Ten steps to improve presentations

Improving your presentation skills can be hard work. Changing behavior takes time. But there are some easy things you can do right now that will make a concrete difference in your presentation success rate. Some are physical, some are about a change in attitude. But they’re all practical, simple, and immediate. Get started now!

1. Lose the PowerPoint

When you put up PowerPoint slides you ask the audience to look at 2 — or 3 — things at once: you, your slides, perhaps a printout of your slides. That’s distracting.

2. Smile

We all look more attractive when we smile, and studies show we pay more attention to attractive people. So smile — unless you’ve got really bad news to deliver.

3. Talk from the audience’s point of view

A common mistake presenters make is to explain an idea the way they learned it. But your history is not inherently interesting to an audience. Instead, start with the audience’s problem — that’s what they’re interested in.

4. Pause before you start to speak

Wait 3 seconds, making eye contact with the audience, before you start speaking. It lets the audience know it’s time to pay attention, it builds anticipation, and it increases your charisma.

5. Lose the ‘happy feet’

So many speakers wander around the stage because they’re filled with adrenaline. Plant your feet and make your point. Only move (toward the audience) when you’re ready to make another point.

6. Breathe!

Adrenaline causes us to take shallow breaths. Breathe instead from your belly — a few deep breaths — without moving your shoulders. This will calm and ground you.

7. Don’t orate

Talk to us — Audiences expect to have a conversation with and from speakers. Stick to a clear outline, so you don’t wander, but don’t read either from a script, or from PowerPoint slides. It’s too boring for this ADD age.

8. Get emotional

What makes a presentation interesting? Emotion. We want to see you get passionate about something. That’s how we take your measure and learn to trust you (or not). And don’t tell me there’s nothing passionate in your speech. If that’s true, you shouldn’t be talking. Go find something to be passionate about and then talk to us.

9. Focus on the audience

Once you realize that it’s not about you, it’s about the audience, you’ll get over most of your nerves and have a good time. So know your material well enough that you can truly focus on the audience when you’re speaking. Check them out to see how they’re doing and be ready to shift gears if it’s not working.

10. Make it interactive

Audiences get more engaged when they’re allowed to do something. So don’t just talk at us the whole time. Figure out a way to make your presentation interactive.


  1. Spending 97% of my current work days in the front of a classroom, I’ve watched this evolve in myself. Passion is key and being ok with showing the passion. Being vulnerable is important as well, you need to be real to your audience; knowing you’ve been in their shoes or experienced the hardship (and sometimes not knowing what you should do) increases your credibility. I appreciated the thought about emotion…it’s ok to show them and use them to create the experience needed by the audience to learn, be inspired and feel motivated by you. Thank you again. I will visit often.

    1. Jen, thanks for the comment and the insights from the front lines of the classroom. I appreciate your candor and hope that your growth continues strong in 2014.

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