, many people won't bother to speak up. If the pool of potential attendees is larger than 10, you can give multiple practice talks, since the best feedback is given by someone who has not seen the talk (or even the material) before. Giving multiple practice talks is essential for high-profile talks such as conference talks and interview talks. Avoid a small audience of people you don't trust, who might be unanimous in a wrong opinion; getting a balance of opinions will help you avoid making too many mistakes in any one direction.
Consider videotaping yourself to see how you come across to others. This information can be a bit traumatic, but it is invaluable in helping you to improve.
When giving a practice talk, number your slides (say, in the corner), even if you don't intend to include slide numbers in your final presentation.
When giving a practice talk, it is very helpful to distribute hardcopy slides (remember to include slide numbers) so that others can easily annotate them and return them to you at the end of the talk. (Also, the audience will spend less time trying to describe what slide their comment applies to, and more time writing the comment and paying attention to you.) For non-practice talks, you generally shouldn't give out hardcopy slides, as they will tempt the audience to pay attention to the piece of paper instead of to you.
Go to other people's practice talks. This is good citizenship, and cultivating these obligations is a good way to ensure that you have an audience at your practice talk. Furthermore, attending others' talks can teach you a lot about good and bad talks — both from observing the speaker and thinking about how the talk can be better (or is already excellent), and from comparing the the feedback of audience members to your own opinions and observations. This does not just apply to practice talks: you should continually perform such introspective self-assessment.
(Also see Tessa Lau's advice on giving a practice talk — which focuses on a practice talk for a PhD qualifying exam, but is relevant to talks in general.)
Here are some other good resources for speakers who wish to give a good talk.
See Ian Parberry's speaker's guide.
The LaTeX Beamer documentation has some good advice.
Craig Kaplan transcribed some presentation tips from an unknown source, via Edward Tufte.
Back to Advice compiled by Michael Ernst.Michael Ernst
If you are not interested in what you are saying, why on earth are you . Think of a way to share your presentation with attendees after the event, for example with Slide Share. Send a follow up email, thank people for their attendance and invite .
This guide discusses practical strategies for structuring a presentation, focusing on the need to develop an argument or report through the clear, logical progression of ideas.
Other Useful Guides: Planning an effective presentation
Presentations need to be very straightforward and logical. It is important that you avoid complex structures and focus on the need to explain and discuss your work clearly. An ideal structure for a presentation includes:
These elements are discussed below.
The introduction is the point at which the presenter explains the content and purpose of the presentation. This is a vitally important part of your talk as you will need to gain the audience’s interest and confidence. Key elements of an effective introduction include:
You should aim to deliver your introduction confidently (wait until the audience is quiet before you start speaking) and communicate energy and enthusiasm for your topic.
The main points are the backbone of your talk. They play an important role in helping you prioritise, focus and sequence your information. When planning your presentation you should put aside your research notes and produce a list or summary of the main points that you would like to make, expressing each in a few words or a short sentence. Ask yourself: “what am I really telling them? what should they be learning here?”. Your answers to these questions will help you communicate clear and effective messages to your audience.
After you have identified your main points, you should embellish them with supporting information. For example, add clarity to your argument through the use of diagrams, illustrate a link between theory and practice, or substantiate your claims with appropriate data. Use the supporting information to add colour and interest to your talk, but avoid detracting from the clarity of your main points by overburdening them with too much detail.
Transitions are the signposts that help the audience navigate their way through your presentation. They can help divide information up into sub-sections, link different aspects of your talk and show progression through your topic. Importantly, transitions draw the audience’s attention to the process of the presentation as well as its content. Examples include:
Transitions can also be made without speaking. Non-verbal transitions include pausing, changing a slide or other visual aid, moving to a different area of the room before resuming speaking, or making eye contact with a different group in the audience.
The conclusion is an essential though frequently underdeveloped section of a presentation. This is the stage at which you can summarise the content and purpose of your talk, offer an overview of what has been achieved and make a lasting impact. Important elements of a conclusion are:
As with your introduction, you should try to address the audience directly during your conclusion, consolidating the impression of a confident and useful presentation.
A presentation needs a carefully defined structure to make the most impact. This should centre on a series of identifiable main points that are supported by appropriate detail. Use transitions to link and move between points, helping your audience to understand the development or your argument. An introduction and conclusion are essential elements of your presentation. They enable you to establish a clear purpose for your talk at the start and summarise your main points before you finish speaking.
On paper, take the time to explore the points you would like to make in your presentation. Take your time and think about the story you want to tell. Think about the audience — who will they be? Will they know everything about this project already? Or are they learning something new?
Use this insight to inform how you introduce your subject, the background you will give, the points you will want to cover and the conclusion.
If you’re presenting some pieces from a portfolio, write down a few key problems that you encountered, and how you solved them. Tell the story — a perfect project with no problems might be a dream scenario, but it rarely occurs.
A few slides at the beginning should show the audience what they’re about to see. Show them, in point form, an outline of the entire presentation — including how they will see an introduction, a few points on the challenges you faced, followed by the conclusion.
Status players in the audience might want to derail you with interruptions. If you don’t want to be interrupted by questions, this is your time to make that known. You can explain that there will be time for any questions at the end.
Take time to introduce yourself and the subject you will be speaking about. Now that the audience know what they’re in for, it’s time to get into a flow.
If you’re creating a presentation about some of the work from your portfolio, chose projects that you can enthusiastically talk about. If you’re bringing up old boring projects that you don’t really like talking about, this could have an impact on your delivery. Try to see the positive side of things.
If you’re talking about a project that didn’t go well — you can be truthful, but not negative. Try to focus on the learning opportunity that it afforded you. Stay positive. Always try to find the good in something, and emphasise those points, particularly towards the end. Give your presentation a strong, positive and powerful ending.
Are you talking about the sales growth? Give some back story. Are you talking about a design project? Why not give your listeners some context about why the project was a priority. Introduce your audience by giving them some background about the project.
Use the rule of 3 to coherently and clearly give your audience an introduction, followed by an account of the work that was done, and finally showing the impact that your work had.
An example might be: “So today we’re going to look at how we redesigned the mobile web experience. First, we’ll look at the challenges our users faced on the old platform. Then, we’ll take a look at how we were able to solve those challenges. To wrap up we’ll show the final designs, along with some findings from our 10% roll-out…”
Bear in mind that step 2 will likely be the largest part of the presentation. You might have 5–6 challenges that you encountered, or 8–12 insights found in your research. But you should always guide the audience through the introduction and give them closure with a conclusion.
Personally, when I attend a talk, I find it hard to listen to someone speak while also reading a paragraph of text on the screen. When putting your slide deck together, be aware that people who attend a presentation may not wish to read a lot of text. If that was the case, the presentation could have been an email.
The slide deck should accompany what you’re saying, not repeat it.
If you’re presenting some interesting research insights, play around with how you present information. It doesn’t always have to be paragraphs or bullet points. Think about how you can use your design skills to make the deck more visually engaging.
I’ve found in the past when putting together a slide deck, that there is a lot of inspiration specifically for slide deck design online. Take the time to check out some ideas on sites like Pinterest or Behance. Play around and experiment with the colour scheme and the layout. Maybe one slide could have bullet points, but the next just a quote. Use icons or images to help illustrate your point.
Readability issues aside, beware when it comes to fonts. For some reason I’ve encountered presentations where the font didn’t load properly and the layout went a bit funny. It would’ve been fine, except the speaker was a very experienced designer giving a presentation about design to a room full of designers who care deeply about layout and typography.
If you’re giving the presentation off-site, in a room where you’re not sure about the wifi, the best thing to do is play it safe with the fonts.
It might be possible to add a meme or a light-hearted image, but only if it’s appropriate. If you’re talking about sales being down, you can leave this step out. I’ve just found that in the past, adding some lighthearted slides with emojis or a meme along the way keeps the audience engaged, particularly if the topic is less than exciting. Not everything needs to be serious.
The slides shouldn’t repeat what you are saying, they’re a tool to help you illustrate your points. Use the slides for images, designs, graphs and charts.
But how will you know what to say?
Write out the speech you are going to make with each slide. You don’t have to get everything word-perfect, you’re not an actor in a play. But you should have an idea of what slide is coming up, and what you are going to say with each one. This extra level of preparation will go a long way.
This step depends a lot on how important the presentation is.
If you’re shy or find it uncomfortable to talk in front of people, you need to practice it out loud. Practice it in your apartment to yourself a few times. If the presentation is a big deal, practice it out loud to your family, partner or whoever is nearby that you can trust to give open feedback. The amount of practice you do should be proportional to what is at stake at this presentation. If you’re trying to land a big client or it’s for a dream job opportunity, then practice it as much as you can. If you’re just presenting changes to colleagues, you don’t need to do this at all.
There’s a big difference between going over the deck silently to yourself, and going over things out loud.
The audience can tell when you’re rushing, so give yourself room to breath. The best presentations are the ones that feel natural and almost conversational. When you’ve practiced your presentation aloud a few times, you will reach a stage where it begins to sound relaxed — you know what to say, when to say it, and you will be comfortable with the things you are saying.
Practicing your presentation aloud for a few people will give you confidence, and that confidence will make you shine. So take the time to build a great presentation, practice it, and everything should go well. You’ve done more than 90% of people who give presentations.
But as my career grew, presentation skills became increasingly important. The slide deck should accompany what you're saying, not repeat it. . Interaction designer at @Google. Founder of triochitarristicodiroma.com Follow.
Making a presentation at work can be scary. Some of us fear public speaking more than death. However, like many things in life, giving presentations gets easier with practice and after more experience.
I work in consulting, which means I spend a lot of my time giving — and listening to — presentations. In my role, I give presentations to client CEOs, executive teams, boards, large (and small) groups of company employees, and of course my own team, peers, and leadership. I also spend time helping others present their ideas, providing coaching and guidance on content, message, and supporting materials.
Having the content prepared is foundational, but great slides and messaging can be ruined by a poor presentation. Similarly, I have seen executives with average content succeed because they deliver such a powerful presentation that the audience walks away convinced and impressed.
There are many elements to a great presentation, but being effective means avoiding missteps. I’ve compiled ten things you should never do when making a presentation. To be clear — this is not an effort to police tone, but to strengthen our ability to get our message across and build professional credibility.
Your views are valid – and you’re entitled to an opinion. However, there are more powerful ways to state your view, including: in my assessment, my experience suggests, and from what I’ve observed. This tiny rephrase will ground your subsequent observation in something more firm than a passing thought.
If you have data or facts, using “I think” can further undercut your point. Using “ … the data indicate,” or “ … as the data illustrates,” provides an even stronger introduction to your point. Sometimes you have to analyze data or come to a conclusion using many points of data that may not be completely clear. In those instances, share your team’s assumptions and conclusions – not just what you “think.”
You’re giving a presentation you are asked a question that you do not know the answer to. You might not know, and you should never, ever give a fact or data point that you’re unsure of.
Instead of “I don’t know,” which does not show any action or resolution, and highlights what you’re missing (the answer) instead of instilling confidence, you can rephrase. If you’re asked for a piece of data you don’t have, you can respond, “I can get that data,” or, “the team can explore that question and get you an answer following this meeting.”
If you’re asked a question that you may need more time to ponder, it is fair to say, “I’d like more time to think about that instead of giving you an off-the-cuff answer,” and indicate how you will follow-up.
Sometimes, you’re asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, but have enough information or observation to make an educated guess. In that case, provide your response with confidence, referencing your experience “Based on similar situations, I’d estimate that … ”
This is a tricky one to navigate, as some professionals struggle with wanting to be perfect and knowing every detail. If you’re presenting, you should be well-prepared, but eventually you will get a question you simply do not know the answer to. Part of your preparation should include brainstorming for difficult questions and considering how you respond to any questions you may not know the answer to, based on your audience and the goals of the presentation.
This sounds incredibly obvious. It is one of the things many of us learn in childhood: tell the truth, and don’t lie. However, in the heat (and stress) of a big presentation, it can be tempting to answer a question with a guess, or make a few leaps of logic here or there.
Don’t. If you aren’t certain about the validity of a point, sharing it could have massive consequences. This occasionally appears when more senior executives are presenting, and they haven’t reviewed the materials that they’re presenting. An old data point, or simple mistake that hasn’t been caught, can be shared as fact. Without ill intent, that can have negative repercussions on the organization.
Similarly, it can be tempting to avoid or downplay bad news. I’ve learned that bad news is best delivered early and with a plan for resolution. Saying with full confidence that the team will absolutely hit next month’s milestone – and then reporting two days before said deadline that you need an extension is one relatively common example. Your judgement and integrity is on the line when you’re presenting, and if you’re unsure of the validity of a point, it puts your reputation at risk if you deliver it to the audience.
Nearly all of us fall prey to using different verbal crutches – filler words and phrases that include like, um, aah, you know, and so.
If you’ve ever listened to a speaker that has these verbal crutches, you’ve likely gotten so distracted that you’re counting the “likes” instead of listening to the message.
Preparation, recording, and feedback are the best ways to banish these from your vocabulary. When you’ve prepared well, you’ll feel more confident during your presentation. Stress and anxiety can trigger verbal crutches, while knowing your content thoroughly and taking some calming, deep breaths before you go on stage can reduce your nerves.
Listening to yourself is one of the best ways to catch your verbal crutches. It is incredibly common to dislike the sound of your own voice – but get over it, because poor presentation skills and verbal crutches are credibility killers! When you listen to yourself, pay attention to what your verbal crutches might be, and commit to working them out of your daily use (even with friends and family).
This is where having a trusted peer or thoughtful manager can come in. Let them know you’re working on improving your presentation skills, and you want to remove a specific verbal crutch – or two – from your vocabulary. Ask them to notify you when you’re using it in meetings (usually after the meeting, though there may be a discreet way to do so during the session), and offer to help them with any skills they are working on honing.
If you catch yourself relying on your verbal crutch, don’t freak out. Just pause. A beat of silence – while you take a sip of water and quickly glance at your notes – feels natural to the audience and gives you a chance to regroup.
Taking questions from the audience is great, but this is a poorly phrased question that doesn’t engage your audience. Instead, I suggest making a few adjustments to ensure you’re capturing feedback from your audience more actively.
First, let them know how you’ll handle questions – you may prefer that they are peppered throughout, or there may be notecards you’ve provided for them to write questions on for follow-up, or perhaps you’ve reserved time at the end to take any questions.
Your audience will likely follow your lead, so let them know when you’d prefer to take their questions. In a large group, audience members will often feel less comfortable asking questions throughout. In smaller groups, it may feel too formal to ask them to hold their questions to the end. Determine what will fit your audience’s needs.
Next, prepare the questions you’ll ask to engage your audience. If you have a section of the presentation that might confuse the audience, you may ask a question like, “I often get questions on the details behind this chart, and how the factor analyses actually work – raise your hand if providing that detail would be helpful, and I’ll spend a few minutes on that.”
Sometimes, presenters ask the audience for questions when they are really trying to spark discussion or audience participation. If that is the case, then craft a purposeful, open-ended, and inclusive question. For example, if you’re presenting to managers about the importance of investing in employee development, you may ask, “Who in the room has helped an employee grow their skills recently? Would you share the approach you used?” A question like that allows the audience to share their own ideas and experiences, to add richness to the discussion.
Finally, if you’ve finished your presentation, and you are curious if there are additional questions from your audience, you can say, “If there are any questions, I’d be happy to take them now.” Give the audience some time to engage. People can be shy about speaking up in large groups. If you don’t get a question, conclude with how they can reach you for any follow-up, thanking them for their time, and reminding them of any key points or actions. This is a more powerful closing than asking whether they have any questions – which can feel like a mini-failure if they don’t – and concluding your session on an awkward note.
Your presentation doesn’t need to sound like a long list of thank yous at an awards show, but it is important to acknowledge the wider team. This is yet another tightrope to balance – as the presenter, you have to authoritatively acknowledge your position – however, it may anger your colleagues if you’re inadvertently stealing credit in how you present.
I recommend acknowledging the wider team at the beginning and end of the presentation, and highlighting any particularly strong contributions throughout. For example, when starting the presentation, you might say something like, “I’m thrilled to present the work on behalf of our department – you’ll see the eight other team members that contributed to this project represented on the opening slide.”
If your colleague Fatima went out of her way, acknowledge that during your presentation. You can say, “This finding in the data is particularly compelling, and it was Fatima’s idea to pursue this line of questioning through regression analysis.” This demonstrates your comfort as a leader (you don’t need to hog the spotlight) and gives your colleagues a chance to shine – a win-win.
Promising something you can’t deliver on is a fantastic way to undercut your credibility with peers and executives. It can be tempting to have an answer to every single question you’re asked, but if a commitment is requested, and you’re unsure, it is usually possible to buy yourself some time.
You can defer, saying, “Tomorrow is a rapid turnaround – I will confirm with the team after this presentation and let you know what deadline you can expect by noon today.” Further, in some situations it may be wise to take a moment to understand the driver behind the question, asking a clarifying question, like: “Before I work on next steps, it is helpful to understand why receiving the follow-up by tomorrow so critical – does this information impact another project or deadline?” Often, audience members may ask for things – or details – faster than really needed.
Some of them may have noticed, and for those who didn’t, you just undercut your credibility. Practicing your presentation beforehand can help prevent rambling (ideally with a colleague, trusted friend, or by recording yourself and playing it back).
However, if you catch yourself rambling, end your sentence, take a breath to gather your thoughts, and get back on track.
As the presenter, your audience is listening to you by default (until you give them reason to tune out). Asking their permission with a weak phrase like “let me” is unnecessary.
Next, “funny story.” In presentations, stories are fantastic. Data suggests they are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone, so including them in your presentation is a powerful technique. Humor can also be a useful technique, when used appropriately, to connect with your audience. However, there’s little value in forewarning your audience that you’re going to be funny – because if they don’t laugh, you just bombed. Deploy your humor naturally and appropriately, and if you get laughs, that’s a bonus.
When you’re presenting, you rarely (if ever) need to apologize, so fight that instinct. Even in disastrous presentation situations – and I’ve been in a few, you can extract yourself without saying sorry.
Taking you a few moments to get set up? No need to apologize – let the audience know you’ll be starting in 5 minutes, and you’re looking forward to sharing your findings with them.
Projector light bulb broken, rendering it useless? Acknowledge the issue, and if possible continue the presentation using your notes and handouts, or re-schedule the meeting to make the best use of the audience’s time if the projection of slides is critical to the session.
Audio terrible, so the room can’t hear you? Move to the center of the room and raise your voice, grab a handheld microphone, or call an audible for a 10-minute break so the audio-visual staff can come up with a quick fix.
Spend more time than you planned on that complex point, so you won’t get to all your slides? Hit the key points you need to and end on time, because there are few sins an audience is less forgiving about than running late! Usually, they don’t know (or care) how many slides you have.
Spill all over yourself right before you walk up on stage (or, even better, on stage)? Yup, it happens – acknowledge it, make a joke, and keep going. Your audience usually wants you to succeed – this hiccup makes you human.
Forget the books you committed to bringing for every audience member? Let them know they’ll be receiving them in the mail as follow-up, along with a bonus item to make up for the delay.
Mishaps of all sorts happen when presenting – you do not need to undercut yourself by needlessly saying sorry. Instead, you can use any issues to your advantage, demonstrating your cool and collected nature under fire.
Developing your personal approach to presenting is a lifelong journey for most of us, and executives with strong presentation skills are particularly valuable in today’s knowledge-driven, fast-paced work environment. I’d love to hear if there are any other things you NEVER say when making a presentation, or if there are other tips that you’ve applied to improve your own skills.
The Feminist Financier is on a mission to help women build wealth and own their financial independence, by improving financial literacy and taking the mystery out of money. Ms. Financier is also a shoe addict, travel fanatic, and wine enthusiast.
This article was originally posted on Fairygodboss.com.
There are many elements to a great presentation, but being effective means giving presentations gets easier with practice and after more experience. giving you an off-the-cuff answer,” and indicate how you will follow-up.