Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My top seven presentation tips

I've been planning this post for a while and a conversation this morning made me realize that I should do this now.

How to give a good presentation is something that you learn by doing, learn by watching others, and learn from feedback. I found that I am constantly learning more about giving presentations and that as I learn more, my style changes (and hopefully improves). And while people may look at my presentations and be in awe, I am in awe of many of the presenters that I see.

At some point, we all have to give a presentation, whether it is to staff on a project proposal, to grant funding agencies on why our project is the most worthy, or to colleagues on what we've accomplished. How we give the presentation, as well as the content, can be very important. It is not just the words, but how we say them.

With that in mind, here are my seven top presentation tips:
  1. Use language that your entire audience will understand. Take out the jargon and the acronyms. If you need to use jargon, explain it.
  2. Tell stories to illustrate your points. Stories are very powerful tools.
  3. If you are using PowerPoint, try to limit the number of slides as well as the number of words per slide. (See the 10-20-30 Rule of PowerPoint below). Larry Lessig, for example, uses PowerPoint masterfully because he understands the minimalist approach to his slides.
  4. Realize that you cannot cover the entire world in 30 or 60 minutes. Craig Valentine suggests that you can thoroughly cover one major point in 10 minutes. If you try to cover too much in too short a period of time, you will lose your audience.
  5. Don't memorize everything you are going to say. Yes, do practice your presentation several times (and out loud) and make notes to remind you of what you intend to say, but a memorized speech can sound memorized rather than natural. By the way, Aaron Schmidt suggests that you spend time learning additional information about your topic, rather than excessively practicing your presentation. That will help you feel confident about the topic and give you additional information for the Q&A.
  6. Make a connection with the audience. Look at them. Smile. Talk to them. Engage them. When you do this, they will give you feedback (visual and oral) that will help you know that you are reaching them and getting your point across.
  7. Be comfortable. If you aren't comfortable, you may not be in the right mood to get your point across. For me, this means double-checking what I have on and make sure I look fine (no food on my jacket!), as well as putting on lotion and lip balm. You may laugh, but it works for me!

If you have tips that you would like to share, please leave them as a comment.

Additional Resources:

02/15/2021: Some of these resources below are not longer available on their original websites, but may be available through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, if you want to track them down.  I've noted where I've updated URLs.


Mitch said...

Very nice list. For #5, I usually memorize my outline, especially if it's a speech more than a presentation, to make sure I'll touch upon every topic I wanted to highlight. Great stuff.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Here is another great list of presentation tips, 10 Steps to Promote Learning in Your Conference Presentation written by Peter Bromberg.

Joshua Kitlas said...

6 and 7 are key. I think that developing a presentation 'ritual' is important and much like a baseball player preparing to go to bat.