How To Be a Great Presenter

Data

How To Be a Great Presenter

I’ve been with InterWorks for almost a year now. It’s interesting being surrounded by a team of expert consultants. There is quite an immeasurable collection of shared IT and business intelligence experiences represented throughout our organization. And much of the regular scope of work for most of our employees is client-facing, meaning we have hundreds of meetings happening in parallel around the globe each day.  

With this in mind, we understand how critical it is for everyone at our tech consultancy to be good communicators and to be able to present thoughtfully and effectively.  

Recently, I had a colleague reach out and ask for some advice on making sure their upcoming presentation would be a stellar one. Beyond communicating new information, they wanted it to be meaningful and effective versus procedural and formulaic. Not that I’m an expert presenter, but as an enablement consultant, I’m teaching technical things to audiences regularly, so I had a few things I knew I could share that would help.  

As I started writing out my own recommendations, I realized it would be incomplete without sourcing ideas and thoughts from my teammates. There is always power in numbers. Thus, this blog post was born.  

Not every suggestion made my short-list, but I’m so glad I asked for feedback from my colleagues, because it helped me find out where there was a lot of commonalities and overlap with best practices, but then it also shined a light on some fresh, unique ways that could add impact and take a presentation from good to great. 

Practice 

It goes without saying that, universally, everyone agreed practice makes progress. One of my favorite quotes is from American writer Zig Ziglar:  

“There’s no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs.”

You’ll get better with repetition. You’ll know your content and material the more you say it aloud and put it to memory. During that process you might even find more concise ways of conveying your thoughts or ideas. Having a clear message and getting to the point quickly will give you time to both emphasize your messaging, while reconnecting back to your main points throughout. 

Pauses 

People can have short attention spans with lots of potential digital distractions vying for priority, so be prepared with a cadence of pre-built questions in advance. For longer, complex discussions, make time for short breaks or add in some creative activities. Those are all going to benefit your audience to help keep them honed in. I liked a couple of recent webinars I sat in on that included surveys as good transitional elements. 

Also, the pauses in your presentations are selfishly just as beneficial for you, the speaker, as they are for the participants. Not sounding rushed or like you want to fly through the information, will offer more power to your words and more time for those words to be processed.  

Imagery 

Don’t just say it. Show it. Try and think of how you can bring your words to life. If you are talking through key points that can have a visual to go with it, be sure to include it. Make your headlines big and try and keep your slides to one key point per page. Essentially, humans can break down visual elements without much brain effort. In data analytics, we refer to these exploits as pre-attentive attributes.  

Stock meeting image

Above: Adding a visual element (A stock photo, in this case) helps break up the monotony of a full page of text.

The science behind this phenomenon is confirmed that we can more easily connect to content when our senses are engaged. We can feel when we are hungry; it’s not something you have to think about. You might get goosebumps when thinking of nails on a chalkboard or teeth on a fork. You can remember your favorite elementary teacher’s face. The perceptual memory is a powerful part of our genetic makeup and is associated with long-term recollection. Thus, using imagery to engage your audience will help the story you want to tell stay with your users even longer.  

Look Good – Feel Good 

In 2023, there are now more virtual meetings than in-person ones. But don’t allow that to effect the way you present. Have a regular routine or pre-presentation ritual to get you in the right head space. For me, I like to make sure my hair is gelled (the few I have left) and my teeth are brushed. Interestingly, many of my colleagues also like having clean teeth before presenting. But I heard other great ideas, too. Put on a favorite tune. Or straighten up your desk, so you feel it’s in order; meaning you’re ready to go! 

Whatever it is, whether an impromptu dance or a splash of cologne, have a segue from your ordinary self into your presentation self. Why do we watch the same movies over and over or listen to our favorite song on repeat? It’s because it offers emotional familiarity. The more comfortable you are, the easier it will be to have cognitive flexibility. We’ll be able to field an unexpected question without being thrown off track. I like to say that comfort leads to confidence, and confident speakers are more trustworthy and gain audience buy in more easily. 

Tone 

The ability to leverage vocal inflection is something that can help you elevate your presenter status to expert level. Using simple changes to your vocal tone can give your presentation better flow and make the audience feel more relaxed. Research regularly reveals that a monotone presenter is the biggest reason that listeners decide to quit paying attention during a meeting. 

If you’ve given the same presentation more than once, you likely already know where your “aha!” moments are going to be. Make those insights shine bright by focusing on tone. Think of your voice as a piano. You can play your keys fast or slow. You can make them loud or soft. This subtle variation can let us differentiate as we talk. If you’re excited about your upcoming topic, your voice should parallel that energy. Actually, the more connected you are to your material, the more your tone and voice variety will occur organically. 

Rhetorical Devices 

Let’s go way back to our grammatical roots. Linguistic tools can help make your speeches more interesting to listen to. The different ways you put your words together through patterns, structure and repetition, the more of an impact your words will have. You’re probably already using rhetorical devices without even knowing it. Eutrepismus is where you state points in numbered format. We use lots of hyperbole in our spoken language too like, “This will blow your mind!” You may have to be a bit more thoughtful when using others like alliteration, “Sales were superb in September,” or antiphrasis, “Don’t worry, I’ve got all day” (when, of course, you really don’t.)  

Also, I will often ask myself a question, and then immediately answer that question. This is called hypophora. It’s a classic. Thinking through a PowerPoint presentation, one slide can be just the question: ex. “What is the biggest change expected for next year?” Then, answer the question with the very next slide. That subtle shift will give anticipation to your answer, making your response have an even bigger splash (“See what I did there?”). 

I also like metaphors. For example, “That presentation was lit” (is hopefully what people are saying about you after using the tips from this post). 

Personalization 

You will benefit from being authentic and sharing personal stories in your presentations. The audience is eager to know you, along with the information you have. You are made uniquely you! So, embrace that in your presentations. Let them in on what makes you one-of-a-kind, like your background or personal experiences. I can certainly be a bit silly, and I have no problem poking fun of myself to garner a laugh. Remember, you are the star of the show. The benefit of getting to know you through your personal experiences will be a value-add, and oftentimes is one of the primary reasons that keeps clients coming back for repeat business (the people they have worked with).

You’ll also benefit from knowing your audience, too. Invest the time to find out who you are presenting to. Create a link to things the audience cares about. You can do research to find out that information in advance of your meeting. You can also use questions to determine more about your audience in real-time. I enjoy an ice breaker question during intros if I have a smaller, intimate group because then I’ll take some quick notes of possible ways to relate the presentation to them even more.  

Steal 

My last is the shortest one. Obviously, don’t use copyrighted material, but steal from others. All great artists have. Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as saying, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” If you like the way a certain presenter talks through something, whether relevant or not, use some of their techniques. Please, for the sake of efficiency, don’t try and recreate the wheel. Maybe one of your colleagues has done a similar talk before. Repurposing their slide deck and talking points to allow you more time for personalization and improvements will go a long way. In my professional experience, I’ve garnered 20 years of presentation skills across many different mediums. Unabashedly, the presentations I give are mostly a collection of acquired skills I’ve seen or learned from others. 

In closing, as professionals, we know that clients will benefit from meetings that are interactive and thoughtfully prepared. But delivering the message is just as important as the message itself. In that light, I hope you find some of these tools, techniques, and best practices helpful. We certainly would love to hear a few from you, too. 

More About the Author

Robby White

Enablement Consultant
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