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40 Tips for Giving Presentations

1.    Share your eyes

A common mistake of presenters is that because we read from left to right, they start with the left side of the room and rarely take their eyes all the way over to the right side of the room. Don’t make part of your audience feel neglected. Try to keep everyone’s attention by attempting to make eye contact with everyone in every area of the room.

2.    Stand

For most well-versed presenters, this is probably a no-brainer, but for those untrained few, do not sit. As presenter, it is your job to emit energy to your audience. Sitting for long periods will only sap the energy from your presentation and make your audience long for some pajamas and a soft pillow.

3.    Be visual

Whenever possible use color, photos, videos, charts, comic strips, graphics and more. The added visual stimulation will help keep your audience interested while demonstrating your commitment to your craft.

4.    Use handouts

There are several advantages to using handouts. It shows an added level of commitment and professionalism. It allows people with eye problems or bad vantage point a more viable visual reference. It gives notes and information attendees can take home and study and people like that and you may like it too, because if they have the information at home you may get fewer phone calls from interested parties who need you to explain things.  And finally, God forbid there is a power failure and your power point presentation is relegated to oblivion, you will still have something to present.

5.    Use humor

You will be lucky if most of your audience remembers one or two statistics from your presentation, but if you got them to laugh a couple times, you are almost guaranteed they will remember that and it will help put a positive spin on your presentation, while also helping to keep your audience awake and interested.

6.    Minimize block texts

Avoid massive blocks of text, both on Power Point presentations and on handouts. Such blocks of unreadable text can act as an elephant tranquilizer, even for your most interested attendees.

7.    Make food and water available

For those of you who really want to go above and beyond the call and are looking to impress. Put out a pitcher of water with some cups and a plate full of crackers or cookies. Attendees notice and appreciate these little concessions and the nicer they are, the more they will appreciate them. Also, taking into account such necessities as thirst and hunger, may keep your attendees as attendees, instead of relegating them to some wanderer exiting your presentation to look for the nearest water fountain or snack machine.

8.    Eliminate distractions

This is yet another reason to come early. What if the room is uncomfortably hot or there is a construction crew drilling outside your window? Coming early will allow you to identify potential distractions, so you can adjust the temperature or see if there is a better meeting room available that will be undisturbed by outside noises.

9.    Come early

Come early to familiarize yourself with the location where you will be presenting. This will allow you to anticipate potential problems and prepare for them. Are there enough seats for the audience you are expecting? Where are the bathrooms, so when someone asks you, you won’t be at a loss. Is the temperature okay? Do they have the projector you need? Does it work? Is there an internet connection or will you use wifi? What about whiteboard markers and an eraser or perhaps the pen for the Activeboard is missing…

10.    Adjust the temperature

As mentioned above, temperature may be a problem few presenters consider, but if you want to be well prepared, consider this. Too cold or too hot will make your audience miserable. Warm may very well bake them into a sluggish lethargy. Cool air is probably the best bet for keeping your audience alert and savy.

11.    Condense, Summarize and Explain

It’s not enough to present gobs of information or mountains of statistics. Presenting the supporting information in detail is not usually of primary importance. More often than not, it is your job to compile and research the supporting information, so that you can summarize it for your audience and make it easily understood.

12.    Open palms

If you know about body language, you know that closed hands are usually a sign of negativity, while open hands are a more positive sign of openness and trust, so try to flash those open palms.

13.    Good posture

You may be so busy working on the contents of your presentation that when you go to present, you are disheveled and hunched over those preciously configured notes like Quasimodo. Don’t forget that good posture will help give your presentation credence and credibility and make you look like a winner.

14.    Body emphasis

Sometimes Italian people are known for their overly expressive hand gestures and articulations when speaking. You don’t want to be so physically expressive that it becomes a distraction for your audience, but now is the time to be unusually demonstrative with your body language. This will help add emphasize your words, as well as adding energy to your presentation.

15.       Start on time

Unfortunately, people are often late, but if you wait for more people to show up, you are not only punishing the people who did show up on time for your presentation by boring them out of their minds and wasting their time, you are also encouraging your audience to be late in the future, because they will know that if they are late, you will start late and they won’t miss anything.

16.    Know your time frame

Before you present, always ask whoever is in charge when you are supposed to start, but also how long you have to finish and whether there will be any breaks or interruptions you should be aware of.  

17.    Plan to finish early

Why would you plan to finish early you ask? Because it’s a good idea to leave time for questions at the end of your presentation and if you present until you have maxed out your time, you may leave your audience with more than a few unanswered questions.

18.    Monitor time

Make sure you keep a watch or cell phone with the time in handy position for you to reference the time repeatedly during your presentation so you don’t run overtime and you don’t finish too soon.

19.    Provide statistics and details

While Tip #11 was that you should summarize and that is true, it is still a great idea to provide some startling statistics and details to support your theme.

20.    Provide real-world examples

Sometimes people just can’t get a feel for what you’re saying until you put it into a very visual example of real-world terms that they can relate to. For example, if you were giving a presentation where you were trying to get your audience to understand that a 30 foot tidal wave would hit the coast, you would say, “imagine you are standing next to a three story building. Can you see that in your imagination? Now imagine that entire building is seawater and that is the height of the water for 20 miles of coastline.” See the difference?

21.    Don’t forget your greeting

A nice greeting can go a long way, but it’s not high school, so you certainly don’t wait to start until everyone answers your “good afternoon.” Another nice way to start a presentation would be to jump right into it and catch your audience’s attention with a very interesting piece of information, a teaser like, “Headquarters has said our company is overbudget by 30 million dollars, but today I’m going to tell you how we can save 20 million of that money and not lose a thing” or “as the world knows, the Sabertooth tiger has long been extinct, except the truth is, it’s not.”

22.    Don’t forget your summary

A very brief summary can be a great way to wrap up your presentation, while also making it more comprehensible and highlighting the things you find most important for your audience.

23.    Say, “Thank you.”

How long was your presentation, two hours? Don’t you think it might be a good idea to thank your audience for their time and attention?

24.    Have no fear

If you are afraid to be up in front of people, or you are worried about presenting, don’t jump into it with the fresh weight of those fears on your back. Get them out of your system by practicing and becoming more comfortable with the things first. Get up and practice for your family or friends. Do it in front of your pets, whatever you have to do to feel comfortable, relaxed and prepared.

25.    Repeat yourself

Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Pick out three or four pieces of information that you really want your audience to remember and don’t be afraid to say the same thing twice when it comes to them. For example, say, “If we don’t stop unnecessary spending at this company within the year, we will go bankrupt and let me just say that again for anyone who missed it the first time…if there is one thing I want you to remember from this presentation, it’s what I just said…that if we don’t stop unnecessary spending at this company we will be bankrupt within the year.”

You may assume your audience may be able to pick the most important pieces of information out of your presentation, but don’t assume anything. Make sure! If they were paying attention, saying it twice will bookmark that information in their minds and make sure they know just how important it is, if they were thinking about their latest fight with their wife, how they will improve sales or wondering when the lunch break is, it will give them a second chance to catch what they would’ve otherwise inextricably missed.

26.    Over-plan

As presenter, you are very much like a teacher and teachers know they need to over-plan, because if the class goes a little faster than expected, you can’t just sit and twiddle your thumbs for the last half-hour of the allotted time. Make sure you know what you will do if you have an allotted time for you presentation and you finish early. Don’t count on attendee questions filling up that entire time. You may not get any.

27.    Walk the aisles

Leaving the podium or the front of the table and walking down the aisles or around the classroom to mingle with your audience is a great way to hold their attention, or get listeners whose attention is wandering back on track.

28.    Pace yourself

One problem presenters sometimes have is that they talk and/or present too fast. Make sure you are not a Micromachines commercial going at 100 miles per hour. You want to maintain a nice even pace that’s neither too fast, nor too slow.

29.    Be professional

Don’t forget that while the content of your presentation will be scrutinized, you and your appearance will also be under scrutiny. It almost goes without saying, but use proper hygiene and dress professionally. It’s probably a good idea to have an extra toothbrush and toothpaste at work, so you can brush your teeth and disarm your dragon-breath before important meetings.

30.    Loud and proud

You will need to speak loudly enough so the people at the far end of the table or the back seats of an auditorium can hear you. That may be much louder than you are used to speaking, depending on the acoustics of the space you’re in. It is wise to test the acoustics of the space you’ll be in before your presentation. For example, you will be speaking in an auditorium where you’ve never spoken before and you want to do your due diligence, so you buy a mini-recorder and record your speech on it. Then you go to the auditorium, put the recorder where you will be talking and sit in the back row of the auditorium. Can you hear yourself well enough? Will you need to speak louder?

31.    Anticipate questions

Before you give your presentation invite family or friends, especially people you trust and/or people who know about the subject matter to hear your presentation and ask questions and give you feedback. They may locate holes in your presentation where information is missing, or think of important questions you otherwise would’ve been completely unprepared for. It may even be a good idea to get someone completely unfamiliar with the subject matter to listen to your presentation, because they really may be able to give you insights into questions you wouldn’t have anticipated and basic information you may have neglected.

32.    Minimize distractions

You may be your own biggest distraction. Practicing in advance will help you gain confidence and minimize poor body posturing, but be aware…frequent pacing, rocking back and forth, swaying slouching…these are body language signals your audience is likely to pick up on and if they do, it is likely to detract from your presentation.

33. Know your audience

Make sure that in the initial phases of planning for your presentation you know who your audience is, because the presentation you would give to a group of people who are experts on the subject would be incredibly different from the presentation you would give to an audience which knows nothing about your subject…wouldn’t it?

34. Seize your opportunity

Realize that whenever you are putting yourself out there in front of a group of people it is your opportunity to make a great impression! You never know who will be watching. Perhaps you are a teacher and your boss will stop by to do an observation. Perhaps you are a manager and the owner will make a surprise appearance. Perhaps no one unexpected will show up, but word of your excellent presentations will flow through your audience members to their superiors and elevate your stock within the company. You never know. So give your best.

35. Always have a back-up plan

Always have a back-up plan! If your presentation is on Power-Point, what will you do if the electricity is out? If you’re presenting with a partner, what will you do if they get into a car accident or are forced to call out sick? This is why it’s a great idea to troubleshoot before the actual problems occur.

You could save your presentation to your laptop, rather than storing it in the cloud and carry extra batteries for your computer, in case of a power failure.

You could have your partner email their presentation to you, so that you could present for both partners in the case of an emergency. Such over-planning may seem anal or even paranoid, but if a worst case scenario occurs, you may be very happy you did.  

What if you save your presentation on your trusty and reliable laptop, but for some reason it doesn’t work on the morning of the presentation? Taking the extra minute to save a backup of the presentation to your flash drive could be a life-saver!

36. Anticipate questions

Perhaps you have been given a lot of information to present and a short time to present it in. You want to allow time for your audience to ask questions, but there just won’t be enough time. You can put questions your audience members are likely to ask on a hand-out with your answers to those questions. Interested attendees will really appreciate this extra effort.

37. Read your audience

Read your audience like a book. When you are making eye-contact with your audience to keep them interested and make them feel involved, you should also be paying attention to what you’re seeing. Are their eyes glazing over? Are they yawning, shifting restlessly in their seats or looking at their watch? If you get several indications that your audience is bored, you might want to throw in a joke, walk the aisle or change your presenting strategy to try to get them back on track.

38. Deal with difficult audience members

Keep in mind that you may have audience members who would like to foul you up, see you stumble or just try to make things difficult for you. Anticipate that and don’t get flustered. There are strategies you can use to cope with problem attendees.

For example, if someone is being a distraction by asking too many questions or repeatedly presenting contrary opinions, instead of arguing with them, simply remind them that there are X other people who also may want to speak and probably would like to continue the presentation and since you don’t want to take up too much of their time, you can invite that difficult individual to discuss their views with you after the presentation.

Proximity can also be a very effective behavioral management technique. For example, if two attendees are chatting while you’re trying to speak, instead of addressing the rude behavior openly and exacerbating the situation, you can simply walk the aisle and position yourself near the disruptive pair as you continue presenting. This will generally put their behavior in the spotlight automatically and make them feel obligated to snap back into shape.

39. Research research research

If you are presenting on a topic, you should really know everything you can about that topic and anticipate questions and find the answers before your presentation. The internet is a tremendous tool to find out whatever you need to know about anything and it gives us a huge advantage over people in the same position before the advent of such advanced computer technology.

If you are ever caught with your pants down and someone asks a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t invent an answer to save face. That can get you in big trouble! Simply apologize for not knowing and take that person’s contact information. Tell them, “I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to that, but if you give me your contact information, I’ll give you the answer tomorrow.” Then follow up.

40. Make it interactive

One of the most obvious worthwhile changes you can add to your presentations is also one of the most easily forgotten. It’s easy to think that you are the presenter and it is your job to present, but really this thinking eliminates an entire group of people, your audience, which is an added resource and a tremendous one at that! Nothing keeps audience members more involved than allowing them to actively participate in what you’re doing.

Many presenters forget they can have audience members introduce themselves to each other, brainstorm for solutions, participate in group discussions, or even meet in groups to prepare their own miniature presentations to present to the entire audience.

This is a more creative and fun way to present, which is more likely to keep audience members involved as well as utilizing the greatest wealth of information, because so many brains are being picked and so many viewpoints are being expressed.

Get to it! Presenting is a performance, so break a leg…

By: Evan Marquisee
January 18, 2014

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