Preparing to present? Pick up these pointers, pronto!

Preparing to present? Pick up these pointers, pronto!
October 28, 2021 Beth Nyland

‘Tis the season for high-stakes presentations. Nearing year-end, many of us are preparing to report on results, launch new programs, and invite colleagues and clients to embrace the new.

‘Tis also the season for distracted audiences. (In truth, this season is eternal.) That means your presentation needs more than clear, organized points. You need to grab people’s attention, involve them in your story, and get them to do something.

In short, you must #RefuseToBeBoring.

How? For starters, try these tips—designed to take you from the conception to the conclusion of your presentation.


Tailor your message to your audience.

The number-one question every presenter must answer—every time—is: “Who is my audience?” Think about the humans who will consume your message. What matters to them? What turns them on, and what shuts them down?

Write a quick profile of your audience. Use it as a measuring stick for every decision you make in crafting your presentation—especially if you’re recycling slides or talking points.

Don’t jump straight into PowerPoint.

Before you start gathering or building slides, get your story straight. The more focused your plan, the less time you’ll waste churning PowerPoint slides. Here’s what to do first:

  • Draft an audience-focused plan for your presentation (what they will do and learn).
  • Then bullet out your talking points (what you will say).
  • Then, and only then, proceed to developing visuals and take-aways.

Write a title that promises purpose.

Imagine scanning your meeting schedule for the day and seeing sessions called Product Training or Business Review. Accurate? Maybe. Boring? YES.

Spend 10 minutes brainstorming an appealing title for your message. Need inspiration? Notice the titles that get attention and clicks on platforms like YouTube and TED Talks. Offer your audience something valuable, and they will be eager to participate.

Make the most of your bookends.

Many speakers open and close every presentation with bookend slides: Agenda up front, Next Steps at the end. If including these seems like a no-brainer, beware! No business communication should take place without your brain. Every slide deserves strategic, critical thought. So first, ask yourself if you really need these bookends. If the answer is yes, then challenge yourself to find a more interesting way.

For starters, bring life to the headlines. Agenda is bland and boring. Try something more conversational, like Here’s What We’ll Cover. Better yet, set the stage for productive time well spent: Our Action Plan for this Hour.

Since business is about getting things done, write short, meaningful bullet points that start with action verbs. Invite people to do something—during and after your presentation—with words like see, understand, learn, plan, share, decide, etc.


Involve your audience.

Whether you’re presenting in person or online, make your message interactive. Give your audience something to do—not just in the final minutes of Q&A, but from the very beginning. You’re addressing busy people who consume a ton of information every day. How will you make your message memorable and tangible?

And don’t assume that you must be conventional. Instead, ask yourself, “Is there anything I can’t do in this presentation?” Very few things are truly off-limits. You could ditch PowerPoint. Share a funny or poignant story. Get everyone on their feet, talking to you and each other. Invite people to answer a question, draw a picture, solve a problem. You can do all these things and more.

Prep for Q&A.

As you develop your message, anticipate the questions your audience will have. Maybe you can address them in the body of your presentation. If not, draft a Q&A list so you’re ready to field those questions when they come.

Then, if your call for questions is met with dreaded silence, you will be ready to fill the void. “Here are a few questions that might be on your mind …” By teeing up your prepared Q&A, you’ll make great use of time and possibly stoke discussion.


Go for it! Demonstrate your belief in your own message.

The strongest messages—written, spoken, or otherwise—come from people who care. If you want people to be enthusiastic about your message, you need to be enthusiastic, too.

Stand up, gesture, smile, and be that energetic, animated person we all know and love.

Use the full strength of your team.

When co-presenting, think of your presentation team as a small band, not a set of soloists. You don’t have to take the stage one at a time. Share the content.

Talk with each other while also talking with the audience. One person can set up a topic, and then another can follow with the details. One can ask a question, another answer. One can be the voice of the company’s concerns, while another shares what matters to the customer. Because you’re more engaged, your audience will be too.

Hold your audience’s attention by holding still.

Don’t pace while you talk. Before you start speaking, stride confidently to a spot where everyone can see and hear you. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart, stand up straight, take a full breath, smile, and begin your presentation.

This is not to say that you should never move. But do it for purpose. For example, if you’re setting up two alternatives, deliver the first from one spot, then take a step or two in one direction to deliver the other.

There’s no need to keep your hands still. Gesture if that comes naturally to you. If not, then leave your hands by your sides—not in your pockets.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Rehearse your presentation several times—and in several ways—before the delivery date. Know your overall theme and the handful of points you will use to build your message. See and hear and experience yourself sharing your story. When you take the stage, your audience will be hearing your brilliance for the first time—but you won’t.

Let go of any fear that “too much rehearsal” will make you sound stiff. Instead, know that when you have mastered your material, you will feel more confident and have more composure. You might even surprise yourself with a brilliant turn of phrase. Flashes of inspiration do come at unexpected moments, when we are prepared.

Make the most of the virtual room.

Set up your camera angle, background, and lighting to score at least an 8/10 from Room Rater. Better yet, aim for 10/10!

If your camera setup allows, stand up to deliver your presentation. If not, bring stand-up energy from your chair.

And do what you can to avoid a technology sabotage. Test your connection, equipment, and lighting well before “go time.”

Be conscious of your last words.

Closing with Q&A is not a strong ending. Instead, handle Q&A, then recap and reveal or restate your call to action.

Some of our best pointers come from lessons learned the hard way. Based on your own experience as a presenter (or audience member), what would you add to this list? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.


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