Presentations: we’ve been giving them since our fourth-grade science projects, yet somehow, we still dread them. In truth, dread hangs around the word “presentation,” from every angle. And you don’t only have to be the one giving it to feel the dark cloud descending. Just try getting invited to one. Most people don’t meet the invitation with a hop, skip, and a heel click. Have a guess at why? I bet you do.
Because you know that most presentations are boring. Like listening-to-your-great-Aunt-Sylvie’s-adventures-in-cat-photography boring. And hey, if you’re the boring presentation guy, no worries. We totally understand. Being nervous to give a presentation often leads to putting lots of text on a page in case you blank, then reading off of it verbatim so you don’t have to meet the dozens of eyes staring at you while standing like a brick in front of your computer. Sounds like a mix for one bad presentation cocktail. We'll call it a Deck Coma. No one wants to serve up a Deck Coma Cocktail.
Pro Tips: How To Give Your Presentations a Steroid Shot of Awesome
If the above description sounds anything like a presentation you’ve given or plan to give, don’t sweat it, stud. There are lots of easy changes you can make that will take your presentation from blah to bedazzled. That’s why we’ve put together our eight best hacks for making presentations great again. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Presentation Pro Tip 1: Ask What They Care About
Before you even sit down at the computer or legal pad, inquire about your audience. Do some soul searching about who you think they are, what their pain points are, what fixes they’re looking for, what will make their lives better? If you start from this viewpoint, you’re already leagues ahead of most presentations. You’re beginning your process by serving, and there are few better things you can do when it comes to your audience.
This is what paints the line between the presentations that feel like a friend letting you in on a secret and the ones that feel like a gross sales pitch. These queries will also serve as re-calibrating questions. If you’re ever crafting your presentation and don’t know where to go next, revisit your questions and move towards those answers in your dialogue.
Presentation Pro Tip 2: Go Easy on the Text
Seth Godin has a rule that there shouldn’t ever be more than six words on a slide. Ever. It’s a good one to stick to. The fact is, no one is really reading your slides or taking notes for later. Sorry man. It’s just the truth of it.
Instead of building a deck with slides that are stuffy, laden, and a hindrance to the feeling of your presentation, create slides that help. Treat each slide like the heading of a chapter, or a pull quote. Use them to tease intrigue, challenge assumptions and make bold declarations. Think of it this way.
Perhaps you were giving a speech on the power of language. Putting the phrase, “Actions do no speak louder than words,” as standalone text on your slide will be much more interesting than a list of bullet points you’re about to cover. One grabs attention, and creates suspense (“will she explain how she believes this to be true?”), while the other will likely, if anything, be skimmed ove.
Presentation Pro Tip 3: Tell Them a Story
There is no presentation we can think of that does this one better than Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” TEDx Talk. It’s 18 minutes long and has a staggering 44 million views. Did you get that?
44 million views.
Was it because he had incredible data to hammer home his points? Fancy graphics? A pump-up intro song? Not quite. The whole thing is filmed on an old camera, where he can be seen sporting a large, awkward microphone, equipped with a marker, large note pad, and notably horrible handwriting.
And 44 million views later, we see what makes this presentation so good. Well, there are actually a lot of things, but mainly — stories. He tells brief stories of human striving through flesh and blood characters and their motivations. But the story in this speech is more than snapshots of characters. The speech itself is a story—one with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Of course, none of this matters if it isn’t all woven together with the one thing Simon is ripe with: Belief. He knows what he believes and that others believe it too.
Presentation Pro Tip 4: Believe in Your Messages Value and Give it Freely
Our last but possibly most important tip, you must believe in what you’re saying. If you simply get up there to report the facts or sell a concept, it simply won’t work. It’ll fall flat, be unmemorable, and quite possibly have more negative ramifications than positive. If you’ve begun as you should, by asking what the audience cares about, you’re headed in the right direction. When you answer with what you truly believe, you hit the jackpot. It allows your passion, confidence, and style to drive the presentation. It will also defibrillate anyone thinking of taking a sip of that Deck Coma Cocktail.
Believing in what you say means you know it through and through. It means there’s no need for gobs of text, or note cards. If means if the technology glitches and you lose your slides, you can speak from the heart. Because you’re speaking about your beliefs. It means a question won’t rattle you because this is a subject you know to be true through and through. Without belief, it’s fluff. And the people see straight through the fluff.
quick Tips To keep in mind while you're presenting
Of course, there are lots of little things that make a great speaker and a strong presentation. We could make this list go on for another thousand words. Instead, we’ve put together some bite-sized tidbits to consider and work on in your own time as you prepare for your next presentation.
Keep it interesting
No offense, but your name doesn’t qualify. Walking up and saying, “Hello all, I’m Joe Schmoe from Joe Schmoe Industries,” isn’t exactly a riveting start. Your name is on the speaker list. They’ve agreed to come and see you. They know who you are. It’s much more powerful to start with, “When I was 15 I spent five days stranded with my family on the roof of our home as our city flooded.”
Hot dang. A bit more of a draw-in, isn’t it? Even something pithy works, such as, “The average person sitting in this room will only remember the last six minutes of this presentation.” It doesn’t have to be ground-breaking, but it does have to be interesting.
Keep it Brief
Public speaking guru Guy Kawakasi has an interesting rule when it comes to presentations. It’s the 10/20/30 rule: 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30-point font per slide.
More than 10 slides and your punchy one-liners may lose their oomph. Keeping it under 20 minutes ensures you’re not harping on a single point for too long. As for the 30-point font? That’s to nix any temptation you have of putting a novel on one slide.
It’s a great rule of thumb. Remember, the quality over quantity applies in this area of life just as much as any other. (Unless it’s pizza. Then just give us all the pizza).
Keep it Moving
No one likes a block of wood or the creepy doll on the ventriloquist's leg. Try to move around as best you can. This is another huge part of not relying on slides to deliver the presentation for you. You need to be free to turn your back to the screen and engage with the audience.
Want an extra pro-tip? Use a remote. This means you don’t have to be at or returning to your computer every time you want to switch a slide. Which will be about 10 times, if you’re following the Kawasaki rule, right?
Keep it Light
You have to be able to laugh off a mistake. Because a) they happen, and b) nobody likes people who take themselves to seriously. Even Steve Jobs had to muddle through a technology glitch live on stage every once in a while.
Wait. That's the wrong Steve. Well, the fact is, no matter how much you’ve prepared, you never know what can still go wrong. Knowing your material (because it’s something you believe) is the best way to stay confident. You can even look at a glitch as something to break down the strange walls that surround presentations and bring it back to a very human level, allowing you to connect better with your audience.
Have any questions about our presentation tips? We’re always here to help! Ask us in the comments below and we’ll be there.