The secrets of the most successful presentations


Are you prepared for your next presentation? Learn the insider’s tricks of the trade to ensure you’re ready to take the stage.

So you’ve spent weeks working on your PowerPoint slides, you’ve rehearsed so many times you could recite the script in your sleep, and you’re dealing with your nerves as best you can. You’re all good to go, right?


Wrong, says Sara Parsons, who, in her webinar Delivering a great presentation revealed that in focusing most of your prep time on researching the facts (like 56% of everywoman Network members), crafting your slide decks (like 22%) or practising your patter (11%), you’re neglecting to work on the most important aspect of your moment in the spotlight: yourself.

You are your presentation. You are your best visual. The slides are merely a crutch; the menu is not the meal, The work you do on yourself is what can bring your presentation to life, making your audience connect with and remember your key messages. 

everywomanExpert Sara Parsons

Figure out your objective

If you’ve been asked to present by someone else, ask what the key objective is. Is it to give a general overview of your team’s work for the past month?

To highlight an issue everyone needs to be aware of? To showcase a particular success? To engage a new group with the work of your division?

Remember that the average attention span is 12 seconds – a figure that’s on the decline thanks to the instantaneous, technology-enabled world we live in.

So being really clear on your objective – and even communicating that to your listeners – can shine a spotlight on the best techniques for achieving that goal.


Understand your delivery strengths and weaknesses

Think through the things about the way you speak that people seem to like or respond well to, as well as anything you do which turns them off or even frustrates them.

Think about the last few presentations you’ve sat through: what made you lean forward and what made you wish the speaker would just get on with it or wrap up?

Common irritants include:

  • repeating words over and over
  • tapping a pen
  • using filler words like ‘um’
  • twiddling with your hair
  • playing with jewellery
  • swaying back and forth
  • tilting your head when you talk
  • shuffling your notes
  • pushing your glasses back and forth
  • speaking really slowly

Once identified, all are easy to curb. If you know you’ve a tendency to fiddle with a bracelet, don’t wear it. If you tend to fidget on your feet, consciously plant them firmly on the ground.

Practice eliminating your ums and erms in everyday speech to eradicate credibility-quashing fillers.  


Make your credibility clear upfront

When we’re listening to a presentation, we instinctively look to establish that the speaker is credible and that what they have to say can be trusted and should be listened to.

Consider how you can build this into the early presentation – if what you’re going to communicate is the fruits of many months labour, tell them.

If your audience is new, don’t just tell them your job title – give a flavour of your day to day so that they understand how and why it is that you’re the expert.


Capture imagination

It might be really important to communicate tons of numbers, percentages and statistics in your presentation, but listing stat after stat on bullet point slides isn’t going to satisfy anyone.

But leading with a juicy stat can capture your audience’s attention, particularly if you tease its meaning before the big reveal.

Let’s say for example that you’re presenting your research on how young people communicate and you want the key takeaway to be that you’ve discovered that the average teen is able to process 3,700 texts per month.

A single slide with the number 3,700 in large typography will instantly intrigue. Invite interaction and even humour by asking for the wildest suggestions for its meaning.

Throwing out the occasional question and inviting comments is a stronger indicator to your audience that they need to pay attention!


Win hearts and minds

You’ve already captured their attention by asking a question or creating some intrigue around your content. But beyond that, how do you want your audience to feel? Surprised? Moved to action? Sentimental? Outraged?

Once clear on that you can adapt accordingly the way you present your backup facts in order to emphasise those things more likely to inspire your preferred outcome.


Channel your inner VIP

A very important person you may be, but for the purposes of nailing your presentation, VIP stands for:

  • Volume: If you’re too loud or too soft, your audience will struggle. Visit the room before your presentation to practice a desirable pitch. Use a colleague or a recording advice to establish if people at the back can hear you. Will you be using a microphone? If so make sure you test it out beforehand to figure out how you should speak into it to ensure the whole room can hear you adequately. If they don’t, they’ll soon start to chat amongst themselves, and nothing undermines your confidence like losing the room’s attention early on.
  • Intonation: Record yourself delivering your script and identify any areas where you sound monotonous, lacking energy or enthusiasm, or where your sentiments don’t match how you sound (“I’m really excited to tell you about…” when you don’t sound excited at all).
  • Pause: You know your script inside out; your audience, however, are hearing it for the first time, and need time to digest your points. Pause more often than you think you need to; if you’ve a tendency to rush, colour code certain words or put in <PAUSE> identifiers to remind you to sl-ow <PAUSE> down.


Intonate your key messages

Everything you say should carry an important message, but within all those crucial bits you’re sharing, there will probably be a few ideas or facts that you ultimately want your audience to take away with them.

One great way to do this is to use your voice to indicate when something is really important. Listen to a famous speech and notice where the deliverer emphasises certain points or words. Now look at your own script and highlight in red the words you want to make stand out.


Three is the magic number

“Work, rest and play.” “Past, present and future.” “I came, I saw, I conquered.” It’s no coincidence that some of the most memorable advertising slogans or word groupings are those that come in threes.

Look at your messages and see if you can distil them into triage groups, using catchy acronyms or alliterations to make them even more compelling.


Don’t neglect the Q&A in your prep

For more than three quarters of everywoman Network members, confidence at handling end-of-presentation questions depends very much on what’s being asked.

If you want to up the interactivity stakes and invite questions, opening with “What questions do you have?” can be more successful than “Are there any questions?”

But if you’re nervous of going off script and into the unknown, think carefully about what you could be asked, think about the audience and what they’re interested in, or elicit the help of a colleague to help determine what sorts of questions you might be asked.

You can then incorporate their answers into your presentation, create an accompanying frequently asked questions hand-out, or prepare to answer them should they come up.

If you opt for the latter, ensure you respecting the audience member; smile, pause to show you’re reflecting and give them your honest assessment.

Ultimately, it’s fine not to know the answer, but if that’s the case promise to reflect and get back to them.


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