13 Tips to Deliver Exceptional Presentations
Editor’s Note, June 30th, 2021: This article focuses on in-person presentations. Most of the tips apply to online presentations. For further, in-depth guidance on virtual presentations, I recommend The Ultimate Guide to Giving Virtual Presentations on Zoom, from Be the KeyNote.
As a teenager, I was completely petrified of public speaking, particularly in class. If a teacher asked me a question or picked me to read aloud from a textbook, I would just freeze and claim a sore throat! At one point, I asked teachers to skip me; it was always a relief when they remembered.
Somewhere along the way, I conquered this fear. Although the nerves never left, I enjoy public speaking in various forms. Whether you are proposing a project, introducing a new process, or sharing an update with your team, presentations are an essential, in-person communication tool for project managers.
In this article, I’m going to share 13 tips to help you deliver exceptional presentations to support your projects. The tips cover two areas: preparing for and delivering your presentation.
Preparing Your Presentation
1. Know your purpose and end objective
Before putting pen to paper, think about the purpose of your presentation and what actions you need your audience to take afterward. Are you presenting a project proposal and need to secure senior buy-in? Do you need to deliver training on a new solution to ensure end-user adoption? Taking time to consider your end goal will inform your preparation, including any takeaway documentation and follow-ups.
2. Know your audience
You only have a short time, around 3 minutes, to really engage your audience so tailor your presentation to their needs, not yours. You may be excited about the technical elements of a project but will a senior stakeholder really need to know these details? The answer is probably no so focus on the business benefits of your project to hold their attention.
It’s also important to remember that everyone has a different communication style; some individuals are data-driven whilst others prefer emotional language. Where possible, present your information in the most appropriate format, for example, use attractive charts for analytical individuals or some inspirational quotes for personal communicators. If in doubt, be clear, concise, and use visuals to support your argument.
3. Research and gather information
Once you have identified your purpose and considered your audience, it’s time to gather your supporting information. Sources will depend on the purpose of your presentation; for example, use your collaborative project site to provide a status report on current projects or research relevant industry surveys to support a new product.
- Doers are individuals who will carry out the work and motivate the team.
- Suppliers are audience members with access to relevant resources.
- Influencers will help to sway individuals and groups to adopt your idea.
- Innovators are likely to modify and spread your idea with new strategies and perspectives.
Review the purpose of your presentation and consider what information you need to appeal to each audience type to drive your idea forward.
4. Tell a Story
The purpose of your presentation is to offer something valuable to your audience so they leave with tools or insights they didn’t have before. Humans are wired to respond to stories. Structuring your presentation as a story will help to share your passion for the topic and engage your audience. Returning to Resonate, Durate suggests the following structure:
- Beginning and Middle: Use this time to set the current scene, including any challenges or obstacles. Let’s say you wish to replace Excel with collaborative project software. During the opening portion of your presentation, outline the current difficulties facing your team with Excel, for example, manual reports and multiple, inaccurate copies of the same file. Spend around 10% of your time here.
- Middle and End: Describe what could be if your idea is implemented. In this instance, you can outline the benefits of collaborative software, such as fewer administrative tasks and automated reports. It’s important to acknowledge any objections or points of resistance, for example, training needed on a new system.
As individuals tend to remember the last pieces of content in a presentation more clearly than earlier points, conclude with clear next steps for the audience types outlined above.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice!
The best way to combat nerves and deliver an effective presentation is to practice. Ideally, aim to present without a script or notes; memorize as much as possible and use PowerPoint slides as a prompt. This is a natural and engaging way to deliver your message.
Set a timer for the allotted time and rehearse out loud several times. Listen for words or phrases that sound awkward or are unnecessary, and refine your content. Take time to work on a conversational tone and pacing, which should be slow and consistent. This will also help if you skip a word or sentence during the event; your audience won’t notice any change in your voice. If you wish, practice with family and friends.
Prepare and revise your content until you are happy with the story and supporting materials.
Now that you’ve prepared and practiced your presentation, let’s look at some strategies for effective delivery.
Delivering Your Presentation
6. Get there in advance
Whilst this may seem obvious for an off-site presentation, it is also important for internal sessions. Running late or wasting time with audio equipment is stressful for you and frustrating for your audience.
If you are working off-site in a new location, it is helpful to check out the room beforehand. The room may have a different setup than you typically use so give yourself some time to adjust to the space. Test the equipment to ensure all cables and remotes are working, and your presentation appears correctly on screen.
7. Have back-ups
This is especially important if you are working off-site. Back up your presentation on a cloud drive, save a local copy on your machine, print the slides – whatever it takes! I always had a back-up when delivering presentations in my previous role, until the time I didn’t. I arrived a little early at the venue and was working on the presentation in the lobby. My hard drive died on the short walk to the room. I had no printed slides or copy to access on another laptop. Luckily, the client didn’t really like presentations and I was comfortable with the content so the meeting proceeded as planned.
8. Nerves will happen
It’s natural and inevitable to be nervous before a presentation, regardless of the audience. A little rush of adrenalin injects energy and efficiency into public speaking! Practice and preparation will also help to alleviate anxiety and stress. Before starting, pause to take a few deep breaths and focus on a positive outcome.
I find it helpful to remember why you are delivering your presentation (to share information and help others), and that your audience is there because they want to hear from you.
9. Visuals and props
I will cover how to build an engaging slide deck in an upcoming article. At this point, it’s worth pointing out that your slides are just supports for your story. Don’t read from long, cramped slides with tiny font!
10. Speak slowly
All too frequently, presenters rush through the content as quickly as possible, leaving audiences confused and unsure of what they just heard. Speak slowly, and clearly, building pauses into your sentences (practice makes perfect!). This allows your audience to process what you said.
Guide your audience through your story with transitions and recaps. Example include:
- ‘Now that you’ve heard about’
- ‘So far, I have outlined the challenges associated with using Excel for reports. Let’s take a look at a solution.’
- ‘As a result of…..
- ‘Next, let’s take a look at.’
Conclude your presentation with a summary of the content and next steps.
11. Be engaging
Use a conversational tone and ask questions to engage your audience. Individuals have short attention spans so it is a good idea to do something interactive every 7-10 minutes during your talk.
12. Body language
Have you ever sat through a presentation during which the presenter stood behind a lectern and didn’t look up once? This is a recipe for disaster, no matter how exciting the topic is.
Around 75% of communication is non-verbal so make it count. Avoid standing or sitting behind a lectern or desk as this creates a physical barrier with your audience. Using a slide clicker is a great way to build some movement into your delivery. Try not to walk around too much as this can be distracting.
Eye contact is vital. I like to identify ‘cheerleaders’ in the audience – individuals who seem engaged – and talk to them. Likewise, as an audience member, I try to support speakers by nodding and smiling throughout their talk. Trust me – this makes a huge difference!
As you visually scan the room, you may see some people who appear disengaged – arms crossed, shaking heads, looking at mobile phones. Ignore these people and talk to your cheerleaders.
13. Say thanks and open to questions
Acknowledge your audience’s time and attention with a simple ‘thank you’ and open the floor to questions. Don’t worry if you can’t answer every question at the time; offer to connect with the individual afterward to follow up.
Public speaking is undoubtedly nerve-wracking but hard to avoid. I hope these tips help you to prepare and deliver your next presentation with confidence (and enthusiasm).