Work is changing rapidly, which means the demand for skills is too. Research shows that soft skills, like communication skills, are just as important as hard skills. In fact, a recent study by LinkedIn found that the top skills employers are looking for are all communication skills, including presentation skills.
Whether you’re a marketer trying to sell a new product, an analyst presenting data to stakeholders, or an L&D leader delivering a training session, the ability to communicate your message clearly and persuasively is essential through presentation skills.
What this article covers:
- Why are presentation skills so important?
- What are the 4 types of presentation skills?
- What is the first step when preparing for a presentation?
- How to structure a presentation
- How to write a presentation
- How to start a presentation
- How to end a presentation
- How to prepare a presentation
- How to have presentation confidence
- How to overcome presentation fear
- How to manage anxiety when presenting
- How to make a presentation engaging
- How to make a presentation fun
- How to make a presentation interesting
- How to improve presentation skills
Why are presentation skills so important?
Presentation skills are considered soft skills. I know, right? It’s odd to call presenting a “soft skill” when learning to do it well is hard. Being a good presenter helps you influence others, strengthens teamwork, and makes you a more effective leader.
According to Josh Bersin, in a recent report by Deloitte, 91% of recruiters believe that soft skills are important and 80% of companies are struggling to find candidates with these skills in the market. Recruiters look for people with effective presentation skills because it benefits both the employees and business.
Here are 4 benefits of good presentation skills:
- Improved communication: Effective presentation skills help people communicate their ideas clearly and persuasively, leading to strong alignment, collaboration, and teamwork.
- Strengthened customer relationships: Strong presentation skills help marketers and salespeople build strong relationships with customers and clients, leading to increased sales and customer satisfaction.
- Better decision-making: Clear communication skills can help analysts and other data-driven professionals present complex information in a way that is easily understood, leading to better decision-making.
- Increased leadership effectiveness: Leaders who present well can inspire and motivate their teams, leading to higher engagement and better company performance.
Speaking skills are becoming mission-critical to many jobs. So, improving your verbal skills is an important resume-builder.
What are the 4 types of presentation skills?
Building an effective presentation does not start by pounding out bullet points in presentation software. Instead, The Duarte Method™ has four steps to help you build a presentation that’s worthy of a standing ovation.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re the most important part of your presentation—because, spoiler alert: you’re not. The audience is. Think deeply about who the audience is, what they need to be successful, how they might be stuck, and how they consume information. If you don’t empathize with them, you won’t be able to influence them.
Presenting is deeply rooted in oral traditions. For thousands of years pre-literate generations passed down stories that shaped global cultural norms and human behavior. Pulling on that ancient tradition for your presentation by using story structures and story attributes creates a visceral reaction in your audience and an ability to recall what you said in the way a story does.
If people can see what you’re saying, they’ll understand you. Help make your message sticky by creating visuals that amplify your message. Visuals might be part of your demos, props, slides, and handouts. And visuals can also be sticky metaphors, concepts, diagrams, and images. A visual journey helps an audience travel through space and time to create a mental imprint of your message.
Nailing how you deliver your talk is more than just having great eye-contact and gestures. To really nail it from a genuine place requires you to tap into your purpose and communicate from there. Whether you’re speaking in a small room or on a grand stage, you’ll need to empathetically understand your audience, to be comfortable with the material and the stage, and to map your dynamism in the way the subject matter requires.
When the four types of presentation skills are combined, they create a presentation method for creating a presentation that changes how you communicate—in a room or on a stage. You’ll become an effective presenter, and your career will advance too.
What is the first step when preparing for a presentation?
Before you begin writing a presentation, you must understand who your audience is. A few quick exercises in empathy will help you focus on your audience so you understand best how to make a presentation outline.
Here’s 4 steps to take before starting your presentation:
1. Know your audience
Understand who your audience is and make them your focus, not you! Conduct research at whatever depth is required to understand them so they feel known by you and your content connects to their needs and expectations.
2. Build a persona slide
Design a simple persona slide to put at the beginning of your deck. This way, while building your content, you can refer back to a representative image of the people you’re presenting to. If you can’t find a photo that represents them, it’s also a good exercise to draw one. What are they wearing, what are they holding, what are they looking at, what do they cherish? A picture does tell a thousand words.
3. Plan the audience journey
Ask yourself, who is my audience when they walk in the auditorium? And who will they be when they leave my presentation? To deliver a persuasive presentation, if you don’t define that, you won’t persuade others with your talk.
4. Find an executive sponsor
If you’re presenting to an executive and you don’t know them well, meet with others who do know them well, so you understand how they receive information. You can also ask another executive to be your sponsor and work with you on your talk, so you’re set up to be successful with the executive suite.
Becoming other-centric before you communicate will help you resonate more deeply with your audience. If you show up so far out of reach or on a different page than they are, you won’t have credibility—but most importantly, your audience won’t act.
Ready to keep your audience engaged by fully understanding them? Download your audience needs map. You’ll get seven questions that help you understand your audience on a more intimate and meaningful level—so you can give them the information that they really need (and want) to hear.
How to structure a presentation
The structure of a presentation makes or breaks its effectiveness in conveying your message. Story techniques add structure and help you outline a presentation effectively. And your audience needs to be able to keep a mental model in their head so they can organize their own thoughts around your idea.
Here is how to structure a presentation in a clear way:
Have one BigIdea™
Make your central message clear by communicating one idea. What is it you’re trying to influence them to do? What’s at stake if they do or don’t understand your presentation? Write that down! Make your central message very clear. And then all the other key insights in your talk will be in support of this one main point.
Create a logical structure
Create a structure that makes sense with sections clearly marked. Each section should have slides that support that point—but most importantly, they all continue to support your BigIdea™. Using PowerPoint’s slide sorter view is a great way to organize your thoughts in a presentation. You can move slides around until your outline is logical and clear.
Test your ideas
Run your initial idea and presentation structure by others before you dig into designing slides. You need to make sure it supports what your audience needs to hear and makes sense. Collect their feedback and incorporate it into your talk.
Structure it like a story
Organize your content with a clear beginning, middle, and end. The middle can have the same cathartic rise and fall that a story does. Using contrast in your presentation outline to keep your audience engaged.
Watch Nancy Duarte’s TEDx Talk “The secret structure of great talks” to learn more!
Anticipate levels of emotional appeal
Vary the level of emotional appeal based on your audience. If you’re amping up a sales team, plan out ways to create high emotional appeal. For example, when you’re unpacking dense concepts to biotech engineers, speak in geek and use the analytical appeal they love. Use the right amount for the audience or you’ll lose your credibility.
Doing this work before you ever open PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides will help connect you to your audience in a way that helps them buy into your idea. It’ll also ensures audience engagement and that your talk is memorable. Infusing empathy from start to finish will draw your audience in as you deliver your presentation—and that it’s not boring to them.
There are so many more amazing steps to think through using story to structure your presentation. The best way to dive into this is to take our Resonate® workshop.
How to write a presentation
So, now that you’ve focused on your audience, it’s time to write your presentation. Avoid the temptation to use presentation software as the starting place to write your presentation.
Presentation software, by nature, is coaxing you to think through your content in a linear fashion — which isn’t the most creative approach. If you create your talk slide-by-slide, you’ve missed an important part of the process.
Here are 12 much better steps for how to write a presentation:
Brainstorm interesting and creative ways you can convey key insights once you know the main point of your talk. Use sticky notes or mind map software to think of out-of-the-box relationships. You might need to find data sets, or to dream up clever metaphors for the audience to latch onto. At this point you’re brainstorming all the points you can make to ensure that your BigIdea™ sticks.
Gather information for your presentation. Yes, you might be able to re-use some slides if you’re making the same point you’ve made before. But be cognizant that each time you present to a different audience, they’ll require a different focus from you. You might need to research statistics, personal experiences, and anecdotes — or it might require you to interview someone. Keep notes on your research and use them to inform your presentation.
Organize your ideas
Once you have gathered your information, organize your ideas into a clear beginning, middle, and end. Thinking through the organization helps you create a structure that covers all the important points.
Develop your main points
Develop your main points by expanding on the ideas you have outlined. Use major categories or themes and create a slide for each major section with a unique graphical section head (or segue slide) so the audience knows when you move to new topics. Use examples, stories, and visuals to help illustrate your points and engage your audience.
Amplify the contrast using Duarte’s Presentation Sparkline™
Your content can be organized in a way that has the same cathartic rise and fall in storytelling. But in a business presentation, you use a three-act story structure and contrast.
Create an emotional connection
Find places where you can connect with your audience through emotive stories, shocking statistics, evocative visuals, memorable dramatizations, provocative statements, memorable quotes, and repeatable sound bites
Determine how to deliver your talk
Determine how to deliver your message to the audience that’ll connect them most deeply to your content. Ask yourself:
- Is it best to be highly scripted and not miss a word, or to use a teleprompter?
- Is a panel more effective, or an interactive session?
- Will you be speaking for the entire presentation, or will you include opportunities for audience participation?
Query for resistance
If your presentation is high stakes, like an industry presentation or an earnings call, run your outline by multiple people who are like the audience you’ll be speaking with. Ask them what goes through their mind as they listen, how they might resist the message, what roadblocks they see, and what questions they have that you didn’t address.
Keep it concise
Keeping a talk short is a lot more work for the presenter but it bolsters admiration from your audience when you stay on time—or better yet, let them out early because you put the effort into being concise. You can build a concise talk by tightening up the word choices, removing jargon, and trimming the length as much as possible while keeping all the points salient.
Here are some important tips to keep your presentation concise:
Use clear verbal cues
Signify transitions by using verbal cues. Skillful use of verbal signposts can help your audience follow your presentation, such as using phrases like “next,” “in summary,” or “let’s move on to” which helps them hear your structure in their minds.
Use the active voice
Using the active voice is important in business presentations. It helps clarify who is responsible for the action or decision, which helps avoid confusion or misunderstandings
Passive voice example: “Our product line has been expanded by the addition of three new products.” In this example the focus is on the product line and the action of expanding it rather than the humans. This makes the sentence feel distant and impersonal.
Active voice example: “We added three new products to our product line.” In this example the focus is on the action of adding the products and the person or team responsible for adding it. This sentence feels more personal and emphasizes the proactive nature of the action.
Edit and proofread
Running spell-check isn’t the same as proofreading! One high tech company was in an innovation slump and many developers were on the verge of migrating away from the platform. So, when the CEO put up a slide that said “developer trolls” instead of “developer tools” the executive was booed off the stage. Don’t be this CEO. Ensure your slides are error-free and easy to read.
How to start a presentation
The beginning of a presentation is critical in capturing an audience’s attention by setting the tone for the talk, delivering insights into your presentation, and creating a first impression of you, the speaker.
The start and the end of a presentation are usually much shorter than the meaty middle of your presentation. So, in a short amount of time, you need to grab their attention and set up what your talk is about and why they are there.
7 tips on how to start a presentation:
1. Be introduced
If possible, have someone introduce you instead of introducing yourself. Self-introductions can come across as arrogant as you highlight your credentials, experience, and accomplishments. But when someone else says great things about you, it comes across as if you are esteemed. If you do have to introduce yourself, just have a slide up and don’t walk people through it. They came to hear you talk so they most likely know who you are.
2. Use a hook
Include in your introductory remarks an attention-grabbing statement, such as a surprising statistic, a bold claim, or a thought-provoking question. A strong opening makes the audience want to pay attention more.
3. Foreshadow the emotion
If the content in the talk is exciting, you can open your talk excitedly. In fact, if you’re really excited about the content, you can greet the audience at the door shaking hands and pumping your fist. But do not do that if this is a somber talk. The first time the audience sees you, you should mimic the emotion you want the audience to have.
4. Make a positive first impression
An audience assesses their first impression of you in a split second. The brain quickly calculates if you’re likeable or not, credible or not, truthful or not, a threat or not. It’s part of our fight or flight instinct. Make sure to convey yourself in the way you want to be perceived.
5. Articulate what is
Start by communicating the common understanding of your shared experiences, shared relationships, shared beliefs with the audience. This helps them feel like you are one of them as you share the current realities by stating what is: What is the state of the business, what is the state of the problem, what is the state of the world. This has them nodding along in agreement as you size up the way things currently are.
6. State what could be
Make your desired future-state clear. After you’ve established common ground, next articulate your desired future. This establishes a gap in their mind between what currently is and what could be if they adopt your idea or perspective. Make the contrast to the audience so they see the gap you want them to fill.
7. Make it clear what’s important
Provide any context needed for them to know why what you’re saying is important, what impact it will have on them or the world, what’s at stake if they do or do not adopt your perspective, and why it’s important or relevant to your audience.
As you can tell, there’s a lot of thinking to do before you start building your presentation. Pay attention to the content through an audience-first lens and really plan out a positive first impression so you signal confidence from the audience, and they latch onto your idea.
How to end a presentation
How you conclude a presentation determines if you leave a lasting impression on an audience. There’s a principle of recency that states people will remember the last thing you say more than the beginning or the middle. So, make sure what you say at the end is memorable enough for them to be talking about it afterward. The end of a talk is a lot like the end of a story, it needs to be resolved in a clear way or the audience could leave frustrated.
5 tips for how to end a presentation:
1. Summarize your key points
Summarize the key points you covered in your presentation, so your audience can remember the most important information you shared.
2. Have a clear call to action
Ask your audience to take a specific action. You might need them to fund your project, give you insights, start something, or just have the stamina to keep going. Make sure what you need them to do is very clear.
3. State the new bliss
Don’t just end on the call to action, end with what we call: the New Bliss. Use the end to paint a clear and wonderful picture of what the world will look like with your idea adopted. Make it clear how your idea can benefit your audience and their sphere of influence or ultimately makes the world a better place. The tone can be poetic, fist-pumpy, melancholy… whatever suits the purpose.
4. Display something memorable
Have your final slide display a memorable quote or key graphic that ties back to your topic and leaves a lasting impression on your audience. Something they might even want to take a picture of to remember the talk as they leave the room.
5. Provide a takeaway
Provide your audience with a handout, resource, URL, or QR code, so they can continue learning after the presentation.
Public speaking is as much an art as a science. By making your main points clear, giving the audience a call to action, and making it memorable—that’s a win for your idea. Then, as you wrap things up, you’ll be able to leave the stage knowing you did your best for the audience, which ultimately does the best for your idea.
How to prepare a presentation
Presenting is a mental game. It’s an individual sport just like golf or running. To become world class at it, you need to devote time and practice at all the steps involved. For important talks, you need to prepare, prepare, prepare.
7 tips for how to prepare for a presentation:
1. Plan your approach
Do your work to understand the audience. Map out all the resources you may need to appeal to them—and determine how many hours that will take, so you can calendar and plan enough time to make your presentation successful.
2. Understand the venue
Request a floorplan, know the stage, understand where the comfort monitor is, and what kind of microphones they have. Try to avoid any surprises when you show up. And always suck up to the AV team —they are your heroes.
3. Know where the cameras are
Sometimes there’s more people that will be remote or will see a recording of the presentation after the live event. Make sure to give the people watching it online the attention and eye contact they deserve so they feel seen. If there are more attendees in the remote audience, spend more time looking in the camera than the faces in the room.
4. Anticipate technology problems
Prepare for the worst. Bring extra power cords, clickers, speakers, and every dongle imaginable. Some speakers travel with their own lavalier mics.
5. Create real (and fake) deadlines
Book meetings out with people who you will have review your progress. Understand enough about yourself so you know how to keep motivated to write your talk.
6. Determine design talent
If you want stunning visual aids, reserve presentation design talent early and understand how long their role might take. High quality, cinematic slides take time and require professional presentation graphic designers.
7. Practice, practice, practice
Rehearse until you’re comfortable and seem natural on a stage. Practice your presentation regularly, so you feel more comfortable and confident with the material. Print out thumbnails of your slides and carry them around with you and work through what you say to them. Hire a speaker coach to help work kinks out but also to help you command the stage.
Creating a successful presentation is much more than making slides. It takes planning and time to deliver effective presentations. But when you’re prepared, your engaging presentation will easily land with your audience.
How to have presentation confidence
A confident public speaker exhibits control, sounds knowledgeable, and engages with an audience. Skilled presenters are comfortable taking up space and articulating their insights authoritatively, which lends credibility to the subject matter. Confidence doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and it takes practice to feel confident.
Here are some tips to project confidence when you speak:
Communicate from your sense of purpose
When you present from a place of personal purpose and conviction, self confidence becomes more natural and readily available to you. Knowing your purpose helps you to be receptive to coaching and to deliver your talk from a comfortable inner place.
Use confident body language
Purposefully use gestures like hand movements, nodding, and smiling to help you appear a confident speaker. It’s important to avoid fidgeting, crossing arms, or other nervous behaviors that can detract from the presentation. Standing up straight, keeping the shoulders back and relaxed, and avoiding slouching or leaning puts your body in a more confident position as you speak.
Dress appropriately for the occasion. Don’t overdress or underdress. It’s important to choose clothing and shoes that are comfortable and fit well, but also suit the context of the presentation.
Speak clearly and confidently
Speaking clearly and with confidence helps you come across as knowledgeable and controlled. Speak at a pace that is comfortable and easy to follow. Use pauses and inflection to emphasize important points and to help your listeners process what you’re saying.
Own the material
Take ownership of and get comfortable with the material. You’ve been asked to speak, and people want to hear your story: own it!
Make eye contact
Instead of scanning your eyes across the audience, really look them in the eye. Divide large audiences into groupings of thirty or so and look intently in the eyes of an audience member in each cluster. This helps you look more engaged and build a connection with your audience.
An audience can quickly perceive if you’re comfortable with who you are by your body language on stage and how you deliver your content. But beyond that, Duarte’s speaker coaches work with you to communicate from a place of purpose, too. When you’re grounded in who you are and how you show up, you’ve won most of the battle to boost your presentation confidence.
How to overcome presentation fear
Fear of presenting, also known as Glossophobia, is a common issue. When anticipating a presentation, many presenters get stage fright with a feeling of dread or apprehension. Presentation fear may cause physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, or nausea. It’s often combined with negative thoughts like “I’m going to humiliate myself”, “I’m going to blow it” or “Everyone is going to think I’m incompetent.” Stage fright can be so intense that it can interfere with your ability to prepare for or desire to do any public speaking at all. Overcoming that fear will help you leave a mark on the earth, get your ideas heard and help you nail your next talk.
8 tips to overcome stage fright:
1. Visualize success
Visualize yourself delivering a successful speech. Take a few moments to close your eyes and visualize yourself speaking confidently and engagingly in front of your audience. Imagine the presentation is delivered well and the audience is warm and welcoming to you and your ideas.
2. Visualize your audience
Instead of focusing on your own fear, consider what the audience needs or wants to hear, and how your talk will help them. Practice in front of a photo that represents your audience so you can imagine the audience smiling, laughing, and reacting exactly the way you hope they will at each stage of your talk.
3. Be prepared
Think through details so you don’t have to scramble just before your presentation. Something could inevitably go wrong. Give yourself an extra hour or so to arrive at the venue just in case there are problems with your badge, cables, or audio systems. You want to have time to re-center yourself.
4. Make yourself big
Instead of holding your arms close to your chest and taking small steps onto the stage, consume as much space as possible. Stride on the stage and hold your hands wide as you move around the stage.
5. Positive self-talk
Reign in your inner critic and negative self-talk that fuels your fears and undermines your confidence. Reframe negative thoughts and replace them with positive and empowering self-talk to build your confidence. Focus on your strengths. Don’t replay any negative messages in your head. You’ve got this!
6. Deep breathing
Sit in a calm setting before your talk and take deep, slow breaths to calm your fear and help you relax. Find a location free from distraction where you can focus on slowing the pace of your breathing.
7. Create a pre-talk ritual
Some presenters need to get amped up before a talk and others need to calm themselves down. We’re all different so carve out time to ground yourself in what you need to go onto stage with the right energy.
8. Find a great coach
With the help of a professional speaker coach, it’s possible to reframe your public speaking fears. A coach gives you tools to manage stage fright and nervousness.
Even the most successful public speakers grapple with fear or apprehension at times. Sometimes when stakes are high, presenting to a room of three people can create more fear than an auditorium of thousands. Using some of the steps above, begin to dictate to your brain how you want to feel on a stage.
How to manage anxiety when presenting
Many presenters get an anxious or nervous feeling during a presentation, which may have physical symptoms like a racing heart, shortness of breath, or trembling. You may also have negative thoughts like “I’m going to forget what I need to say” or “Everyone is judging me.” Anxiety while speaking publicly can be distressing and could interfere with your ability to speak clearly or stay focused.
6 tips for managing anxiety when presenting:
1. Identify the root of your anxiety
The first step in overcoming anxiety is to identify the specific reasons why you feel nervous or anxious about public speaking. Is it the situation? Is it the audience? Is it what you need to achieve from the talk? Anxiety can also be rooted in fear of judgment, a lack of confidence in your abilities, or past negative speaking experiences. Understanding the root of your anxiety can help you and your speaking coach develop a targeted approach to overcoming it.
2. Prepare in advance
Research shows that preparing for your presentation in advance can reduce anxiety and build confidence. Preparing helps ensure there is no last-minute rush or unexpected disruption that could fuel anxiety.
3. Practice, practice, practice
The more you practice your presentation, the more comfortable and confident you’ll become. Practice your speech in front of a mirror, record yourself, or practice with friends or family members. This will help you to become more comfortable with the material and dissipate anxiety.
4. Use relaxation techniques
When you feel anxious or nervous, relaxation techniques can help to calm your mind and reduce physical symptoms of anxiety. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization techniques are all effective ways to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.
5. Prepare for the unexpected
It’s common to feel anxious about the unexpected, such as technical difficulties or difficult questions. Prepare for these possibilities by having backup plans in place and practicing responses to difficult questions or scenarios.
6. Flexibility and adaptability
Be prepared to adapt to changes or unexpected situations, such as technical difficulties or interruptions.
Anxiety when presenting can be managed before, during, and after you present. As you rehearse, try to relax, visualize, and practice. The more you do, the more the anxiety dissipates as you begin to learn that most anxiety about presenting unfounded. A speaker coach can help you recognize the early cues of anxiety and train you to manage it on the fly during your talk. Stanford GSB posted a fantastic infographic on how to hack your anxiety. Keep it handy as you work through managing presentation anxiety and overcoming stage fright.
Duarte’s highly-rated (9.35 / 10 learner satisfaction) training course Captivate™, goes beyond outward delivery signs and traits by helping you strengthen your core—finding your purpose, passion, and perspective. By focusing on your core, you learn to deliver a talk empathetically, dynamically, and comfortably.
How to make a presentation engaging
Engaging an audience is a way to help your message stick and make your presentation interesting. There’s two ways to define an interactive presentation. One definition is when the presenter interacts with their slides during a presentation, which makes their slides non-linear. The other definition of an interactive presentation is when a presenter interacts with their audience (not their slides).
8 tips for interacting with your audience during a presentation:
1. Use a polling tool
Polls are one of the best ways to interact with audience members. Use a polling tool, such as Polleverywhere.com, to interact with the audience and gather real-time responses to a question displayed on the screen using smartphones or laptops. Polls encourage critical thinking and sharing of opinions and expertise.
2. Incorporate social media
Boost audience engagement by using social media to interact with audience members so they can respond to or amplify your ideas in real time. Create a unique hashtag for your talk so a team member can moderate posts and relay the ones they think you should address during your presentation onto your screen. This will help amplify a message or answer questions.
3. Distribute slides
If your slides have rich, dense information like earnings reports or large consultative decks, give out handouts. That’ll give them a closer look at slide details. Or, invite them to snap a photo of a slide so they get a nice visual takeaway.
4. Use props
Physical, tangible props are great ways to interact with the audience while you present. You can use a prop onstage, or you can pass it around the audience so that they can engage with it. Anything tangible increases the number of senses engaged and boosts your audience’s attention. In Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk titled “My Stroke of Insight,” Taylor used a brain model as a prop to explain what happens during a stroke.
5. Get the audience active
Just because you’re the speaker doesn’t mean you have to talk the whole time. Get the audience to interact with activities. For instance, you can instruct audience members to pair off to do an exercise together. This exercise could simply be an icebreaker to get to know someone else in the room. On the other hand, it could be an exercise that helps them develop useful skills you’re trying to impart (i.e. sales techniques, communication strategies, and more).
6. Have the audience repeat information out loud
It may seem basic, but if you want to be memorable and engaging, ask people to repeat key concepts out loud. In a study on memory, researchers at the University of Montreal found that repeating information boosts a person’s ability to recall that information. So, by asking your audience to repeat key facts and concepts from your talk, you increase the chances they remember it.
7. Take questions along the way
Invite questions during the talk using a tool like Sli.do, which allows attendees to submit questions and upvote them. Addressing questions during the talk educates the audience and promotes interaction. Designate times during the talk to collect and answer questions rather than waiting until after the talk or for one-on-one discussions.
8. Design group activities
Encourage collaboration, audience participation and engagement by designing activities that require them to move around the room. You can use brainstorming sessions, problem-solving exercises, quizzes, games and even human infographics as the coalesce around common interests. It helps audience members feel like they are participating in your idea.
Your audience will participate in your talk when you directly engage them. By opening an opportunity for them to immerse themselves in what you’re saying or giving them permission to share their thoughts by asking questions, you’ll help them engage in your presentation and feel more vested in it.
How to make a presentation fun
Nobody likes sitting through a dry, boring presentation. Sometimes we have to present on topics that are inherently pretty dry though – particularly technical ones – like, a forecast of semiconductor sales given to a printed circuit board manufacturing association, or a review of customers perceptions of uninterruptible power supply software product features (yawn!). Whatever the topic and however potentially uninteresting, it is possible to spice up any presentation and make it fun, accessible, and engaging to your audience.
Here are 7 quick ways to make a presentation more fun include:
- Tell amusing personal anecdotes—your audience will love them.
- Encourage participants to ask questions after every few slides. You can even announce at the beginning that if people raise their hand you can answer questions right in the middle of the presentation; or, if you want, tell them you want to hold all questions until the end.
- Use colorful metaphors (but not too colorful, take care!)
- Invite audience interaction: ask questions of the audience—make them part of the talk.
- Throw in a few funny cartoon panels in slides to breakup your presentation.
- Add movement: walk around and use hand gestures to impart some energy to your talk.
- Keep it short and sweet: if it’s a boring subject there’s no reason to bore the audience to death!
Most of all, relax and enjoy giving your presentation. The audience will see that you are enjoying yourself, and that enjoyment will tend to rub off on them. Just like when a band is performing, if the band appears to be enjoying themselves, the audience enjoys the performance that much more. How do you make a presentation fun? Start by having fun yourself!
How to make a presentation interesting
It’s one thing to deliver a presentation in a fun way, but another entirely to make a presentation interesting, particularly if the material is boring. Every presentation should tell a story, however small.
Every superhero has an origin story, for instance — perhaps there is something interesting in the genesis of whatever your presentation about — did it start with an idea, a problem, or a dream of someone? Were you having coffee with your husband? Talking about the origin of something (even just the presentation itself if you can’t think of anything else) can help humanize the topic and make it relevant to people by providing a bit of a story “arc”. Plus giving some history and background are always helpful for people trying to understand the “meaning” of something.
Every action has a reaction story, for example, like the butterfly effect, small changes can have huge knock-on effects down the road on individuals or entire sets of people. How does what you are speaking on speak to that?
Every cloud has a silver lining story — is it a tragic story? Did some good come from it? What about human nature to improve from cautionary tales?
Was there struggle involved on any level (even if only to research and put the presentation together)? People like hearing a story about a good struggle. If you need inspiration just watch Sam Gamgee’s speech from The Two Towers.
Finally, present your story in a style that makes a connection with your audience. Grab their attention with powerful data visualizations in your slide content. Moderate your tone of voice and speech patterns in such a way as to bring emphasis to a point. Use silence and pauses as a method of emphasis (it worked for William Shatner). Narrate the story while establishing eye contact with successive members of your audience to build rapport with them.
Finally, finish and summarize your story with the big picture view — the old adage “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” is great advice that still holds up!
How to improve presentation skills
Continual self-improvement and reflection is a sign of wisdom. If you study the techniques of excellent presenters and public speakers it’ll help set the bar for what good looks like. But ultimately, the best method to learn any new skill is to practice doing it and learning from your successes and your failures.
Here are some tips to start building and keep improving your presentation skills:
Read up on the topic
Reading best-selling books about presentation skills and communication skills from the top authors helps set the standard for you to strive for. There are also many articles and resources about public speaking and presentation skills from reputable publications like Harvard Business Review and others. Consider forming a book discussion group with friends or co-workers who also want to get better at presenting so you can talk about your takeaways together and encourage each other.
Join the club
A lot of great presenters started out as awkward, shy or uncomfortable speakers. Yet many of them conquered those obstacles and grew their confidence by practicing giving presentations in clubs like Toastmasters International or at local Pecha Kucha events. There are even people who make a living as presenters and you can network with them at National Speakers Association events.
Follow the leaders
You can learn a lot by watching great presenters. Look at top-viewed TED talks or videos on YouTube of famous speakers and observe what they do well. Also search for videos about people who are recognized as presentation experts, like Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, and Cliff Atkinson. Notice the openers and closers they use, how they structure their ideas, and use of vocal variety and gestures to emphasize key points.
Get advice from a coach
A fast way to up-level your performance is to get coaching on how to improve presentation skills. An expert presentation coach will assess how you speak and give feedback to build on your strengths and bust through your weaknesses. If you can’t afford to hire a coach, find a “feedback friend” who will watch you present and tell you their honest opinions.
Take a training course
Whether you prefer to learn at your own pace or join a cohort of other people in a live workshop, effective presentation skills training will give you a solid foundation of knowledge plus plenty of opportunities to reflect on and practice techniques.