Everyone can do something to improve their presentation skills.
Yes, everyone! You, me, all those people doing TED talks, professional keynote speakers, everyone.
No one is ever perfect. So, with each presentation it’s possible to tweak a few things here or there to help you grow.
Below are 33 tweaks you can make to improve your presentations. Pick a couple and give them a try next time.
Note: Only 3 of these relate directly to slides because slides don’t speak. The only way to truly improve your presentation skills is by tweaking how you deliver.
I’d love to hear your feedback on these.
1. Stop seeking approval
This is how you can come across as more confident and credible:
Stop seek approval!
When the organizer or MC tells you it’s time to do your presentation, just get up and get started.
Don’t ask any approval seeking questions like, “Is it okay if I start?” or, “Is now okay?”
No one is going to interrupt once you get started. Nobody is going to say, “Wait, wait, wait. Not yet.”
Just get started and your confidence will skyrocket in the eyes of the audience.
2. Know your stuff
To do a relaxed and confident presentation there is one key thing you need to take care of.
Take care of this one key point and you’ll deliver a presentation that keeps your audience interested.
It’s really simple. It has nothing to do with bullet points or slide design or memorizing a script.
In short: Know your stuff.
Know you subject matter well.
When you know your subject matter well you come across credibly. It will be a lot easier for you to talk about your topic.
The better you know your subject matter, the more confident you look, the more the audience trusts you, the easier it is for you to deliver your presentation.
3. Get your timing right
Your slides are there to support the information you talk about with the audience.
For impact, it is important that you get the timing right between what you say and when the slides, or animations, appear. The impact is lost if you have to look back at the screen all the time.
A great way to get your timing right is to run “presenter mode” on the laptop you are using and have the laptop screen visible in front of you.
Using presenter mode, you can see what is being projected on the screen and the slide that’s coming up next without having to look behind you. In this way, you can match the timing of what you say to the transition of the slides.
4. Choose your destination
Your boss gives you a week off.
You pack your bags, you get in your car, and you drive to the airport. You sit in the airport parking lot and you think to yourself, “Where am I going to go?”
That’s not how you plan a vacation, right?
You decide where you going to go before you do anything else.
And that’s exactly what you should do with your presentation.
Before you get out your PowerPoint… Before you think about what you are going to say… Before you start typing out bullet points… Think about where you’re going.
Before you do anything, think about the goal.
Think about the action you want the audience to take at the end of your presentation.
Once you’ve got a destination, everything else falls into place.
5. Be yourself
To build credibility and a strong relationship with the audience, be yourself.
Don’t try to copy someone else you’ve seen doing a presentation.
When you mimic someone else you’ll come across as inauthentic and cause the audience to distrust you.
Focus on being yourself and delivering with your own quirks and your own communication style. The things that people have come to know about you.
This “humanness” of being yourself draws the audience to you. Trying to be someone else pushes them away.
6. Stop practicing your body language
Uncoordinated ostrich playing charades.
Seriously, stop practicing your body language.
There is nothing worse than watching a presenter who’s practiced their body language and tried to line it up with what they’re saying.
Say “big” and open your arms wide.
Say “small” and hold your fingers close together.
Say “circle” and spin your hand around.
Say “hula hoop” and it starts to get ridiculous.
You don’t need to practice your gestures.
Gestures will happen naturally provided you know your subject matter well.
The key to having natural body language is simply to know your subject matter and know the points you want to talk about. After that all you need to do is maintain an open body position and the gestures and body language will just happen naturally as you talk.
Think about it in terms on an everyday conversation with a friend. You don’t think about your body language, right? You just talk to your friend about topics you are both familiar with and your gestures happen naturally.
7. Balance your eye contact
Here’s how to stop making crappy eye contact.
What you need to do is glance from person to person.
Each person gets a glance for a very short time. Just long enough to enunciate a thought, and not long enough for either of you to get uncomfortable.
Don’t listen to the “gurus” who tell you to look at someone in the eye for 2 seconds, or to “lock on.” Also, dismiss the advice on looking over the heads of the audience. They can tell.
A balanced glance is all that is required.
8. Move with purpose
When you’re on stage, move with purpose.
Now, there are two things you can do while you’re on stage. You can stand still, rooted to the spot, or you can move.
Standing still is okay, provided you maintain an open body position.
If you decide to move you need to do so with purpose. No nervous energy movement, bouncing from heel to heel or dancing about.
When you move, pick a spot which will be your destination. Begin moving to your destination in a slow and steady manner, and continue to talk and make eye contact with your audience as you move.
When you reach the destination, stop and continue talking to your audience from there. After you’ve been there for a time you can repeat the process.
The keys are to move with purpose and to avoid fast, jerky, nervous movements.
9. Rehearse standing up
Whatever you do, don’t practice sitting down.
There is something magically different about rehearsing while you are on your feet.
I’m not scientist so I can only guess. But, whether is improved oxygen flow to your brain, or better blood circulation, or the fact you’re rehearsing in the same stance you’ll have on d-day, standing up is better.
When you rehearse standing up, it’s easier to remember what to say, you get a better feel for how you need to carry yourself, and you prepare yourself better for the actual delivery.
10. Give your audience a surprise
Your audience ignores what they expect.
If you stand up on stage and say, “Good morning, thank you for being here. I’m here from the marketing department to tell you about blah, blah, blah”, the audience are already ignoring you.
The audience have heard all this stuff before. They know from your first few words that they’re in for a stock-standard presentation.
If you want the audience pay attention you have to do something different. You have to do something they won’t expect. You have to give them a surprise.
Instead of getting up in front of the audience and saying the standard things, come out in front of the audience and make a statement. Say something they’re not expecting. Stand up and say something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to turn our company into a financial success” or, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to send our company bankrupt, unless we make the change I’m going to talk to you about today.”
Surprise the audience and get their attention.
11. Turn the screen off
This is a really easy way to keep your audience interested in your presentation: Turn the screen off.
When you turn the screen off the brightness in the room disappears and the audience is re-focused on you.
The audience is now likely to see you as more confident and credible because you can talk about your topic without the need for prompts like slides and cue cards.
Turn the screen off, talk to your audience from the center of the room, and keep them interested.
12. Don’t blind your audience
Your audience are not cats!
Turn the laser pointer off when you’re not pointing at something specific on the screen.
The audience don’t want to be distracted or blinded by the red laser bouncing around the room. They certainly don’t want to be entertained by your laser disco moves.
Better still, don’t use the laser pointer at all and design your slides in a way that pointing is not required. A clue that you have too much information on your slides is the need to point at what you’re talking about.
13. Stop treating your audience like idiots
Stop underlining the text on your slides with the laser pointer while you read the text to the audience.
If it’s not already bad enough that you’re reading your slides to the audience, you’re really treating the audience like a bunch of idiots if you’re underlining the text you’re reading.
They can see what it is that you’re reading and the underlining only serves to make them more resistant to listening to your message.
Cut out the underlining.
Cut out the reading.
Look at your audience and talk to them.
Treat your audience with respect and they’re more likely to listen to you.
14. If you make a mistake, just move on
The clearest way to get through your presentation, look confident, and have the audience trust you?
It’s really simple:
If you make a mistake or forget something, just move on.
If you make a mistake it doesn’t do anything to impact your credibility or the way the audience perceives you…
Unless the mistake causes you to stop, stand there stuttering. Talking about the mistake you just made. Drawing everyone’s attention to it.
If you don’t stand there drawing attention to the error, the audience doesn’t know you made a mistake. Even if they notice a mistake was made they are unlikely to care.
If you make a mistake, just move on.
15. Treat time limits as maximums
A 5-minute talk packed with quality information is much better than a 15-minute talk filled with long silences and errs and ummms.
Always treat time limits as maximums.
If you’ve got 20 minutes but you can get through everything in 10, don’t try and stretch it out to 20. Stick to 10 minutes and have more Q&A time.
Quality not quantity. It takes as long as it takes.
Say as much as you need to and no more.
16. Quit saying “sorry”
The worst thing you can do in your presentation is say, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t have time to prepare.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t get the slides ready in time.”
“I’m sorry I don’t understand the topic as well as I should.”
You know what you’re telling the audience when you apologize like this?
You’re telling the audience, “I’m wasting your time.”
The audience doesn’t hear, “I’m sorry”. They hear, “You’re wasting your time sitting there.”
Don’t apologize. Do the best job you can. See everything you do from the audience’s perspective. Try as much as you can to help the audience. That’s how you do a good presentation.
17. Don’t try to mind read
When you’re doing a presentation it can be really easy to be put off by your audience.
It’s easy to interpret people’s facial expressions and body language negatively.
A scowl makes you feel as though a person doesn’t like what you just said.
A glance at the clock makes you feel like a person has better things to do with their time.
Arms folded across a chest makes you feel as though a person is defensive or doesn’t want to listen to you.
While all those feelings are possible, it’s much more likely that your audience have other things going on in their lives. Things you know nothing about, that you can’t control.
Maybe the scowling person is thinking about an earlier argument they had with their boss or their spouse.
Maybe the clock-checker is concerned about meeting a project deadline.
Maybe the person with their arms crossed is just cold.
What you need to do as presenter is stop trying to read their minds and just focus on delivering your presentation as best you can.
Accept that you will never really know what people are thinking so you just need to carry on.
18. Clarify questions before you answer
Before you answer any question from the audience, make sure you understand what has been asked.
It’s important to clarify after someone asks you a question,
It’s also important not to clarify after every single question because it will make you look a little bit crazy.
Let me explain…
Imagine you’re presenting and someone asks you a question in a very mumbly voice. You don’t properly hear what was asked. You think you get the general idea but you’re not 100% sure. In this case you should clarify by saying something like, “Is your question ……..?” or, “Could you please repeat that?”
On the other hand, if the audience member clearly asks the question, “What is you favorite color?”
And you respond with, “Is your question, what is my favorite color?”
You’re going to look a bit crazy.
If you do that after every question (clear or not) you’re going to look really crazy.
So, it’s important to clarify before you answer questions, but only when you actually didn’t understand the question.
19. The floor and the ceiling are not your friends
The answers are not written on the floor or the ceiling.
The only thing you achieve by staring off in either direction is a disengaged audience.
If you can’t even look at your audience, why should they bother listening to you?
Having a deep understanding of your subject matter, and the goal of your presentation, will help prevent staring off into space.
20. Interact with the audience
Most audience’s are put off be lecture-style presenters.
The audience’s that prefer lecture-style probably like it because it allows them to switch off.
The way to engage any audience is to interact with them.
Interact with your audience by asking them questions and relating your presentation topic to their needs.
During your Q&A session answer questions, even the most aggressive ones, with empathy.
21. Get to the point
Everyone’s time is valuable and everyone is under time pressure. So, don’t beat around the bush.
Get to the point of your presentation, fast.
Even if you have a lot of background information to share, get the main point out the way early so the audience know why they are sitting there. Don’t go through 15 minutes of context setting only to finally get to a point which might be irrelevant, or of cursory interest, for many people.
Get to the point early and you’ll avoid having a frustrated audience.
22. Forget humor and stories
You’ll often hear advice about engaging your audience by using humor or stories.
This is solid advice, but the advice generally lacks depth.
And there’s a reason for this… It’s very hard to teach people how to be funny or how to tell stories.
My advice is to avoid trying too hard to be funny. You should also avoid trying to create a story.
Humor should be left alone to happen if it happens. Real humor is not manufactured.
As for stories, don’t try to be a storyteller. Relate a story if you’ve experienced something that helps you get your presentation message across, otherwise forget it.
For example, if your presentation is about a project to replace all the slow computers in your office, talk about a story where your own slow computer caused a problem that led you to start this project.
23. Finish your sentences the same way you start
If you start strong, finish strong.
When your sentences trail off it’s a sign that you are nervous, or unsure, or lacking confidence.
Trailing off is a signal to your audience to switch off.
Make sure you finish your sentences strong to maintain your credibility.
24. Frame your message
Here’s why framing is so important.
You can be the best speaker. You can have the best content. You can have the most interesting stories. But, if you’re not talking about something that is somehow going to help your audience, or empathize with them, then your audience is likely to be disengaged.
If you frame your presentation topic from the audience’s perspective they’re more likely to pay attention.
Empathize with your audience. Build something in to benefit your audience, and you’ll engage them when you deliver your message.
25. Perfection is for idiots
The more perfect you try to be in your presentation the more likely it is you’ll make a mistake.
When you try to be perfect you put yourself under intense pressure to perform.
This intense pressure to get everything right actually makes it more likely you’ll slip up and make a mistake. The focus on perfection will mean that every small mistake will be a massive blow to your confidence and make additional mistakes more likely. The mistake momentum will continue.
When you stop worrying about being perfect, and accept that you’ll probably make some mistakes, your confidence will improve. Additionally, your overall delivery will improve with the improvement in your confidence. It’s win/win.
26. Your audience doesn’t care about you
You need to give your audience a reason to care.
You can do this by relating your presentation subject matter to your audience. How is your subject going to help the audience with their problems?
Let’s look at an example:
Imagine you are doing a presentation about the office cleanup and renovation project that’s going to happen over the next few months.
The typical business presenter is likely to go for a simple information-sharing style presentation. A presentation where they talk about preparations that need to be done, temporary desk moves, and critical dates.
If you want your audience to care, describe how the office cleanup and renovation project is going to help them.
“Tell me if this frustrates you. You’re going about your normal day. You’re trying to do the best job you can, and every time you turn around you’re knocking paper onto the floor, squeezing past people, and bumping into things. How frustrating is that for you? Today, I have a solution.”
The key is to find out what is on the minds of your audience and meet them there.
27. End with a call to action
If you want your presentation to have impact, don’t end with something boring.
Don’t end with something dreary or your audience will walk out of the room and do nothing.
End with a call to action.
Tell the audience what you want them to do next.
Cut out the, “Thank you very much for your time”.
Replace it with “Now what I’d like you to do is go back to your desk and fill out the survey on the intranet. It only takes 5 minutes.”
28. Push to the audience
The first few seconds on stage are nerve-wracking.
The lead up to your presentation involves a whole lot of anxiety and maybe even some sleepless nights, staring at the ceiling and counting sheep.
You can get your anxiety under control by having a plan to “push” to the audience when you first walk on stage. This “push” will buy you a few seconds to get comfortable on stage by taking the focus off you.
To do this “push” come up with a question related to your presentation which you can ask your audience as you walk on stage.
The best question to ask is one you know will get the audience discussing among themselves or itching to answer. The more they discuss, or itch to answer, the more time you buy yourself and the more engaged in your presentation they are likely to be.
Let’s imagine you’re doing a presentation to kick-off the office cleanup and renovation project.
You might open your presentation with a question like:
“What is your number one frustration with the space in the office?”
29. Swap your slides for a whiteboard
In most business presentations the slides are a distraction from the main message.
You can overcome this distraction by swapping your slides for a whiteboard.
When you use a whiteboard the audience is engaged with your message as you talk about it and write up relevant information as you go.
There is an additional benefit to using the whiteboard:
It acts as a security blanket for you when you are delivering, reducing your nerves because you don’t have to be focused on the audience 100% of the time.
30. Make the first 2 seconds count
The first 2 seconds of your presentation are make or break.
The way you present yourself as you walk on stage and first stand in front of the audience are critical.
That’s the moment that the audience is making a snap judgement about you.
They are subconsciously deciding whether you’re confident, whether they trust you, whether this is going to be just another one of “those” presentations.
How you present yourself in those first few seconds is vital. And it all comes down to visual communication.
If your visual communication is open and confident, you create a much better first impression with your audience. Be open and confident by moving slowly, maintaining an open body position, and making eye contact with your audience.
31. Learn from talk shows
You know when you’re watching a talk show, and the host is doing heir monologue while images are flashing over their right shoulder?
Those images are the equivalent of slides.
As they are talking and saying something funny, impactful, or engaging, an image will flash up to add further impact or more humor.
When you’re doing your own slide design you can take a leaf out of the talk show hosts’ playbook. Look at your talk and think about the points you really want to emphasize. Those are the points you should design slides for.
32. Accept reality
You can improve each presentation you do by accepting reality.
Accept the reality that mistakes happen. When you accept this you’ll be better able to handle them with a cool head when they do.
Accept the reality that not everyone in your audience is going to be happy. Everyone has different things going on in their lives at different times. Following from that, not everyone is unhappy with you or your presentation just because they don’t look happy sitting in the audience.
Accept the reality that the audience wants the same thing as you would if you were in the audience. They want to know why they are there, why they should care, and a reason to listen.
Accepting these realities and preparing accordingly will improve your presentations.
33. Take a long, hard look at yourself
This is not a criticism of you personally.
The way you can improve your presentations is by getting up there and just doing it.
But, one of the other things you need to do is reflect on each presentation after you’ve done it.
Sit back and reflect. Think about what you did well and what is an area for improvement.
Thinking about what you did well is like giving yourself a reward, and reinforces what you need to keep doing.
Thinking about just one thing you need to improve going into your next presentation means every presentation you do will be markedly better than the last.
What do you think?
Let’s chat in the comments below.