How to Give Better Presentations


If you’ve ever had the chance to present at work, then you know how nerve-racking it can be. You’re up in front of the likes of your boss, peers or direct reports. The pressure is on to deliver an engaging and effective message, no matter how big or small the presentation is.

If you present well, it’s a great opportunity to stand-out and demonstrate your communication skills. If you miss the mark, it can negatively impact your personal brand and chances for promotion. This is because leaders who aspire to management positions will undoubtedly need to communicate outwardly to others on a regular basis – about strategy, priorities, progress, and a vision for the future.

How can you work on strengthening your presentation skills? Here are 11 tips for giving a better presentation at work:

Understand the Audience: Before jumping into the design of your presentation, make sure you’ve thought about the nature of your audience. What type of people are they? What are their dominant characteristics and needs? What do you think they’re expecting of you? Have you asked? The answers to these questions might totally change how you go about presenting, from the level of detail or data you include, to the amount of interactivity you create.

Get Clear About Purpose: As basic as it sounds to know the overall purpose of your presentation, it’s something many of us just don’t think about.  For instance, are you needing to inform, enroll, convince, excite, or enact? Which is most important? Once clarified, the primary aim of your presentation will dictate what approach you take to communicating.

Define the Takeaways, First: This is another important prerequisite to creating your presentation.  Before you build your content, see if you can first articulate 2 to 3 main takeaways. When everyone walks out of the room, what do you want them to think, do or have learned? This will help you focus your message on what’s most important. Otherwise, presentations can easily get muddled, overcomplicated or confusing.

Create a Logical Roadmap: After you’ve defined the purpose of your presentation, as well as the desired takeaways for participants, I recommend you build a basic roadmap of primary content themes. How will you connect the dots from the introduction to the conclusion? Does that pathway make logical sense as a progression of ideas? Is it clear enough?

Make it Interactive: Especially in today’s over-stimulated culture, it’s important to move beyond lecturing to engage participants in a conversation. This is even more crucial if you want your audience to retain what they’re learning, give buy-in, or take new action. If you aren’t finding ways to get your audience talking, debating or interacting with you or each other, I guarantee the majority of them will tune-out within a matter of minutes (and maybe seconds)!

Use More Images Than Words: By this time, you’ve probably already heard and accepted the best practice of using more images than words in PowerPoint presentations. Even so, I’m still surprised how much written content shows up in slide decks. It’s just so temping…and easier. But – it’s a lot less effective. In many cases, your listeners will read ahead or just stop listening. Instead, utilize images, photos or diagrams that illustrate a point more visually, inspire a particular emotion, communicate a relevant metaphor, or offer a personal anecdote.

Tell a Story: Storytelling is probably the most compelling way to communicate. Don’t miss the opportunity to incorporate a story into your presentation, either about you or someone else related to the topic (i.e. a historical figure, an organizational founder, a member of your team, a customer, etc). Storytelling will create a deeper connection with your audience and get them more emotionally engaged. This doesn’t have to be a long or complicated story, but even a lighthearted quip or anecdote will work to increase the relatability and emotional appeal of your message.

Make it Personal: How do you relate to the topic at hand? What’s a way that you’ve connected to it?  In what way are you passionate about it? Incorporating some personal relevance (through a quick story perhaps!) might help others connect to the topic as well. 

Be Authentic: I know what you’re probably thinking…“That’s easy to say, but how can I work on this?” To start, I’d invite you to become more aware of what stance you’re taking while presenting. In other words, are you trying to act-out a certain role? Are your words and actions motivated by wanting to impress others? Are you trying to say or do the perfect thing? Are you overly focused on not using any “umm”s? If so, then you’re likely masking some authenticity. Instead, try to allow your genuine and imperfect self to show up.  When you do so, you’ll settle into a much more confident and natural flow that will garner a more connected response from your audience.

Link it to Action: When you conclude with clear next steps or actions, you’ll increase the perceived and real value of your presentation. It makes audiences feel better about the time and energy spent listening, as they’re leaving with something concrete and practical. It also helps create more ongoing impact by providing actionable ways for people to advance the goals at hand.

Incorporate Humor: When and if it’s appropriate, adding a bit of humor to a presentation can make a huge difference in increasing the engagement of your audience. Laughing is a powerful human action – it awakens emotions, activates energy and creates connections between people. Incorporating humor might involve starting with a quick and related joke. Or, it might mean including a lighthearted photo, graphic or pop-culture reference that gets a laugh from the audience.