Eight Tips on Giving Presentations Like a Pro by Shawn Doyle

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I am a professional speaker, and I get many chances as I travel around the country to see other people give presentations. When I see professional speakers give presentations, they’re always very well done and professional. Of course these presentations should be great because they are delivered by professional speakers. Sadly, in most cases, I see exactly the opposite with others—terrible presentations that are boring, dull, dry, and go on way too long. You know what I’m talking about because you have seen it. 

I believe that in order to be a successful leader and a successful entrepreneur, you have to become skilled at giving presentations like a pro. Here are eight tips on how to give presentations like a pro. 

  1. Pros properly prepare. You’re probably thinking that preparation means having your presentation deck in order and having your handouts organized, but that is not what I mean at all. What I mean by proper preparation is doing a careful audience analysis to know to whom it is you’re speaking and what they are expecting or needing from the presentation. Take time to talk to the person who has asked you to give a presentation to do a full and complete audience analysis to determine who will be in the room. Obviously, the presentation for a room full of CEOs will be different than a presentation for a group of front-line workers. 

  2. Start with a bang, not a whimper. I have seen many presenters who start out their presentation by giving their name and the title of the program and then say, “Let’s get started.” I promise you if you start out the presentation with a boring beginning, you will lose the audience before you even get started. We live in an era of high entertainment, and when we sit people in a room to watch a presentation we need to start our presentation with a bang. You can start with a compelling quote, you can start with a great story, you can start with a stunning statistic, or you can ask the audience a very provocative question. The key is to get their attention. Then you can introduce yourself and your topic. Use these tools to close out your presentation with a bang as well because people do remember the beginning and the end of everything. 

  3. The space is part of the presentation. In many instances, I have seen the space become a barrier to the presentation’s effectiveness. Either the room is too crowded or was set up the wrong way, or the speaker was tied to the podium because that was the only place a microphone was available. Make sure to check out in advance the space in which you’re going to be presenting to see what limitations and possibilities it offers. Additionally, arrive early the day of your presentation so that you can solve any room or space problems that exist before your presentation starts. 

  4. Please get rid of the PowerPoint slides. It seems to me that everyone giving presentations these days is in love with PowerPoint. To me, there are several issues with PowerPoint—the main one being that PowerPoint quickly becomes an anesthetic because people are staring at a screen, and often people will dim the lights so the PowerPoint can be seen more clearly (an invitation for everyone to take a nap). I personally believe you’d be much better off with a couple-page handout than you would hypnotizing people with PowerPoint. I also think most people, when they give presentations, have way too many slides. This is, in my opinion, just a disaster. Lastly, most people seem to believe that their PowerPoint is their presentation, when the reality is the PowerPoint is supposed to be a supplement to illustrate key points of the presentation. Most people do not use PowerPoint in this way; they actually use it as a script for the presentation, and they read from the screen. This makes people want to run screaming from the room. 

  5. Make it a conversation, not a presentation. When you’re designing a presentation, you should have a couple of moments designated for interacting with the audience. This makes the presentation much more useful and interesting for the audience, and they have a chance to provide feedback and ask questions and actually talk to you like a human being instead of a presentation robot. 

  6. Use stories. Great presenters tell stories that captivate the attention of the audience. But here’s something I don’t want you to miss: the stories are not just stories to tell for the sake of it; they illustrate the key points that the speaker is discussing. This makes the presentation much more memorable. 

  7. Get some coaching. Every professional speaker with whom I’ve ever spoken has told me that they used a professional coach at some point to help them with their presentation skills. Join Toastmasters to learn better presentation skills, determine if your company offers training for presentation skills, attend a presentation skills class somewhere in your community, or use a private coach to help you polish your skills. I guarantee you if you do that you’ll get it amazingly better results just by having someone give you feedback in an objective way on what you do well and what you need to improve. 

  8. Evaluate. Each time you give a presentation, ask a trusted colleague to observe your presentation and give you feedback or, if that is not possible, at least sit down after every presentation and review what you believe went well and what could be improved. This will ensure that you continue to improve, and you will be one step closer to being a presentation pro! 

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For more business and personal development insight from Shawn Doyle, check out his titles from Sound Wisdom, including his Jumpstart SeriesThe Sun Still RisesThe Leadership Manifesto, and Two Months to Motivation