How to Give a Killer Presentation

Whether you’re presenting your quarterly results to a team of executives or you’re standing in front of two people trying to convince them to give you a job, the ability to give a strong presentation is a key tool in your kit. But most people are awful at giving presentations. Whether its nerves, anxiety, or a fundamental misunderstanding of what a presentation is, something usually trips people up.

But it doesn’t have to.

Presentations are not just communication devices. They are performances.

So let’s talk about some guidelines for helping you wow your crowd.

Get to the Point

I can’t tell you how frustrating I find it when presentations have some long lead-in. Even watching YouTube, the person giving a tutorial on how to create beautiful slides feels the need to spend five minutes telling me why he made the video. Skip these preambles. Get to your point right away. Don’t waste time explaining who you are or why you’re giving the talk. Pro tip: no one cares.

Tell a Great Story

Your job as a presenter is to tell a story that makes me care about something. Just like we read novels because we’re curious to know what happens to the protagonist, we listen to presentations because we’re curious where the story will take us. We want to know what the data means. We want to know how to throw the perfect curveball. We want to hear how the daring woman escaped her abusive husband. So whatever your story is about, it needs to be compelling.

Sometimes this means turning your focus on its ear. For example, if your boss has asked you to deliver the quarterly revenue report, that might be really boring. But was there a startling piece of data in there? Did you discover that on Wednesdays at 8 am your sales increased by 50%? Is there an anomaly or a pattern that you can tell a story about? Can you ask interesting questions about your findings? Whatever you do, don’t just stand there and recite numbers. Find something in the numbers that will intrigue your audience and build your presentation around that.

Your job as a presenter is to tell a story that makes me care about something. Just like we read novels because we're curious to know what happens to the protagonist, we listen to presentations because we're curious where the story will take us. Click To Tweet

Modulate Your Voice

This one is especially important for those of you giving presentations over the phone or Webex or something similar. Nothing is worse than listening to somebody drone on and on without moving their voice up and down. Put some excitement into your words! Don’t forget, this is a performance. You are an actor. Own your stage! Let your voice go up and down as you move through your sentences. Take advantage of pace: you can speed up or slow down your talking to make a point. Linger over interesting or worrisome pieces of information. Pause frequently to let your audience absorb a key fact you’ve just delivered.

Most people speak too quickly during presentations. Allow yourself to speak very slowly: I can almost guarantee you that you’re not speaking as slowly as you think you are! This is especially true if you’re delivering a presentation to people who are not native English speakers. Slow way down. Your audience will be grateful for it. And don’t forget to enunciate.

Nothing is worse than listening to somebody drone on and on without moving their voice up and down. Put some excitement into your words! Click To Tweet

Record Your Presentation and Listen to It

You will learn so much about yourself just by listening to yourself talk. You’ll hear all your annoying habits like saying “Ummmm” or clucking your tongue, or laughing too shrilly or speaking to monotonously. These are ticks you’ll almost never catch unless you record yourself and listen. You’ll also learn how to pace your talk: where to speed up, what you can cut out, where to slow down, and what to emphasize.

Plus, by listening to your speech, you’ll start to memorize it. Which brings us to the new point.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Unless you’ve been doing this for a long time, you’re probably awful at impromptu speaking. That’s okay. Nearly everyone is. You trip over your words, you don’t really know what point you want to make, you stutter, you bury the lede. That’s why you can’t rely on “winging it” as a way to make a good impression. You need to practice.

If you get very nervous while public speaking, write your speech ahead of time. Every word. And I mean every word. If you intend to make a joke after explaining your bar graph on slide four, write down the joke. Write down everything. And then rehearse it exactly as you’ve written it. Why leave anything to chance?

But if you’re comfortable with spontaneity, you can write yourself talking points. Just write down the bullets you want to hit throughout your talk. Highlight key pieces of information that you want to include. And then rehearse–and record!–your talk.

Some people find it easier (and I’m one of them) to skip writing the speech altogether and go directly to the recording. This is an awesome technique for people who are used to thinking aloud. You can record yourself giving your presentation and THEN go back and transcribe your words. You can even bounce between the two: record it, write it down, record it again with your revisions, and write down any new pieces. This can be helpful for those who want to give natural speeches that don’t sound like you’re just reading a report.

If you get very nervous while public speaking, write your speech ahead of time. Every word. And I mean every word. If you intend to make a joke after explaining your bar graph on slide four, write down the joke. Click To Tweet

However, everyone in that room would rather you read them a report clearly and excitedly than listen to you stumble your way through with a bunch of Ummms and “What was I saying again?” awkward moments.

Giving a great presentation is a skill honed over many hours of practice. So don’t worry about getting it right your first time–even your first dozen times! But listen to yourself, ask for feedback, and improve each time. You’ll be a pro before you know it.