How to prepare and deliver a great presentation
The first part of this resource is about how to prepare well, providing the foundations for a successful talk. The final sections focus on confident delivery of your presentation.
- Where – small room or large lecture theatre? On a stage? Familiar or new setting? What are the audience seating arrangements?
- When – time of day? This really affects audience concentration. People are at their most alert in the morning and most lethargic after lunch!
- Length of talk – 45 minutes max. It’s hard to maintain audience engagement for longer;
- Are there other speakers? Where are you in the running order? Make sure not to overrun;
- What equipment or technology will be available? Will you have a microphone, computer, flipchart, table or lectern?
Your presentation is all about establishing a rapport with your audience and keeping them engaged. Before writing your speech, reflect on:
- Size and make-up (age range, gender etc.) of group? Are they there compulsorily or out of interest? Is it a work or leisure event? Do they have an understanding of the material you are covering?
- Are you there to inform, teach, inspire, stimulate, encourage, persuade?
- Audience expectations – what are they there to learn from you?
- Is the presentation formal or informal?
- Audience participation – will you provide opportunities for the audience to interact with you or each other? This can work particularly well in a lower energy after lunch session. Decide on key questions and areas for discussion.
Writing your presentation
Structure your speech carefully, just as you would for a written report. It should have a clear introduction, main section and conclusion:
- Introduction – greet your audience, introduce yourself and gain attention. State your purpose and give a concise preview of the main elements you will cover;
- Body – cover your key elements in more detail, expand on the main points, providing analysis, supporting evidence & examples;
- Conclusion – briefly recap, summarising your key points and conclude decisively with the main subject;
- The Power of 3 – the human brain can best grasp and retain 3 points at a time. As well as the basic structure of intro, body and conclusion, you can divide the main section into 3 elements of key message, and expand each into 3 sub-points;
- What Why How – an alternative structure is to address these questions, providing supporting evidence, examples, case studies and data:
What – identify your key message;
Why – give reasons behind your key message;
How – suggest how to achieve what is being discussed.
- 3 key points – 10-15 minute presentation;
- 6 key points – 30 minutes;
- 8 key points – 45 minutes.
Managing presentation notes
Decide if you will have brief notes or the full text when giving your presentation:
- Full text – it’s useful to have the full text available so you don’t forget anything, but avoid reading direct from a script as this can sound stilted and means you place less attention on engaging with the audience;
- Cue cards – index cards with keywords, brief notes and phrases are easier to handle and look more professional. Only write on one side and number the cards to match presentation slides or in case you drop them;
- Powerpoint note pages are really useful as you can create tailored notes relating to each slide;
- Mindmaps – diagrams with words, ideas, tasks arranged around a central key word or idea can be useful for visualising and illustrating complex relationships.
Learn what you are going to say and rehearse as much as possible – to yourself and colleagues, and get feedback. The more you simplify your prompts, the more you can increase spontaneity and rapport, but the easier it is to lose your thread, so it really helps to make sure you are familiar with your material.
Visual aids can enhance and add impact to your presentation, as well as maintaining interest and increasing understanding. They can be used to illustrate, clarify, simplify and summarise the points you are making as well as to entertain.
Think about how the words and visuals will work together. They obviously require advance preparation and will need to be operated efficiently:
- What type of visuals will you use? PowerPoint, Keynote and Quicktime are the most popular software for creating, editing and sharing presentations, but you can also use a flipchart, handouts, or overhead projector;
- What will your visuals consist of? They could be text, images, bullet points, video/animation, charts and diagrams or a mixture of these things;
- They need to be relevant, don’t be tempted to use too many and keep them simple. Edit carefully – they should only contain the minimum information necessary. As a rough guide, limit your bullet points to 3 each slide and words per slide to a maximum of 10;
- Ensure the text size is readable for your audience;
- Think about design and colour and check your slides for typos, spelling, grammar, consistency of font and layout. Pictorial representations such as graphs and pie charts are more easily understood than numbers but avoid detailed diagrams;
- Using data – it can be helpful to include data to back up your argument and make it more meaningful, but don’t overdo statistics and keep them simple as people may switch off or have problems understanding complex figures;
- Slick and sophisticated presentations can be created by a professional designer, who can also advise on latest presentation techniques, to give truly dynamic and motivational performances when required.
- Greeting and introduction – acknowledge your introduction if you have been given one, introduce yourself again and give some background about your organisation;
- Explain what your presentation is about, present it, and at the end recap;
- Keep to your allotted time – it’s better to finish early than overrun;
- Stick to your plan – don’t be tempted to digress;
- Leave time at the end for questions and discussion;
- Stand tall with your head up – make eye contact with your audience but don’t fix your gaze on one person;
- Speak clearly and check that everyone can see and hear you;
- Pace yourself – don’t rush or talk too slowly, but remember to pause at key points for emphasis, and vary the pace, pitch and your tone of voice every so often to make it more interesting;
- Don’t face or talk to your display screen, or obscure it and avoid moving around too much. You can use your hands for expression and emphasis but don’t overdo it;
- Keep an eye on the audience’s body language – if people are fidgeting and losing interest, know when to stop or omit material.
- Think about your personal presentation – dress appropriately, be aware of your appearance, body language, positioning and tone of voice;
- Try to visit the venue first or arrive early so you can familiarise yourself with computer equipment, microphone, power sockets and light switches etc.
- Make sure the stage or place you are delivering your talk from, and the audience seating, are arranged to your satisfaction;
- Room lighting and temperature – you don’t want it too bright so your screen content is unclear, or too dark and warm so people get sleepy;
- Afterwards, review your performance – did the presentation meet your own and audience expectations, was your message effectively communicated? Try to get feedback and identify action points so you can make improvements for next time.
Coping with nerves
- Taking slow, deep breaths and doing some gentle stretches can help your body relax;
- Have a glass of water to hand;
- Chewing gum can help to calm nerves;
- Eat a banana beforehand – bananas contain vitamin B6, potassium and magnesium, all of which are natural nerve and muscle relaxants;
- Give yourself a mental pep-talk – tell yourself: “I am going to do my best and everything will go smoothly. If I make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world, and likely that no one will notice or mind”;
- Use visualisation techniques – imagine the presentation going really well and it’s more likely to do so;
- Focus on the audience rather than yourself.
We hope these guidelines will assist you in creating a perfectly formed presentation which communicates your message clearly, helps you bring it to life and deliver it confidently to make maximum impact on your audience. One last point – remember to smile and enjoy yourself!