by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Sooner or later in your professional career, you will probably be called upon to deliver a presentation. This article offers 12 expert tips to ensure you present engagingly.
1. Plan a Brief, Interesting, Well-Organized Presentation.The classic organizational structure for a presentation is to tell your audience what you plan to tell them, then actually tell them, then summarize by telling them what you told them. Audience attention spans have grown shorter and shorter in our media-glutted times, so unless you have been assigned a talk of a specific length, make yours as short as possible. About 10 minutes is ideal unless you are an exceptional speaker. Ask if your audience has questions when you conclude, or specify at the beginning that you will take questions as you go along.2. Consider Fresh Approaches to Slides — or Eliminate Them Altogether.Since Microsoft introduced PowerPoint in the late 1980s, PowerPoint slides have become such a staple in presentations that “death by PowerPoint” is not uncommon. The trend is toward minimalist slides with large, bold images and graphics instead of text-laden slides that are hard to read and absorb. The Japanese developed a technique called Pecha Kucha in which the presentation is limited to 20 minimalist slides to which the presenter devotes no more than 20 seconds each. You can see many excellent examples of well-crafted slides at Slideshare.net, the YouTube of slideshows. Especially review the site’s featured slideshows. Check out Presentation Alphabet, which not only illustrates bold, minimalist slides, but also offers great presentation tips. And try a search for Pecha Kucha slides on Slideshare.Consider whether slides will really even add to your presentation. Could you add creativity and interest in another way, for example by sprinkling stories, humor (as appropriate), and startling statistics throughout the talk? Think of other ways you could be creative with visual aids. I once had a student who delivered a memorable presentation using a sock puppet.If you are worried that your audience won’t get all the information needed if you use no slides or minimalist slides, create a handout with the key points.If you decide on PowerPoint (or other slide-making application, such as Apple’s Keynote), don’t get text-heavy with your slides. Marketing guru Seth Godin recommends no more than six words on a slide. Stick to a simple design that is visually pleasing, typo-free, and has text large enough (at least 30-point type) to be read from the back of the room.3. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse.Perhaps the most significant key to an effective presentation is to practice as much as you can. Rehearsal addresses many issues that can arise during a presentation. First, you’ll get the timing right if you rehearse, ensuring that your presentation is neither too long nor too short. Next, you’ll overcome any technical glitches if you are using audiovisual equipment. You’ll get more comfortable with your content, which will help you tackle your nerves. Practice is especially important in a team presentation because it enables your team to polish transitions among pieces of the presentation. You may want to rehearse in front of others to get feedback or even video-record yourself.4. Nail Your Technology, and Have a Backup Plan.If you’re using technology in your presentation be sure you know how to use the equipment in the room in which you’ll be presenting (your multimedia components might work on your own office computer, but be sure they’ll also work on the presentation computer). Practice with the actual equipment if possible. Always have a backup plan in case of a technical glitch. Your audience doesn’t want to hear you say, “It worked on my cubicle computer.”5. Conquer Your Nerves.A famous study showed that more people are afraid of public speaking than of dying, so if your heart starts pounding before a presentation, congratulations; you’re normal! Channel your nervous energy before your presentation by taking a walk and a few deep breaths. Visualize yourself delivering a flawless presentation. During the presentation, you can deal with nervous energy by walking around the front of the room — as long as you don’t get carried away and distract your audience. Transform your nerves into positive energy that makes you appear enthusiastic.6. Don’t Set Up Negative Audience Expectations.Never announce to your audience that you’re really nervous. Don’t apologize or say anything like, “This presentation isn’t going to be very good.” As soon as you put down your own presentation, your audience will begin to look for the worst.7. Connect with Your Audience.Do everything you can to make contact with your audience, and avoid barriers to connecting with the group. Make eye contact with the entire audience. Don’t turn your back and read your slides. If possible, avoid using a lectern that puts up a barrier between you and your audience. If you use notes, don’t depend on them by never taking your eyes off them. Ideally, lay your notes on the lectern and walk back occasionally when you need to refer to them.8. If You Use a Lectern, Don’t Abuse It.Some presenters are just more secure with a lectern, and that’s OK. But don’t rock back and forth, sway from side to side, lean heavily on the lectern, or tap your fingers on it.9. Avoid Distracting Verbal Behaviors and Body Language.One of the biggest problems in presentations is use of “pause words” — “um,” “uh,” “like,” “you know” — but it’s also one of the most difficult issues to overcome. Practice and knowing your material will help. Don’t fidget, chew gum, fumble with your notes, put your hands in your pockets, or jingle coins or keys.10. Dress the Part.Even if formal business attire is not the standard in the venue for your presentation, you will always make a good impression if you dress up at least to the business-casual level. Spiffy attire will boost your confidence and make you seem more authoritative and persuasive.11. Be in Good Voice.Be sure you can project your voice loudly enough to be heard (again, rehearsal will help). Speak neither too slowly nor too quickly (a normal speaking rate is 120-160 words per minute.) Modulate your voice so your pitch varies, and you are not speaking in a monotone. Be animated!12. Take Special Care with Team Presentations.Be sure everyone knows what his or her role is in the presentation. Develop smooth transitions from presenter to presenter. Decide on where team members will stand when not speaking; don’t have everyone clustering around the audiovisual equipment, for example. Team members should not talk among themselves when another member is speaking.
Final Thoughts on Professional Presentations
With preparation and practice, you can not only avoid dreading delivering presentations but turn them into compelling, engaging talks that keep your audiences spellbound and boost your career.Use our handy Presentation Skills Checklist for Professionals to help you prepare for your next presentation.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms. Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.