20 Steps for a Successful Presentation
20 Steps for a Successful Presentation

20 Steps for a Successful Presentation

Call to Action

I recently attended a technical presentation for one of my professional organizations where I noticed the speaker was somewhat uncomfortable, especially at the start of the presentation.  Certainly a lot of preparation had gone into gathering the information that was shared.  Nevertheless, the poorly timed pauses and numerous filler words and sounds created the equivalent of speed bumps and detracted from the main points.

Given my experience with Toastmasters and interest with insuring people’s success in making public presentations, I’ve decided to share a set of recommendations with you. 

I’ve made a few assumptions about the type of presentation you’ll make:

  • This’ll be a presentation not just a speech
  • You’ll have a slide-deck prepared in Prezi, PowerPoint, or Google Apps Presentation
  • You want to receive good feedback from the audience

Based on these assumptions, here are my recommendations:

Before the Meeting

  1. Skip on Writing Out Your Speech
    Forget about writing out your speech or presentation.  Create a bullet list of your main points or an outline.  You can do this on a slide deck or a set of note cards.  Remember, even if you’re using note cards, do NOT write out whole sentences.  Have a few words that remind you of the points you want to make, unless the information is a graph, facts, or figures.   For the latter, put them in your slide.
  2. Avoid Sentences in the Slides
    When creating your presentation, think of it as an outline or list of hint words.  So, do NOT put any full sentences.  You want one to three word reminders of the points you want to make.   You can also put any graphs, facts, figures, or references here. 
  3. Practice, practice, practice
    Do this at home in front of the mirror, on the road while you’re waiting at a stop sign, at the bus or train station, or anywhere else where you’re not engaged in doing something else.  The more you practice in difference areas and may be in front of different people, the more likely you’ll know how to shuffle information about without missing the main points during your presentation.
  4. Confirm Day and Date of Your Presentation
    This may seem obvious, but there are times that an event gets cancelled and not all of the presenters are notified on time.  So, call and check at least on the day of the presentation and, preferably, earlier, especially if you have a long commute or flight to the location.
  5. Confirm Your Facility’s Capabilities
    Confirm that all the equipment you need will be available, like a microphone, projector and notebook computer for your presentation.  If you need web access, ask about that as well.
  6. Make Sure You Have a Plan B
    Whether you’re using a notebook, projector, microphone, or any combination thereof, make sure you have a backup plan if any or none of them work or are unavailable.  How about taking some of your own hardware, or getting some hard copies of your slides or at least the key slides?

Before the Presentation

  1. Arrive Early
    Arrive at least 30 minutes before your presentation. You want to make sure you have ample time to setup and test all the equipment you’ll use.  This is where any preparation you did for Plan B may come in play. 
  2. Meet and Greet
    Be sure to meet some of the people attending.  This is a great way to insure you have some friends in the audience.  If you see someone you know, don’t forget to say hello, but also don’t spend all of your time with them.  You want to meet some new faces that you’ll focus on later as you’re making your presentation.

During the Presentation

  1. Avoid Reading Your Presentation
    When showing your presentations slides, don’t just read your bullets.  Provide details for each point.  Assume your audience can read what you’ve written, unless you’re presenting to a group of blind people, of course!
  2. Avoid Unnecessary Movements
    Unless your presentation calls for a lot of movement, don’t move around unnecessarily.  Mind you, I don’t condone becoming a statue.  You can move around the stage so long as it doesn’t distract or seem abrupt.  However, any nervous ticks or motions are distracting.  Examples of this include:
    1. Hands in pocket
    2. Playing with a pen
    3. Repeatedly touching your face or any other body part (don’t get any ideas!)
    4. Holding your reading glasses when you’re not using them
    5. Playing with your retractable pen or pen cap
    6. Repeatedly tapping the podium or table where you stand
  3. Use Pointer Sparingly
    Pointers are tough to use, but can be handy in getting your audience’s attention.  Avoid doing any kind of circular motion to highlight a section on the slide.  Keep the pointer still at the location where you want to draw attention and shut it off as soon as you’re done.  You may need to use both hands to steady the pointer.  Whatever you do, don’t point it at your audience to ferret out the noise makers!
  4. Make Eye Contact
    Remember all the people you met before the presentation?  Look at them as you’re making your points.  Stay on their eyes or right above the eyes on their foreheads for about one to two seconds.  This’ll give the impression that you’re making eye contact with everyone as you look for your newly found friends throughout the room.  It’ll also draw in your audience.  If you can, make the same type of eye contact with people you didn’t meet.
  5. Ask Questions
    Ask rhetorical and actual questions.  This too will get your audience involved and draw them in.  You’ll demonstrate your presentation is a conversation, not just a dictation.
  6. Repeat the Main Point Often
    You’ll want to repeat the main points of your presentation numerous times.  I suggest one at the beginning to let everyone know what you want them to remember, then one or more times throughout your presentation as a way of summarizing what you’ve already covered and what remains, then again at the end to summarize what you spoke about.
  7. Call for Action
    In almost every presentation, you’re asking people to do something.  You may want them to become more active in your field, ask for funding or donations, or to make better decisions.  In every one of these cases, you’re asking them to do something: contact their congressman, donate to your department, or choose your product or company.  So, say it.  Ask them to take those steps.  Don’t be shy.  Make it abundantly clear what you want your audience to do.
  8. Open for Questions
    Make sure you plan for some question and answer time at the end of your presentation, even if it’s just one or two questions. This allows you to address anything you didn’t cover or cover thoroughly.  Also, it gives you another opportunity to get your audience involved.

After the Presentation

  1. Ask for Input
    No presentation is complete unless you ask for input.  You want to make sure you hear what your audience liked and what they want you to improve, or what additional information they need.  You can do this by talking to your newly found friends or anyone else in the audience, or more formally through a questionnaire.  Don’t miss this chance to get some free input while the information is fresh on everyone’s mind.
  2. Thank Your Host
    Be sure to thank your host in-person, by phone, or through email.  If your host is present at the meeting, do it immediately then follow up with a thank you card.  Nothing shows gratitude like a personalized greeting card in the mail.
  3. Clean Up
    Be sure to clean up after yourself.  This may be just your cup of water and notes, or all of your equipment.  Make sure you return the presentation area back to the condition you found it…then add a personal touch and tidy up a bit more!
  4. Follow Up
    If you’ve collected names and business cards, be sure to follow up within the next 24 to 48 hours when you and your presentation are still fresh in everyone’s mind.

What Do You Think?

Have you any other pointers for making effective presentations?  Please feel free to share them below.


Photo Credits: dbking

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