Crush Your Next Presentation With These 40 Tips

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You probably aren’t going to have to do a TED talk anytime soon in your near future.  However, we all have to present, communicate and convince other people. Asking for that salary raise? Discussing the new project with your team?  Needing to get buy in from stakeholders? Speaking in front of your board? This all requires crushing it during the presentation.

Presentation skills, I believe, are one of the most undervalued, least taught, and difficult skill for many leaders to master.

I’ve been doing many forms of presentation over the last 15 years - training, presenting, speaking, facilitating small groups, teaching workshops, etc.  

Additionally, I believe that I have had some amazing mentors along the way that have helped me zero in on my craft.

Here are 40 tips, hints and facts that I practice, use routinely and hope you find some help with crushing your next presentation:

  1. Stop practicing only on ‘what’ you’re going to say, and start adding in how you’re going to say it (pauses, enunciation, diction, crescendos, narratives, statistics, etc.).  

  2. Leave a lasting impression is more directly tied to our voice and body language. So much so that content, or words, ranks third amongst the three, playing only 7% of the role in communicating with people. Voice came in second at 38% and body language accounted for 55% of a person’s ability to communicate effectively (A. Mehrabiana).  

  3. At the end of the day, our goal should be to make sure that the lasting impression we leave with our audience is a positive one.

  4. Own the room in the first ninety seconds. We have 4-6 seconds to make a positive impression beginning from the moment our audience first lays eyes on us.  How will we make sure that their first impression of us is a positive one?

  5. Start with a topic-related “attention-getter” that you could incorporate into your opening and a clear and concise statement that would capture the interest of the room. “Did you know that 70% of all change initiatives fail?” Maybe it’s a statistic or a well thought-out question. It could even be a demonstration or the use of the prop; whatever you choose, it needs to be interesting and relevant, and it must set the stage for what’s to come. Sometimes I write a number on my flip chart while others come in.  The audience has to guess what that number might be. It’s usually a number that’s relative to the talk I’m giving.

  6. As you walk to the front of the room to begin your presentation, think about what it’s going to take to make your audience feel like you’re in control – that you know what you’re doing.  You need to be able to command your audience not only through your superb content, but by the aura you exude.

  7. Don’t look down or off into space (make meaningful eye contact).

  8. As you walk to the front of the room, keep your chin up, look at the audience, come to a complete stop at the front, lay down your notes, smile at everyone and thank them for coming.  That is a fail safe way for you to begin to “own the room.”

  9. Act like you know what you’re doing even if you don’t.  My mother always used to tell me to “fake it till you make it,” and in essence she was right.  She never meant that I should compromise my integrity or falsify my understanding. She meant that sometimes our own worst enemy is ourselves and that sometimes need to psych ourselves up.

  10. Don’t play with your hair (facial or on top of your head).

  11. If you’re nervous, scared, unsure, that’s fine, but as a professional, you should not be acting in a way that showcases that feeling to your audience.  It’s time to hit the “show button” (look at #38) when you’re in the front of the room, regardless of how nervous you might feel.

  12. Posture is key. You wouldn’t think that people would have a hard time with this one, but it’s one of the biggest issues I see.  Unfortunately as human beings we stand like we sit, which is horrible. If our goal is to command an audience we can’t stand with our backs curved, our shoulders slouching and our heads down and expect to positively impact our audience.

  13. Don’t lean on one hip

  14. Don’t plant your feet (and not move from that position the rest of the presentation)

  15. When considering posture, think about the following exercises.  Ask a friend to help you find your “sweet spot,” that place where it all comes together in terms of how your body needs exude confidence in the space it’s trying to command. Have your friend stand across from you. Starting with your chin down towards your chest, begin to raise your chin slowly and ask your partner to let you know when it reaches a point where you look the most confident.  Most of us don’t realize that much of our confidence is portrayed through the placement of our chin. Too high gives off an attitude of arrogance, while too low tells people you’re timid. Once you’ve identified your ‘confident’ chin position, take a second and make a mental note, is it higher or lower than where you regularly hold your head?

  16. Put periods on the ends of your thoughts. Sounds simple, right?  Actually, many of us (me included) tend to have run on sentences and thoughts as we speak. Purposely punch home your thought and stop! Place periods or endings on your thoughts.  This is a great tool to have a more commanding and cadence-driven presentation.

  17. Don’t begin speaking before you’ve reached the front of the room

  18. With regards to our back and shoulders, I want you to imagine that you are a puppet and you’re being held up by a string attached to your head. What would happen if someone pulled on that string, would you get taller?  If you can get taller without lifting your feet off the ground, then you need to work on making sure your back is straight. Shoulders are a little trickier because it requires someone with a keen eye to know if a person’s shoulders are rolled forward, and if they should be back farther. Enlist the help of your friend again and have them stand behind you. Once you’re standing as you normally would, have your partner place his/her hands on the back of your shoulder and push slightly with his/her thumbs. At the same time, have him/her pull back slight with his/her fingers. If your shoulders are able to come backwards without it looking like you’re pushing out your chest, then you could stand to make some adjustments.

  19. Cross the Great Divide. We know standing still is the kiss of death for our audience, yet we continue to do it. The next time you’re giving a presentation, lay a long strip of tape on the floor between you and the audience. As you begin to give your presentation, challenge yourself to see how many times you can cross over that piece of tape to engage your audience.

  20. Be hands-on. So much of our personality and charisma is portrayed through our hands; after all, they are our best visual aid. One of the top questions has always been “what should we do with our hands?”  My answer is “use them!” Our hands were designed so we could participate in the world around us and because of that we need to be sure that we put them to good use.

  21. In the spirit of the one above, don’t fold your arms

  22. Also, don’t point with a finger (use an open palm)

  23. Rely on more than one visual ad.  Use a powerpoint, but add in a podium, video or flip chart so you can do just in time sketches, advancing the idea or thought you have. Put one or two of these in your back pocket so if you need to pull them out you can.  

  24. Interact with the audience by passing out paper and/or note cards that they can use to write things down, participate with your presentation, etc.

  25. Don’t self-deprecate. You have to establish and maintain authority.  You are the Thought Leader in the front of the room giving the presentation of your life.  That’s why people are listening to you! It’s hard to hear 5-6 self-jabs and then be able to take the rest of what that person says seriously.  I think we do it because we want to come across as humble and modest or even as a filler. You can show humility and mistakes through a carefully crafted story that shows how you conquered something in the end, not by making fun of yourself!

  26. Don’t sway from side to side

  27. “Stuffs,” “whatevers” and “ums” - get rid of the fillers.  Not just the ums, but often times I hear presenters speak in lists and when they haven’t thought that far ahead on their list they’ll say, “...and...whatever” or “...and stuff.  You know what I mean...” Again, this is submitting your current authoritative position of presenter and it comes across as confusion or worse, not knowledgeable.

  28. Be careful with jokes and humor. Comedic joke telling and timing is a masterful talent and art. Don’t always think us layman have it!  It is harder than you think and should probably be left to the professionals.

  29. Balance.  Some people can become wobbly or actually lose their balance when they’re presenting up front especially if they’re nervous (the old jelly legs!).  A quick tip is to simply put one finger tip down on a solid platform for balance. Don’t need to make it too noticeable, this is just to help you find your balance. This quick tip provides your body with instant stability.  Your body is just looking for a center point, help it out!

  30. Practice out loud.  50% of all presentation stink simply because the person didn’t practice out loud beforehand.  You reading over notes and practicing in your head (if you’re even doing that), is not practicing out loud!  PRACTICE OUT LOUD. Do it in front of a mirror. Get in your car and say it out loud. Close the door to your office and practice out loud, with the same timing you would if this was real.  There is a reason actors have dress rehearsals. If you’re brave, practice in front of a significant other or record your practices on your phone and go back and “watch the film” like any good athlete.

  31. Additionally, practicing also helps you get your timing down.  Nothing is worse than promising an hour presentation and going an hour and 20 minutes.  What’s great is promising an hour and hitting your mark with a minute to spare! People will really appreciate your respect for their time!

  32. Role play.  What might be some questions you could get from the audience, what if you have to take a detour?  Make sure that as your practicing you’re thinking about other things that might pop up.

  33. Don’t turn your back to the audience (when you’re going over a slide, using a flip chart, etc.).

  34. If you create notes, make sure they are not the actual speech in full.  Unless you are reading from script (which also should be used only under extreme circumstances and is a skill in itself), make bullet notes that help you march through your presentation.  If you lose your spot, bullet notes are easier to find and get back to the point.  Leave room for natural speak, side streets and adaptive talk as well.

  35. Don’t overly admit out loud to “losing my place.”  Again, you are the authoritative voice so long as your speaking, standing up or are in front. Instead of admitting sheepishly that you lost your place to your audience, take a breath and pause.  Find your place. It’s looking a lot worse in your mind than out in the audience. Out there, people think you’re being thoughtful and human, pausing to have the audience hang on your word (which is really allowing you to regroup).

  36. Facilitation and audience management is key to some styles of presentation.  There is always a question out there that might stump you at first.  Or there’s a real question behind the first question (a gotcha question!).  Don’t take the question on the chin. Ask the group you’re with, “what do others think?” Send the question around to the audience to give you time to think, regroup, or come up with your answer. This also allows the audience to participate.  Perhaps, someone has a good answer that can add value or perspective to the person who asked the question.

  37. For every 15 minutes of an actual presentation there should be one hour of practice.  Do the math.  It’s a lot of practice :)

  38. Before I do any presentation, I go to the bathroom, wash my hands, hit my left shoulder like its a “on” button, and say to myself “show time.”  This puts on my “presenter Matt.” Presenter Matt is strong, courageous, extroverted, kind, humble, funny, likeable, in control - whatever you have to say to get yourself pumped.  The audience, whether you believe it or not, is here for the next minutes to hear only from you. They believe you have something to say. Give them the show they want!

  39. If you’re using a PowerPoint or any other platform that isn’t just you getting up and talking, show up to the meeting or room an hour beforehand.  Plug your presentation in and run through it quickly once.  This isn’t a practice, this is to make sure your presentation transported through the technology correctly.  Nothing is worse than watching a good presenter realize the clicker doesn’t work, the slides don’t do or say what they’re supposed to say in the middle of their actual presentation.  This throws off even the best presenters early on. Getting there an hour early allows you to set up, test, read through your notes, and settle in.

  40. MOST IMPORTANTLY - The #1 trick I use when I’m sharing an idea or presenting a thought (1 min or 3 hours), is that I realize that this is not really about me and that I am merely the vessel for this thought.  This isn’t about me.  It's about the message.  Take some of the extreme pressure off of yourself to public speaking by understanding your actual role in all of this.  It is not to be perfect. It is to prepare your best and share your thoughts to provide value to your audience.

I mention these tips as someone who has always wanted to be better at presenting.  Some of these were passed down to me by mentors, others I figured out after hundreds of presentations.  

My hope is to help some of you as you continue your journey of public speaking and presenting too.