Yesterday I moderated the Hubbub ’07 conference in Stockholm, a very energizing experience. The organizers, young college students from Singapore, studying in Sweden in the Nustart programme, impressed me much with their talent and energy. They managed to gather a very interesting mix of speakers, ranging from young startup entrepreneurs with interesting internet services to experienced high-profile serial entrepreneurs like Hjalmar Winblad.
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
- 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.
- 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!
- Tell the audience not to take notes, say that you will email or post your presentation summary online immediately afterwards.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Make your slides in the 16:9 format. The old standard 4:3 is totally outdated, just look at your TV at home.
- 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.
- Avoid monotony by using variation and surprises in your slide styles during your presentation.
- Engage the audience. Ask questions and have them put their hands up, in order to raise the energy level in the room.
- 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.
- 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!
- Hire a speaker coach that helps you improve your body language and voice.
- Use a spell checker on all your slides. Takes only a minute, saves your face.
- 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.
- Test your presentation on other people beforehand and videotape yourself. Listen to their feedback and watch yourself: would you understand and appreciate your presentation?
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t use complete sentences in your slides. Your voice shall tell the story, and the slides shall only support it.
- 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!
- 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.
- Don’t start talking immediately on top of your slides. Let the audience interpret the slide for a while, then add your insights.
- Don’t use hard-to-read fonts or garish backgrounds.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t use any acronyms without spelling them out and explaining what they mean.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t stand in the projector beam, ever. It is totally distracting for the audience to see garbled text projected all over your head.
- 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.