How to nail your next presentation: 10 rules for public speaking success

 I was recently invited to address a local professional group and the invitation got me thinking about what goes into a good presentation. I’ve had the privilege to see some really great ones, and the misfortune to see more than my share of awful ones. With that in mind, here are 10 tips for public speaking success. Follow these to nail your next presentation!

1. Preparation is essential. For every minute of presentation time, give yourself at least 15 minutes of prep time. Why so much? Because there is so much that goes into a good presentation: from collecting your information, organizing it, determining how to present it, practicing, presenting it, etc. When presenters don’t take enough time to prepare, it’s obvious in the quality of the presentation. Don’t be that lame speaker who is reading from her slides because she doesn’t know her stuff. Give yourself lots of time to prepare and practice your presentation until you know it perfectly.

2. Know your audience. Knowing your audience is a huge part of presentation preparation. Even if you are recycling a presentation you’ve given before, adjust it to meet your audience. Simple demographic information such as the industries your audience works in, their professional seniority, their gender, etc. can be a big help in guiding your presentation. After all, the presentation you give to C-suite executives should be different from the one you give to entry-level professionals.

3. Use images. Images boost audience recall by 55% thanks to what psychologists call the “picture superiority effect.” Without visuals, audience members will remember 10% of your presentation three days later, but throw in pictures and that number jumps to 65%! Keep this in mind when developing your presentations and build your slides around visuals rather than text blocks and bullet points.

4. Tell a story. If it feels like I talk about telling stories a lot (here, here, and here!), it’s because it’s important! People don’t connect with facts, they connect with stories. Think about Josef Stalin’s (alleged) chestnut about how “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” It’s easy to personalize one death—we can all imagine someone we know dying. On the other hand, it’s not possible for us as humans to personalize large numbers, like a million. No matter what you’re presenting about, you can use a story to do it. If you have a lot of data to share, pick out key data points and tell a story around those.

5. Don’t read your stinking slides! If you’re using your slides as your presentation notes, then you are failing at public speaking. Your slides shouldn’t be the presentation. Your slides should complement the stories you’re telling (e.g. with visuals!). Reading slides demonstrates remarkable unpreparedness and insults your audience, who I guarantee, can silently read your slides faster than you can out loud. Don’t disrespect your audience this way. The proper place for notes is either on the podium or in your hand, not on the big screen.

6. Keep your slides simple. An image and up to 15 words—that’s all you should ever have on a slide. Paragraphs are for books, not slides. Same thing for complicated graphs. Keep your slides simple by using compelling images and as few words as possible to tell your story and be sure to use a large font size (at least 30!) for your text. Text that’s too small to read does no one any good. If you can’t easily read your own slides on your laptop from 10 feet away, your audience won’t be able to read them from the back of the room. Lots of text or complex graphs are inappropriate for slides because they are hard for your audience to read and while they are trying to read your dense slides, they’re not paying attention to you.

Bonus tip: keep important text on the top half of the slide. This will ensure everyone in the audience can see the text, no matter how many tall people are sitting in the front.

7. Always avoid alliteration and treat rhyme like a crime. Actually no… alliteration and rhyme are powerful weapons in the battle to be memorable to your audience. If you can incorporate literary devices like alliteration (e.g. “The 3 P’s of…”) or rhyme into your presentation, your audience is more likely to remember what you said.

8. Don’t end with a Q&A. The two most important times in a presentation are the start and the end—the beginning because you have just a few short moments to pique your audience’s interest and the end because that’s the part that sticks in your audience’s mind afterwards. The end of your presentation often determines its overall impact and success, so you don’t want a weak closing. Yet, that’s what you get when you finish off with a Q&A session. There’s nothing wrong with answering questions, you just shouldn’t end with it. Either take questions during the presentation or if you save them for the end, close out the Q&A time with a strong story or anecdote so you finish with flair.

Think of your presentation like a concert – the most powerful moment is the encore. The band may have a time for requests during the concert (e.g. questions), but they finish the night with something powerful and that’s what everyone remembers afterwards.

9. Finish on time! By taking more than your allotted time, you’re stealing precious time from your audience. You wouldn’t go into your audience members’ homes and steal their stuff, so why would you steal their time? When stuff is stolen, people have insurance to make them whole again; when their time is stolen, people can never get it back. Respect your audience’s time and your fellow presenters if you have any by finishing within your allotted time. This is where preparation comes in. By spending adequate time preparing for your speech, you’ll know just how much time you need and you won’t go over.

10. Give your audience a little extra something. Treat every presentation like a bag of bagels—a good baker will give you 13 bagels when you ask for a dozen (a “baker’s dozen”). Whether it’s free downloads of your ebook, or a free consultation, find a way to give your audience something extra. They gave you their time and attention and this is how you say “thank you.”

* * *

Interested in the presentation I’m going to give that inspired this post? I’ll be speaking about “Marketing Yourself, Your Business and Your Brand in Today’s Hyper-connected World,” on October 3 to the Bergen County Professional Women’s Network. For more information or to register, click here.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top Back to top