The Dummies’ Guide to Effective Presentations

You are up next.

It’s time to show your talent as a presenter. You’ve spent the whole of last week preparing amazing slides for today’s meeting. You are mentally rehearsing one last time before it’s your turn. Now your first slide is up and your audience attentive. You are confident, the adrenaline kicks in and you feel powerful. Everybody should be listening.

Suddenly, on your sixth slide, you realize something is not going as planned. The audience is simply not engaged. You start mumbling, your breathing quickens and your brain is saying ‘What the hell is wrong with my presentation?’. Sound familiar? I witnessed a few of these moments and felt extremely sorry for the presenter. That feeling of wasting everyone’s time when it dawns on you that you were simply unprepared.

 Lack of Preparation

It all boils down to preparation or the lack of it. I don’t just mean rehearsing which is critical to your performance but also the few critical points you should have in mind before crafting a story. Always ask yourself:

  • Who is the audience? (know what they expect)
  • Why should they care? (the big idea)
  • What do you want them to do? (call to action)

Knowing your audience – the most critical part. They are the recipients of what you are sharing and you better give them what they are expecting. It’s called VALUE. You need to resonate with them, what are those magic words that will grab their attention and engage them with what you have to say?

Why should they care? What benefits will they get from listening to you? You may be giving them precious advice on how to manage time or you may be articulating the benefits of your product; whatever you are trying to tell has to have a tangible benefit for your listener.

Call to action (CTA). Your content doesn’t just have to be engaging and provide value, but it also has to drive to some kind of action. The audience needs to leave the room with a sense of action, with a clear image of what they should be doing with the information you have provided. You CTA has to stick, make it simple to read and remember.

A journey for the audience

An engaging presentation has a structure. Your role is to drive the audience through a path. Here’s a great way to get proper attention.

Tell a story

Instead of telling everyone “Today I am going to talk about X, Y, Z” try starting with something that immediately captures the imagination of your audience; a story that people can relate to, an emotional connection with the listeners. You may use a moment in history, a moment in your life. Use a full-page image to narrate your story.

Describe a problem 

Once the audience is ‘connected’ with you through your story, it’s time to depict the ‘evil’ or the ‘issue’. Describing at this stage what is ‘wrong’ prepares the audience and builds up momentum for the reveal of ‘your solution’ and ‘its benefits’.

Describe the solution to the problem

This is why you are here! You have a solution that will help make their lives better. You will be the hero providing an answer to the problem. Be clear, don’t use jargon; sell it as an experience.

Highlight the benefits of your solution

Describe in detail how your recommendations will improve their lives. Give tangible examples of how you will help them.

Describe the call to action

List what the audience should be doing with your solution once they leave the room. Simplify the message with sticky words. Make sure those words sounds “actionable”!


 It’s about your audience 

It’s about them. Don’t fall in the “I” trap, it’s not about you. The audience hates arrogance and you should avoid being self-centered. Talk about them and stay relevant. Give them what they came for, and that is value. You know your audience so you should be clear on their expectations.

Focus on less or better said ‘be simple’ and use the ‘cut, cut, cut’ recipe. Go through your slides over and over and find ways to trim, shorten and make use of sticky words instead of long text. Jot down ideas on Post-Itsrearrange them at will like a storyboard, delete some, do this until the flow of your story is perfect. Only then you can fire up PowerPoint to create slides.

Stick to the allotted time!  Keep in mind that you have been given a certain amount of time so don’t cram 140 slides into a 30-minute presentation! Time yourself so that you don’t overrun. The attention span during a presentation is very short, so you need to condense the amount of information put up on the screen and remember that visuals are a lot more engaging than plain text.

Here a few tips for an engaging presentation

  1. Rehearse (Practice for days. Do it aloud at home, you’ll know when you’re ready)
  2. Know your venue (Check cables, screen, mic, room size, video connection, etc.)
  3. Be Passionate (Be entertaining, your audience will be glued to your speech)
  4. Engage with the audience (Ask questions and establish a conversation)
  5. Build Momentum (Long pauses, change position on stage, aid your story)
  6. Remove clutter (Fewer slides, use visuals, shorten the text, avoid transitions)
  7. Warm-up your voice (Do vocal exercises, reduce stress and sharpen your voice)
  8. One slide, one idea (remove slides that are not helping the audience)
  9. Be on Time (Start on time and use only the allotted time, show respect)
  10. Enjoy it (You have to feel good about it; don’t stress, just prepare!)

Presenting is an art and delivering powerful presentations requires structure, story, great slides, and deep preparation. Great presenters like Steve Jobs spent weeks preparing and curating every single detail of their presentation, from the tone of voice, visual aids, position on stage and creating amazing sound bites. (‘A thousand songs in your pocket’). 

There’s a ton of great books I can recommend about presentations. My post is a quick way to get you started.

Are you ready for your next presentation?


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