Getting ready for your next presentation? Whether it’s in front of two people, 200 or 2000, it stuns me that we STILL continue to create —-and endure—hours of bad presentations in our workplaces and communities.
This has to stop. It’s time to reveal the secrets to better presentation skills.
Some you know and still don’t do. Some may surprise you.
But try them all, and break the cycle of presentation doom. Better presentation skills can be yours, and your next audience will thank you.
8 Secrets to Better Presentation Skills
1. Never, ever “wing it.”
AAAGH!!! Too many leaders think that they’re too busy or they don’t need to prepare for a talk or presentation.
That’s not just a recipe for disaster—it’s a sign of arrogance and disrespect.
No matter how many times I have given the same basic talk, I spend hours preparing, rehearsing, refining, and following up. The most effective speakers–and not just the professionals like me–never, ever wing it.
2. Don’t just think about content; think about context.
Human beings don’t make judgments on content.
They make it on context, or the circumstances surrounding the idea.
You’ve seen how this works.
The exact same talk given at the start of the day of team meetings will have a totally different impact if it’s given at the end of the day. The exact same presentation by two different people will generate two different interpretations.
It’s just how the human brain works—we’re always seeking out context.
The better presentation skills needed here mean being nosy.
You want to gain a clear understanding of everything surrounding your talk, asking questions like:
- Who’ll be in the room?
- What are they expecting?
- What’s happening before my presentation?
- What’s happening right after?
- What else is happening in the organization/department/group?
The best speakers take this one step deeper.
They ask the organizer what they want to gain from having you speak. How can you support the meeting leader’s goals? The person who’s asking in advance how their talk can help someone else is a winner before they open their mouth.
3. Don’t ignore what you want.
While it’s a bonus to make sure you’re helping the meeting leader or event organizer reach their goals, you want to be clear on your own goals, too.
Why is it valuable for you to share these ideas now? What do you want to gain from it?
Being really, really clear before you step in front of a crowd helps you make better decisions about what you say and do before, during, and after your next presentation.
4. Stop tweeking slides.
Big. Time. Sucker.
“Working on your slides” is just a place to hide—a place to procrastinate the important work of working on your message and getting clear about what you want.
It’s similar to what I see people do with their resumes, thinking they have to get the resume perfect before they can do anything else in a job search. It’s a trap.
Options? Instead of trying to be a PowerPoint or Keynote guru, use a single image instead.
Or move to the flip chart and draw that thing you’re wasting time trying to create on a slide (practice first, please–go back to #1).
And if you want to be incredibly radical, forget the deck altogether.
If you can’t be that radical, then be sure NOT to hand out the slides in advance. That’s a sure-fire way to help your audience hide instead of engaging. You’re not working on better presentation skills so that people can read while you’re talking. You want them to focus on YOU.
5. Never start with “Thanks! I’m happy to be here!” or “First, some housekeeping . . . “
These filler words signal to the audience that they don’t have to pay attention yet. And once you lose attention, it’s hard to get back.
Dive right in with a story that sets the stage for what you’ll be sharing.
In TV, this is called the “cold open.”
Think about Saturday Night Live–there’s always a sketch at the beginning, before the credits and monologue.
Would that show be as fun if it started with the host coming out and saying “hey, I’m happy to be here”–long before you’d had a laugh?
6. Don’t cop out and use a video.
A lot of professionals will disagree with me on this one. We get tempted by all the cool video out there that others have used, arguing it enhances our message.
But I’m going to stand my ground.
Playing a video during your talk risks turning your audience into passive TV watchers—not engaged, thinking listeners.
It has to be a damn fine video to enhance your points, not distract from it.
Respect the humans in the room and be a human with them. Don’t cop-out to use a video to replace a story or demonstrate an example you can tell yourself.
Plus, 98% of the time, no matter how tech-savvy the presenter is, there’s an awkward pause before or after a video to get it to play. That’s wasted time—and time for your audience to turn to their distraction devices and unplug from you and your message.
If your organization has made such an awesome video that you think it HAS to be seen, send it to the participants in advance or as a follow-up item.
7. Don’t complain about the time you have.
If you were invited to a cocktail party from 5:30-7, would you complain to the rest of the guests that you didn’t have enough time to eat all the hors d’oeurve?
No. You knew the party ends at 7. If the cheese puffs weren’t out of the oven until 6:30, so be it–you can be more gracious than that.
Plan and practice your presentation to fit well under the time you have. (This is also why #1 is important).
No one will ever complain about having extra time or being ahead of schedule.
Griping about the time or speeding up to “fit it all in” is a selfish, you-centric move–and you’re classier than that.
8. Don’t forget to show appreciation to all
Don’t get so caught up in the minutia of your next presentation that you forget to thank your host and your audience.
Thank you cards and follow-up emails sharing additional tools and ideas are often a great way to make your talk keep working long after the applause dies down.
Finally, remember to appreciate YOU.
No matter if you speak once a year or once a week, it takes focus, caring, and energy.
Make sure to take care of yourself, and to give yourself the well-earned pat on the back when you pull off your next presentation without a hitch!