A presentation is not the dry transfer of concepts from one to many. It is transmission. It requires your physical concentration and your presence of mind, as well as a combination of skills and attitudes.

The first thing to note is that everyone is different, and everyone has the same chance to be good.

I am going to take a few things for granted:

        You know your subject
        You know how long your presentation is
        You have rehearsed it (hopefully in front of kindly critical friends)
        You have prepared your visual aids (slides etc) and the venue is running them properly
        You have real enthusiasm for your subject
        You really want to do well

This last one is actually by no means a given. You really must want to succeed – or else, don’t bother reading these tips!

A presenter may use sophisticated visual aids and a teleprompter, or may speak without notes at all; they may have an actor’s room-filling voice, or they may speak quietly and conversationally; they may give a talk full of interesting detail, or speak in sweeping, general terms – no single attribute will determine the success of the presentation.

Experts too often give presentations packed with salient facts, yet despite their valuable knowledge, the lack of attention to the art of communication spoils the experience. As a listener, I find this most frustrating. So, I try to speak as both a speaker and listener. It could be me out there, wondering when I am going to get to the point, or wondering whether you care that I can’t hear a word.

To make a good presentation, you need more than anything to be truly present.


The presentation starts before you walk out front. Don’t worry about your opening lines, don’t fret about the mechanisms of your talk. That is all sorted out, of course. Start looking at the audience now. They will be looking at you very soon, so find a few nice faces – they will be useful later on.

Get your attitude right. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a big cheese or a single slice. These people are here to listen to you.

You’re on in two minutes. How do you feel? Are you prepared? Are you nervous? Dry mouth? It’s quite normal even for the most experienced, unflappable speaker to have raised heart rate before making a presentation. Make sure you have water to sip.

Assess the audience, assess the environment. How big is the room? Will you have a microphone? Is your audience busy, preoccupied with technology? Are they passive, or tired, or full of food? Will you need to wake them up, or get their attention? Work it out before you begin.

Also work out how YOU are.

A performer once told me: find whatever emotional energy you are feeling on the day, and use it. The reason for this is to be authentic. Don’t let it take you over, of course, but do take time to work out where you are coming from in the moment.

There’s nothing worse than undermining your perfectly good messages by being unconvincing. Wherever you are, start there. You’re not here to sell anything, you’re here to communicate.

I try to walk on with a genuine thank you in my heart. I consider myself honoured – how nice of them to have me! But, I have also given some of my best presentations feeling downright curmudgeonly – I found the humour in it, took no prisoners, and used my energy to transmit my ideas.


OK you’re on. Take a couple of slow, deeper than usual breaths…

It’s nice to be introduced. But, it’s also very important to tell people yourself who you are, in your own words. People appreciate being told. It’s also nice to begin by telling people that, at the end of your talk, they can come and speak to you personally. Hopefully some people will respond, and if you tell them twice, they are more likely to do so.

The Obvious

Stand upright. Relax. Speak at a normal pace. If you’re using a microphone, speak at normal volume. If you need to lift your speaking volume, then don’t shout. Use pauses, and don’t worry about filling all the time with speech. Let your words sink in when you come to a conclusion.

Use your body, and use the space. Make frequent eye contact (remember those nice people you found earlier). Move around slowly and use gestures where appropriate.

Don’t cover your body defensively with your arms. Try not to be rooted to the spot.

Never, ever turn your back on an audience – it’s rude. If you want to turn to look at a slide, go to one side and half-turn.

Overall Structure

You need to think about your overall structure, as well as the mechanisms for imparting the information. There are many well-known oratorical devices, the most useful of which is repetition. But constantly resorting to these devices rapidly falls flat.

One classic structure is: begin with what you’re going to say, then say it, then sum up what you’ve said. That works pretty well. But there are other structures. Find them, use them. Develop your own. It’s all there for you to use as you will.

Particularly – avoid lists, bullet-pointed or not. Lists are for shopping, not for groups of people. After a short while, all lists fade into the great vagueness of lists-you-have-once-seen-and-quickly-forgotten. You need to make your information memorable. Especially on screen, cut to the important things and leave out the minor details. Use images, not lists, they are far more memorable.


1. Lists
2. Are
3. The
4. Refuge
5. Of
6. The
7. Insecure
8. And
9. Lazy
10. There is no ten… 🙂

I like to use metaphors which people have not previously associated with the concepts I’m communicating. One method I am fond of is surprise and reward. The reward can sometimes be a gift to an audience member, sometimes a joke, or perhaps a thing of unexpected beauty. As long as it’s not too wacky, and relates properly to the subject, people will stay with you, and importantly, they will take it with them when they leave.

Visual and Memory Aids

Any memory or visual aid should be a way to improve communication, not a barrier to hide behind.

Should you read from notes? Should you memorise? It’s totally up to you. Whatever you do, make sure you’re comfortable with it, practise using it, and keep in touch with the audience while you do so.

A lot of people work with slides, keynote and powerpoint presentations. It’s important to get the balance right – the presentation should be focused on YOU not the screen. Less is more. 80% you / 20% slides is my rule of thumb.

Do your editing before you get to the venue, and don’t include slides you aren’t going to use, then skip through them, with apologies –  it’s rude, and it completely disrupts the flow.

Use short (1 minute) video clips by all means, but not many, or the audience may slump into TV watching lethargy. Your voice and movement and thinking brain is much, much more important than screen time.

Take the Temperature

Be unafraid to ask your audience questions, and be prepared to answer their questions.

Remember: this is not just about the dry transfer of concepts. It’s about transmission. Are they with you? Have they drifted? Can they hear you? Are there any questions? Interact with your audience – it shows them respect and makes you a confident person.

Don’t wait for questions and answers until the very end, when it’s wrapped up – people may not want to undermine your carefully considered conclusion, however much they have to ask you. But, don’t ask for questions too soon – maybe halfway to two-thirds of the way through is good.

Be prepared to limit both your response time, and the number of questions so that you keep the shape of the presentation.

Never Repeat Yourself

Sure, you can use the same presentation more than once. But, revise it. Tweak it for different audiences. Improve it. Don’t take it for granted and rest on your laurels. If you do, you’ll get complacent, or bored, and that is what you’ll communicate.


Thank your audience properly. Mean it – these people are your bread and butter… Remain calm and open. Tell them where to find you offline and online. When you leave the speaking area, don’t rush off. Mop up, and leave it tidy, but keep yourself available, and see what happens.

The brief period after you’ve finished is a very important, powerful time, however nerve-wracked you may have been, whatever awkwardness you felt as you fell offstage, and despite the complete failure of your slide show. None of that matters – you did it. You earned your advantage. You never know who you will meet, or what that encounter will bring you. Let people come to you. Take names and addresses, swap emails.

We’re only here once, so do try to enjoy your moments in the spotlight. Do your best, and be open to accepting whatever good comes back. Make sure you give yourself a reward afterwards!

See you in the bar.

Dean Whitbread – written for http://bestconferencetips.com/

I don’t know which is harder – stretch a few paragraphs into a book, or, in this case, fit a book into a few paragraphs.

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