Presentation skills Do’s & Don’ts

Updated December 17, 2018


The importance of presentation skills
It is very sad that so many influential, bright-minded presenters with a deep expertise in their fields lose their audiences due to inadequate presentation skills. It is also about respect for the people in the audience, their time should not be wasted. Both event organizers and presenters need to do everything they can to add value to the audience. So here are some useful tips that I have accumulated over the years.

.Advice for speakers


  1. Think carefully before the event: what does this audience want to hear? Hint: they are not interested in hearing how great you or your company are, they want to learn new things that can make them more successful.
  2. Use story-telling and your passion. Find a story about people (yourself and others) that illustrates your message and tell it with your passion. Storytelling always beats lectures!
  3. Tell the audience not to take notes, say that you will email or post your presentation summary online immediately afterwards.
  4. Keep an eye contact with the audience and move around the stage, don’t hold on to the speaker stand. Use a clicker to control your presentation. Remember that 70% of your communication is in your body language!
  5. Engage the audience during your talk, at least every 10 minutes. For example by letting them vote on a question with their hands or green/red cards or mentometers.
  6. Slow down, speak slower than usual and add pauses for emphasis. This enables the audience to take in what you are saying and increases their understanding. It also gives you more respect. Never try to cram a 30-minute speech into a 20-minute time slot, that is a big no-no!
  7. It is important that you have a monitor with your slides in front of you, so you don’t have to turn around to see what is on the big screen. Also valuable is to have your laptop in front of you in presenter mode so that you see both the current slide and the next slide in front of you, it makes it much easier to make good transitions in your talk.
  8. Be visual, use pictures and videos that illustrate your points. Read my lips: less text, more visuals! You can do great presentations without any visuals,  but then you have to be a master storyteller.
  9. Design the slides so that they are easy to see from the back of the room. This means very big text sizes and images that fill the whole screen. The classic mistake is to sit in front of your laptop screen and design the slides for that arms-length distance, so step back 2-3 meters and see if you still can see everything. Also, avoid using borders, they are just wasted space. Remember: there are never any borders around the movie at the cinema!
  10. Make your slides in the 16:9 format. The old standard 4:3 is totally outdated, just look at your TV at home.
  11. Use a dark background on your slides, as it is easier to read for the audience and much better for the video cameras. (Yes, black text on white is considered easier to read, but that applies to large amounts of texts and we are not using that here, are we?) Also, a large projection of a white slide next to yourself in a dimly lit room will make you look darker and remove the focus from you.
  12. Avoid monotony by using variation and surprises in your slide styles during your presentation.
  13. Engage the audience. Ask questions and have them put their hands up, in order to raise the energy level in the room.
  14. Focus on 2 or maybe 3 things that you want to talk about, never more than 3 things.  Explain the challenge you are working with and then tell the story and visualize the solution.
  15. Build your presentation based on the classic drama formula: Start with a Set-up, then Present the problem(s), then proceed to the Confrontation and finally the Resolution. This has worked for all of us humans for thousands of years!
  16. Hire a speaker coach that helps you improve your body language and voice.
  17. Use a spell checker on all your slides. Takes only a minute, saves your face.
  18. If you present in another language than your native, consult a language tutor to improve your pronunciation as much as possible. Getting your message out is about being understood and respected.
  19. Test your presentation on other people beforehand and videotape yourself. Listen to their feedback and watch yourself: would you understand and appreciate your presentation?
  20. If you have a Q&A session after your talk, announce that it will be short, maximum 5 minutes and that you will show a wrap-up or case story illustrating your message after the Q&A session. That way you avoid draining the enthusiasm of the audience by long-winded Q&A sessions and you keep the audience in the room
  21. End your presentation by showing a slide with a key question, or action point aimed at the audience, to encourage discussions afterwards. Also, show you contact details and the link to your presentation summary on your blog, or on an internet service like Slideshare.
  22. Create a presentation summary that can be emailed or put on your home page or blog. The summary should not be all your slides, nstead, put together 3-4 slides that explain your key messages with pictures and very short texts. Add text notes to the slides with key messages and URLs to web sites.


  1. Don’t read word by word from your script. You will sound like a robot and miss the all-important eye contact with the audience. Use stiff cue cards with key words and starter sentences instead.
  2. Don’t read out loud from text bullets in your slides. If you have to use text bullets, keep them very short and very few per slide, then first let the audience read it and then expand on the subject using your own words.
  3. Don’t use complete sentences in your slides. Your voice shall tell the story, and the slides shall only support it.
  4. Don’t speak with a too low or monotonous voice. If people can’t hear you well at the back of the room, or if you don’t have any energy in your voice, you will lose the attention of the audience in a minute. Hire a voice coach!
  5. Don’t talk too fast and try to cram a 45-minute presentation into a 30-minute time slot by speaking at a machine-gun pace.
  6. Don’t start talking immediately on top of your slides. Let the audience interpret the slide for a while, then add your insights.
  7. Don’t use hard-to-read fonts or garish backgrounds.
  8. Don’t use cute or unusual photos that are not illustrating exactly what you are talking about. It distracts the audience; nobody will hear what you are saying.
  9. Don’t use effects, such as texts that tumble into the slide or any other disturbing transitions. The interesting stuff should be in your content, not in the effects.
  10. Don’t use any acronyms without spelling them out and explaining what they mean.
  11. Don’t waste your audience’s time by presenting the history and organization of your organisation. Unless it is essential to understand your presentation, which is very, very seldom.
  12. Don’t use a corporate slide template that displays the logo on each and every slide. Such templates should be banned everywhere, and they add no value to the audience. Remember, the audience is not there to learn about your company. The only place you can put your company logo is at the end, together with your name and contact details.
  13. Don’t mention tips verbally like “be sure to check out the website, it has great features” without displaying a slide with both a picture of the web site and the URL in big letters + a note stating that the URL will be in your posted presentation.
  14. Don’t hide behind the computer or speaker stand. Make sure the audience see you and maintain eye contact with them. But beware of pacing around the stage.
  15. Don’t stand in the projector beam, ever. It is totally distracting for the audience to see garbled text projected all over your head.
  16. Don’t end by simply summarizing what you have talked about. Instead, show your passion for your message and that you want the audience to succeed as a result of the message of your talk.

See also my post “Conferences Do’s and Don’ts

I also recommend these tips:
Death by Powerpoint
This Presentation Trick Makes You Sound Brilliant

Published by

Henrik Ahlén

I am an eHealth Strategist in Stockholm, Sweden I drive eHealth development projects from needs analysis and idea generation to service design and implementation. See my LinkedIn profile:

21 thoughts on “Presentation skills Do’s & Don’ts”

  1. All of these do’s and don’ts will definitely gonna help me to make a great presentation. Thank you for making such a informative article.

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  3. Great tips! Just following this guidelines alone could really help improve a presentation. Anyone new to presenting should review each suggestion before hitting the stage.

    I particularly enjoyed your tips for a seminar organizer. Great ideas to help the flow, and appear more organized! Having online participants able to join in the discussion….very cool.

    You might enjoying checking this out… there is free advice and presentation training….oh and a link to a REALLY GREAT T.E.D. presentation that I think you would enjoy.

    Its pretty cool:

    be well!

  4. Excellent tips. Thanks a lot for that. Especially number 10 in do’s: the classic drama structure. This gives the whole presentation some dynamics. And prevents the audience to drift off to somewhere else in their minds.

  5. Hanna: I agree that the Identity 2.0 presentation is impressive, but I do not think it is an effective way of communicating a message.

    The stream of images totally overwhelms the content that the presenter wants us to understand. This is eye candy and not a professional way of presenting.

    I am all for using illustrative pictures with little text, as opposed to bullet-text filled slides. But every image must support the message.

  6. My first internet- experience was not successful. But anyway I keep posting from time to time. All information online is for people to discuss. I think this is the most important thing why internet is so popular everywhere

  7. Many excellent points – thank you Henrik!

    I was at Internetdagarna and was again amazed (and bored stiff) over speakers with slides with 15 paragraphs of 10 pt Arial-text … and then a red line around the three last unreadable paragraphs, with the comment “these are probably the most important”..!!!

    I confess that I use too many slides, and rely on text to much, in my presentations. But I’m trying to get more visual.

    However, I think that variation and contrast are important to a good presentation. For example, if a number of slides have been visuals or keywords, a slide with a single complete sentence – perhaps as a major conclusion, in bold, great type! – will be a stark and sudden contrast.

    You could then let this slide speak for itself in complete silence for a while as a contrst to using your voice the rest of the time.

    It’s always good to surprise the listener with the unexpected element. Like ONE single moving image/text/transition, at the appropriate moment. A little drama is efficient!

    And could there be different optimal ppt-styles for different genres? If your aim is pure propaganda, convincing the audience – are there some styles more suited for that? If you want a true discussion, is another style better? If you just want to tell a story, give the numbers?

    There was a good book on graphic design by Bob Gill, called “Forget all the rules about graphic design. Including this one.” I have always liked that zen-like approach. If you forget “this one”, the you should follow the rules. Including the rule that says you shouldn’t follow the rules …! 🙂

  8. I really liked this one. If u ever is going to have shoud read this first!

    Really valuable information!

  9. Henrik,
    That is a very efficient way of expressing how to do it and how to not do it.
    Instructions for presentations. Perhaps a version to have in the mobile phone, or to print on a piece of paper.
    Paper!? Did I just write “paper?”
    Your conferences were all about the web, le web – rite?

  10. Hello Henrik – really interesting reading. I think that you are totally on the right track regarding less PPT and more hands on discussions. Although I belive that the format might vary dependent on the presentation setting, I have seen some really interesting ppt’s. So adding another bullet to your do’s would be more illustrations /pictures and less bullets. Many thanks / Tomas B

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