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6 ways to give a killer presentation

By Guest Post | 11 October 2018

So you’ve been tasked with putting together a presentation, but time is ticking and all you’ve done is open PowerPoint and insert a few screenshots.

“How am I going to make this interesting?” you might be thinking to yourself. Well, you’re not alone. According to a U.S survey by MarketWired, 17% of those surveyed admitted to falling asleep during a co-worker’s presentation, while 28% said they were texting instead of listening.

Most leadership and management roles require you to give presentations—sometimes at a moment’s notice. Knowing you’re going to be in front of a group of people is daunting enough, but now you have to worry about keeping them awake!

Giving a presentation doesn’t have to mean putting your audience to sleep. Here we will go over six ways that you can ‘wow’ your audience with a killer presentation.

Top tips for effective presentations

  1. Figure out what you want to say first.
  2. Stick to the ‘one thought per slide’ rule.
  3. Use visuals the right way.
  4. Understand the rule of three.
  5. Practice, practice, practice.
  6. Accept that fear is normal.

1. Figure out what you want to say first.

You may be tempted to quickly open up PowerPoint and start building your slide deck right away, but getting boxed into a template can make it difficult to get your point across. Instead, start on paper by writing down your main points and arranging them in a way that captures your story. You can use post-it notes to write down each idea and then create your outline with these key points in mind. This might seem like an unnecessary extra step, but in the long-run you won’t be wasting precious time deleting or re-arranging your slides when you could be practicing!

dark-skinned woman thinking about what to write

2. Stick to the ‘one thought per slide’ rule.

The best way to keep your audience engaged is to keep your message as simple as possible. If you have too many points on one slide, your audience might miss the connection and tune out completely. This is why the post-it note tip above is helpful— if you find your material is branching out in too many directions, you can adjust the points accordingly. 

This tip will also help reduce the amount of text on your slides. Walls of text can hinder your message!

3. Use visuals the right way.

One of the most important presentation skills to master is the proper use of visuals. Visuals are an essential addition to any presentation, but there’s also a right way to go about using them. According to the Queensland University of Technology, a good visual will serve to make your point even clearer than if it were just spoken or described through the written word. Sometimes you can make a greater impact by showing rather than telling.

Some examples of visual aids you can use include photos, videos, tables, charts and diagrams. However, be deliberate in your choice of images. Over-using visual aids or using them improperly can make it difficult for your audience to follow.

If you absolutely must use a chart or diagram, make sure the take-away is clear. One of the most common mistakes presenters make is including too many charts and graphs without considering whether their audience will understand them. If you’re trying to make a solid point, don’t rely on your audience to work it out by looking at the data for themselves. Make it crystal clear, and don’t be afraid to spell it out.

business man giving presentation

4. Understand the rule of three.

Studies have shown that we can only hold a small amount of information in our short term, or ‘active,’ memory.

The Rule of Three states that a trio of events or characters is more attractive, satisfying and effective at engaging a listener than any other number. Using this rule allows you to illustrate concepts more completely, emphasise your points, and make your message more memorable. Consider the following examples:

  • The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
  • Mind, body and soul
  • I came, I saw, I conquered
  • Blood, sweat and tears
  • Stop, look and listen
  • Cool, calm and collected
  • Past, present and future
  • Me, myself and I

This phenomenon can be explained by the way we process information. Humans are drawn to patterns, and three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern.

For example, Steve Jobs (an avid user of the Rule of Three) introduced the iPad 2 as “thinner, lighter and faster” than its predecessor. Try to apply the Rule of Three in your presentation where it makes sense. You can divide your presentation into three sections or introduce a concept with three words. By doing this, not only will your audience stay engaged, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is for you to remember your points.

5. Practice, practice, practice.

Being a good presenter comes down to how well you know your material. It almost goes without saying that you must practice your presentation so that you can confidently present it to an audience. The more familiar you are with the material, the less nervous you will be on the day. In fact, you may even get excited about the subject, especially if you’ve got a good story to tell that you know your audience will react well to.

It’s also a good idea to practice how you deliver each point. Practice the pauses, and experiment with the wording. If you can, record yourself doing the presentation, watch it and note any areas of improvement.

woman presenting lecture

6. Accept that fear is normal.

Everyone gets nervous—try to accept that it might take a while to find your rhythm and that is okay. Don’t fight the fear—embrace it! Do the best you can and treat every presentation as a learning experience.

And remember, don’t apologise for being nervous. Most of the time, your audience won’t even notice because the feeling of nervousness is often not as pronounced as you think it is. If you want to get a better handle on your nerves, a study by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment suggests using confident gestures like keeping your back straight, opening out your arms and making eye contact with your audience. These gestures can minimise the appearance of nerves while also subconsciously improving your confidence level.

Most importantly—have fun! When you show enthusiasm for what you’re presenting, your audience will be more likely to react favourably. When all is said and done, you’ll look back and realise how much easier it was than you thought. Just stay cool, calm and collected—you’ve got this!

Looking for more tips on how to progress in the career world? Or more specifically – how to refine skills in a managerial or leadership role? Be sure to check out more of our career, management, and leadership-related advice articles here on SkillsTalk.

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