Presentation skills Do’s & Don’ts

Updated August 14, 2015

I have collected these tips from attending numerous events and conferences, for example:
The Future of Web Apps
in London.
Beyond the Printed Word
in Dublin
SIME in Stockholm
LeWeb in Paris
Rework the World in Tällberg
Tällberg Forum in Sigtuna
TEDGlobal in Edinburgh
Biohacker Summit in Helsinki

The first two had a conventional setup with a moderator who introduced the speakers, and then let the speakers talk for 20-40 minutes, most of them using Powerpoint to illustrate their talks. I found that the majority of the speakers had interesting things to communicate, but the way they performed their presentation effectively eliminated most of the value for me in the audience.

SIME used a different method, relying on a moderator that held discussions with 1-4 invited speakers on stage. I find this approach much better, as it tends to focus on the issues and not on the speakers and the history of their companies etc. But it of course puts a lot of responsibility on the moderator who must be able to distill the value out of each speaker, but Ola Ahlvarson did a great job of this at SIME. The only thing I missed was visuals, the speakers should display the websites etc as they are discussed. Using a combination of voice, pictures, video and text is always preferrable.

Since so many conferences suffer from these problems I felt that I must share my thoughts on how to hone your presentation skills. Comments are welcome, please help me add to this list!

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 their poor presentation skills. It is also about respect for the audience. People pay a lot of money and travel from far away to attend conferences, so their time should not be wasted. Both the organizers and the presenters need to do everything they can to add value to the audience, so here are some useful tips.

.Advice for speakers

.Do’s

  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. Find a story about people (yourself and/or others) that illustrates your message and tell it with passion.
    Storytelling always beats lectures!
  3. Start by urging the audience not to take notes, say that you will post your presentation summary online immediately afterwards. Your presentation summary should not be all your slides. Instead, put together three (maximum 3!) slides that explains your key messages with pictures and very short texts.
  4. Keep an eye contact with the audience, and move around the stage, don’t hold on to the speaker stand! Use a remote 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. Speak slowly to enable the audience to take in what you are saying and increase 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. 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 me a master storyteller.
  8. 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, never use borders.
  9. Make your slides in the 16:9 format. The old standard 4:3 is outdated, look at your TV at home!
  10. 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.
  11. Avoid monotony by using variation and surprises in your slide styles during your presentation.
  12. Engage the audience! Ask questions and have them put their hands up. But don’t insult them with silly game play.
  13. Focus on 1, 2 or maybe 3 things that you want to talk about, never more than 3 things.  Explain the problem you are working with and then tell the story and visualise the solution.
  14. Construct your presentation based on the classic drama: 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!
  15. Hire a speaker coach that helps you improve your body language and voice.
  16. Use a spell checker on all your slides. Takes only a minute, improves your image.
  17. If you present in another language than your native, consult a language tutor to improve your pronuncation as much as possible. Getting your message out is about being understood and respected.
  18. Test your presentation on other people beforehand and videotape yourself. Listen to their feedback and watch yourself: would you understand and appreciate your presentation?
  19. End by showing a slide with a key question or action point aimed at the 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.

Don’ts

.

  1. Don’t talk for more than 10 minutes before you somehow engage the audience.
  2. 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. Instead use stiff cue cards with key words and starter sentences.
  3. 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 you voice, you will loose the attention of the audience in a minute. Hire a voice coach!
  4. Don’t talk too fast and try to cram a 45-minute presentation into a 30-minute time slot by speaking at machine gun pace. You might just as well stay at home.
  5. Don’t use any acronyms without spelling them out and explaining what they mean.
  6. Don’t read from text bullets in your slides. If you absolutely 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.
  7. Don’t use complete sentences in your slides. Your voice shall tell the story and the slides shall only support it.
  8. Don’t start talking immediately on top of your slides. Let the audience interpret the slide for a while, then add your insights.
  9. Don’t use hard-to-read fonts or garish backgrounds that obscures the text.
  10. 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.
  11. Don’t use effects, such as texts that fly into the slide or ANY other disturbing transitions. You’re not running an amusement park, the interesting stuff should be in your content.
  12. Don’t waste you audience’s time by presenting the history and organization of your organisation. Unless it is essential in order to understand your presentation, which is very, very seldom.
  13. Don’t use a corporate slide template that displays the logo on each and every slide. Such templates should be banned everywhere, they add no value for 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.
  14. Don’t mention tips verbally like “be sure to check out the website www.fancynewstuff.com, 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. All essential facts mentioned need to also be visual.
  15. Don’t hide behind the computer or speaker stand. Make sure the audience see you and maintain eye contact with them.

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 advisor and project manager in online and mobile services, mainly in eHealth. I manage development projects from needs analysis and idea generation to service design. See my LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mrhenrikahlen

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

  1. 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: http://www.presentationgravity.com

    be well!
    Kristin

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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 …! :-)

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

    Really valuable information!

  7. 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?
    Johan

  8. 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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