How to turn a good presentation into a great one.

As a retired Development Training Facilitator and now a UK Volunteer Speaker,  I thought I would write a piece on how to give a great presentation.  Albert Einstein once said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough

A BBC presenter once sat next to Winston Churchill as he gave a speech in which he kept his audience hanging on every word. The presenter noticed that what appeared to be notes in his hand was in fact just a laundry slip. 

Later he mentioned this to Churchill. "Yes", said Churchill "It gave confidence to my audience."

So here are some of the tips I used to give to my students
  • Dress smartly: don't let your appearance distract from what you are saying.
  • Smile. Don't hunch up and shuffle your feet. Have an upright posture. Try to appear confident and enthusiastic.
  • Say hello and smile when you greet the audience: your audience will probably look at you and smile back: an instinctive reaction.
  • Speak clearly, firmly and confidently as this makes you sound in control. Don't speak too quickly: you are likely to speed up and raise the pitch of your voice when nervous. Give the audience time to absorb each point. Don't talk in a monotone the whole time. Lift your head up and address your words to someone near the back of audience. If you think people at the back can't hear, ask them. 
  • Use silence to emphasise points. Before you make a key point pause: this tells the audience that something important is coming. It's also the hallmark of a confident speaker as only these are happy with silences. Nervous speakers tend to gabble on trying to fill every little gap.
  • Keep within the allotted time for your talk.
  • Eye contact is crucial to holding the attention of your audience. Look at everyone in the audience from time to time, not just at your notes or at the PowerPoint slides. Try to involve everyone, not just those directly in front of you.
  • Walk around a little and gesture with your hands. Bad presenters keep their hands on the podium or in their pockets! Don't stand in one place glued to the spot hiding behind the podium! Good presenters will walk from side to side and look at different parts of the audience.
  • You could try to involve your audience by asking them a question.
  • Don't read out your talk, as this sounds boring and stilted, but refer to brief notes jotted down on small (postcard sized) pieces of card. Don't look at your notes too much as this suggests insecurity and will prevent you making eye contact with the audience.
  • It’s OK to use humour, in moderation, but better to use anecdotes than to rattle off a string of jokes.
  • Take along a wristwatch to help you keep track of time.
  • It can be very helpful to practise at home in front of a mirror. You can also record your presentation and play it back to yourself: don't judge yourself harshly when you replay this - we always notice our bad points and not the good when hearing or seeing a recording or ourselves! Time how long your talk takes. Run through the talk a few times with a friend.
  • It's normal to be a little nervous. This is a good thing as it will make you more energised. Many people have a fear of speaking in public. Practising will make sure that you are not too anxious. In your mind, visualise yourself giving a confident successful performance. Take a few deep slow breaths before your talk starts and make a conscious effort to speak slowly and clearly. Research by T Gilovich (Cornell University) found that people who feel embarrassed are convinced their mistakes are much more noticeable than they really are: we focus on our own behaviour more than other people do and so overestimate it's impact. This is called the spotlight effect. If you make a mistake, don't apologise too much, just briefly acknowledge the mistake and continue on.
  • Build variety into the talk and break it up into sections: apparently, the average person has a three minute attention span!
For the UK Speakers, the new Powerpoint presentation created by the MSUK office is excellent as it moves seamlessly from the Need, to Capacity building, to the Crew and finally "Give, Go and Pray/Get involved.

As my confidence as a presenter has gown over the years, I've also found I rely less on props. My early presentations were jammed full of slides as I was afraid that I would run out of content, and invariably I talked far too quickly to get though all the slides. I was talking AT my audiences, not TO them. Now I've learned to have as few slides as possible, to slow down, to question the audience and involve them in discussion: to treat them as individuals rather than objects to be afraid of. Surprisingly, the most successful presentations I have made have been when the technology has failed. If for some reason the projector hasn't worked, you are thrown back to basics and forced to communicate directly with the audience, to interact with them and set up a dialogue without the barrier of PowerPoint. It takes more courage, but is ultimately more successful.

Hope this helps.


  • MikeTemple
    MikeTemple Member Posts: 13
    HI Everyone,

    This is a follow up on How to Turn a Good Presentation into a Great One PART 1.  Where we looked at the technicalities of giving a great presentation.  Part two aims to bust some myths that you may hear about presentation giving.  I hope It helps.

    For thousands of men and women, speaking in front of a group is an experience that is feared. More than a fear of heights, spiders or even dying, if you can believe it! But, it is the ability to communicate effectively with individuals and groups that is cited as the primary factor contributing to the success of the most successful charities. So it's definitely a fear worth overcoming and a skill worth nurturing.

    Like overcoming any fear, the solution lies in education, understanding and repetition. Here are some of the common myths surrounding presentation skills and the reality behind them:
    Myth #1: Start out with a joke-- it gets the audience warmed up.
    Reality: Although it's certainly true that the release of adrenaline and endorphins into the system heightens learning and interest, a joke is seldom, if ever, appropriate. Too many speakers confuse comedy with humour. Humour is the relating of funny, relevant and non-offensive stories, cartoons or anecdotes to support the message. When they fail in their purpose, you don't. Leave the comedy to the professional comedians.
    Myth #2: Write your speech out so the most powerful words are used.
    Reality: Written communication and spoken communication are two distinctly different mediums. Taking one mode of communication (written) and translating it directly to another (spoken) without any modification is dangerous. The words, phrases and stories we all enjoy reading in our favourite novels are too windy when communicated word for word in a presentation.
    Myth #3: Put your hands in your pockets. It will make you feel relaxed and makes the atmosphere casual.
    Reality: Studies have shown the critical importance of the visual element in presentations. This includes eye contact, attire, stance, grooming and gestures. When a speaker's hands are buried in their pockets (or behind their back), effectively one-third of the ability to communicate is eliminated. Supportive gestures enhance the message and facilitate learning.
    Myth #4: Scan your audience; everyone will think you're looking at them. That's important.
    Reality: Our brains take in information through our eyes in the form of movement, shape, light and colour. Our brain has to process information very quickly when the eyes are scanning the room, allowing little time for thinking about this important presentation. Talk to one person at a time, holding your focus for several seconds and slowing the input to your already very busy brain cells.
    Myth #5: An alcoholic beverage prior to presenting will relax you and make you sharper-- just one!
    Reality: Alcohol dulls the senses. Aren't you glad your airline pilot or surgeon doesn't have just one to relax them before they approach their job? Other no-no's in the food and beverage category prior to presenting include caffeine, dairy products, and over-eating.
    Myth #6: It doesn't matter if you run a few minutes long in your presentation. The topic is an interesting one, and after all, they invited you to speak.
    Reality: People dislike a speaker running over their time. Even if the presentation is very interesting, it's not appropriate to run long. In fact, it's better to not even finish on time. Plan to finish early-- five minutes early.
    Myth #7: Share all of the background information and factors affecting the topic. It's very technical but necessary.
    Reality: Your audience only needs to know enough to understand your premise. Allow for a Q&A period at the end of your talk to answer those questions the audience is most interested in. Provide detailed information in a handout.
    Myth #8: You're there to inform the audience of progress--not persuade them--so why worry about presentation techniques?
    Reality: Many people say there are two types of presentations; one to inform and one to persuade. Wrong. There is only one type of presentation-- the one to persuade. Whether you're selling a product, a service, an idea or your own credibility, you're persuading, and you need to know how people are persuaded.
    Myth #9: Take questions during your presentation to be certain everyone is with you at all times.
    Reality: Unless your presentation is several hours long or modular, this practice can be deadly. Questions from the audience can be hostile, get you off track or, at best, be time-consuming. Allow time at the end of the presentation for questions.
    Myth #10: Practice makes perfect.
    Reality: Practice makes permanent. Practicing the wrong techniques makes for bad habits that are difficult to break. Learn the techniques that work and practice those.
    Myth #11: Use the techniques you've seen used by the late-night talk-show hosts. It's effective for them, so it must be right.
    Reality: Many factors affect our success in a presentation. I wouldn't want to assume my audience attaches the credibility and charisma to me that they do to the accomplished entertainer. Neither should you. Learn the techniques that work and then use them.
    Myth #12:  Don't worry about using visual aids. They distract the audience.
    Reality: When you use visual aids, you are perceived as more professional, more credible, more persuasive and better prepared. In addition, research on the subject shows that when you support your presentation with relevant, interesting, colourful and multi-sensory visuals, learning is improved by 200%, retention by 38% and the time to explain complex subjects is reduced by 25% to 40%.
    Myth #13: If you use the latest and greatest presentation technologies, you won't have to worry about your presentation skills.
    Reality: A quick recipe for disaster is to be lulled into thinking that all you need is the latest technology and your problems are over. That idea is unfortunately becoming more prevalent with the introduction of more and more innovative methods of incorporating visuals into presentations. Your visual aids are just that-- aids. They are intended to enhance your presentation, not make it for you. Presenters must remember to focus on the human side. Regardless of how flashy or impressive your visuals may be, you are still the most important visual for your listeners.
    Myth #14: If you don't speak to groups often, don't waste time and money attending a development program on the subject.
    Reality: The skills for effectively speaking to groups are the same skills effective for speaking one on one. If you speak to anyone during the day--your clients, boss, co-workers, employees, spouse, children--you need to develop these important skills.

    If you give presentations and you find this help, let me know and I will try and do series, if I can.
  • RopaRusere
    RopaRusere Member Posts: 4

    This is a ton of great information. Thanks Mike! :)

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