Mastering the Art: What Makes a Good Presentation?

Let's face it, most of us will need to give a presentation or speak in public at some point.

As much as we may not like the idea of public speaking, we need to do it as part of our jobs.

So, rather than worrying about it and trying to put it off, wouldn't it be better to focus instead on what makes a good presentation or speech?

We've pulled together some advice and top tips from our presentation skills training courses to ensure your next presentation is a memorable one for all the right reasons.

So, what makes a successful presentation?

There are many components of successful presentations.

But ultimately, an effective presentation grabs the audience's attention, enabling you to get your core message across.

And we've got some expert tips to help you do just that.

10 expert tips for giving effective presentations

1 Start with the beginning

First impressions are a vital part of what makes a good presentation.

And audience members will form them almost immediately. They will then look for proof that their initial assessment is correct.

It's called confirmation bias, and everyone is susceptible to it. Think of it like the introduction to a story, film or article - the beginning draws you in.

How do you create the right first impression and start your presentation on a solid note?

Well, you need to look the part when presenting. During our presentation skills training courses, we say you want to be about 10 per cent smarter than your audience and have open and positive body language that helps create stage presence.

You should also look to make eye contact with the audience and smile – smiling will make you appear confident and suggests you are happy to be there.

If you are talking in a room, avoid starting by tapping the microphone and asking whether people at the back can hear. Not only is it boring, but it also doesn’t create the impression of someone who will communicate with confidence and clarity.

Similarly, opening with phrases like ‘I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare’, does not suggest you are taking the opportunity seriously or that the audience will get much out of the presentation.

Instead, grab the audience's attention by showing you have something valuable to offer.

Tell them something unexpected. Share a story or anecdote. Ask the audience a question. Or invite them to imagine a particular scenario.


2 Keep it simple

There can be a temptation to cram your presentation with lots of information.

But less is more when it comes to keeping your audience interested.

What key message do you want to get across in your presentation? What do you want the audience to focus on from what you have said?

What do you want them to do as a result? Or how do you want them to feel?

Be clear on your key message from the start and thread it through the presentation.


3 Be yourself

Don't leave your personality behind when you take to the stage or log on for an online presentation.

People are drawn to speakers who sound conversational and impromptu rather than a presentation or speech that seems rehearsed, scripted and memorised.

A presenter who just reads their slides or a prepared script, or parrots something they have memorised verbatim, will turn audiences off. And they are unlikely to take much from the presentation.

Being yourself also helps with those pesky nerves, and you will come across as being confident.


4 The power of storytelling

There is a reason we have put this tip immediately after 'be yourself'.

Telling stories is one of the best ways to keep an audience engaged and deliver a great presentation.

But not all stories are created equally.

As a general rule, the best stories are personal to the presenter and help show their personality.

Draw on your experience and insight to personalise your storytelling.

It could be as simple as admitting mistakes, sharing what makes you nervous and worried, or revealing what motivates and inspires you.

Not only will this bring your message to life, but it helps to make you relatable. They will see themselves in your story. And they will become invested in it and remain focused.

And you will feel more confident when talking about yourself and putting messages into your words.


5 Show your passion

Passion is crucial for public speaking success.

It helps to build an emotional connection with your audience. It shows you genuinely care about the subject you are discussing.

It ensures people are paying attention to your talk and makes them believe. It convinces and turns doubters into believers.

John F. Kennedy once said: “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.”

That's a lofty ambition.

But if you believe in what you are saying and the impact it can have, passion is one of the best ways to tell the audience about your great idea.


6 Use fewer slides

There is plenty of advice around presentation slides - stick to bullet points, be careful about font size, don't use too many words.

But the best advice is to use as few slides as possible to present information. Or even not use them at all.

That can feel a bit daunting and alien. But many expert presenters giving Ted Talks don't have any slides and have a few note cards instead.

No one wants to sit through a presentation with a massive deck of PowerPoint slides - it doesn't make for an engaging presentation.

Of course, there are advantages to having them. But if you present without them, the audience's focus will be on you. 

And, because most other presenters use them, not having slides can make your presentation stand out.

You also won’t have to worry about technology letting you down as you go through your presentation or your mind going blank as you try to remember how to share a screen on Zoom.

If doing away with slides altogether sounds like a step too far, opt for ones showing the odd headline statistic, tagline, visual aids or video clips which will support and help the audience understand your message.


7 Would you look at the time

How painful is it when a presentation or speech overruns?

We've all been in an audience sitting through a presentation that feels like it never ends. You may have also seen a presentation where the presenter suddenly realises their allotted time is ending and rattle through what they still have to say.

Bad time-keeping unsettles audiences.

If they feel you are overrunning, they become restless and clock-watch.

If you have to rush through the later parts of your presentation, the audience may also feel cheated and wonder what they would have learnt if it was given the attention it deserved.

Equally, finishing a presentation early does not create the right impression either. The audience again is likely to feel short-changed and will pay attention to what key points have been missed.

Poor time-keeping suggests a lack of preparation, and audiences find it hugely annoying.

With online presentations, timing can be trickier, and people may log in late.

If some people haven’t turned up on time, start anyway, otherwise, you may annoy those who manage their time well. Late arrivers can always use the software to watch a recording after.

As with presenting face-to-face, stick to the finish time. Online audience members have more distractions (they may well be keeping an eye on the emails landing in their inbox) and, if they have been working on a screen all day, are likely to become quickly fatigued. 


8 Prepare and practice (but don't overdo it)

Good preparation is crucial.

We often use Mark Twain's quote during our presentation skills training courses - "It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."

Bullet points, mind maps and message preparation sheets will all help you to plan your presentations effectively.

And, of course, practice makes perfect when it is time to deliver. Practice your presentation with a friend or family member and ask for constructive criticism. Do you make eye contact? How's the body language? Are you using your voice effectively?

Even rehearse your presentation in front of the bathroom mirror.

But you must be careful not to overprepare. It is an easy trap to fall into - presenters and public speakers can feel pressure to appear perfect. 

And it can cause them to try to memorise what they want to say rather than focusing on the main message and important points they want to get across. 

They may go even further and rehearse hand gestures and facial expressions they will use when presenting. 

It results in a robotic, scripted performance devoid of spontaneity – and a dull experience for the target audience. 

We say you are overprepared when:

  • You are lying awake at night thinking about presentation styles and trying to memorise your presentation verbatim
  • You have written and memorised answers to every likely audience question
  • You have rehearsed the facial expressions and gestures you will use at key moments
  • You have put your entire presentation into slides.


9 Questions about questions

What happens if the audience has questions for you?

People worry about questions. But a good presentation will attract questions.

If someone asks a question, it shows you have kept their mind engaged, they are directly involved and want to learn more. Questions can also make presenters seem more accessible.

Most questions can also be anticipated as part of your presentation preparation.

But the crucial point is not to leave them until the end of your talk.

If you say 'any questions' and no one has any, the presentation or speech finishes with an anti-climax.

Additionally, there could be questions that are not relevant to your point.

Last impressions matter almost as much as first ones. So, rather than letting the audience decide how your presentation ends, ask for questions regularly and focus on providing a memorable ending.


10 What about the nerves?

Most of us feel nervous about presentations.

The nine tips we have outlined above should help. And taking part in one of our presentation skills training courses will further boost your confidence.

But remember nerves are natural.

Susan Bookbinder, one of our expert tutors, discussed handling nerves during a masterclass for The Media Team Academy.

“If you are not nervous in these situations, then you are not human,” she said.

“I’ve been a broadcaster and journalist for nearly 40 years. Even after all that time, I get that inner chimp that says, ‘you’re rubbish’ when I’m about to start a presentation.

“It happens to all of us. And you can fly, fight or freeze.

“To deal with this, I say three words to myself that I would like people to feel when I leave the room – kind, compassionate and competent.

“Taking deep breaths is also crucial – it can slow your heartbeat. Breathe in for six seconds and breath out like you are blowing out a candle.”

Reminding yourself you are the expert is also crucial.

“People have come to listen to you,” she said.

“They want it to work. People don’t go to a presentation thinking, ‘I hope this person falls over’. They come because they want to learn.

“So, behave like the expert and leader in that room. “

Need some more help with your presenting skills?

Our presentation skills training courses will boost your confidence and give you the skills to communicate confidently and deliver relaxed, composed, and better presentations.

Speak to your account manager about our bespoke training options.

Media First are leading media and communication skills training specialists with more than 35 years of experience.

We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications and leadership coaches, and media trainers. 

Discover more about our presentation skills training.

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