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

Podcasting 2.0 wanted!

Written in 2007

I have written before that I think radio has a great future, since it is now available in many more flexible forms than just tuning in to the airwaves. We no longer have to follow time tables and dial between stations, and radio is easy to consume while doing other things, such as commuting, jogging etc.

This summer I have downloaded a lot of podcasts to my Nokia N95 smartphone. It has a very easy to use podcasting application that lets me search for and download both audio and video podcasts using the 3G network.
But I strongly feel that podcasts could become much more appealing if the existing technology was used more creatively;

The big drawback with podcasts compared to text is that you have to play through the clip to know if it is interesting. You cannot just glance at it and then go someplace else if it bores you.
I can browse through 60-second clips on YouTube if I feel like killing some time. But I mostly find it boring to listen to or watch a 5 minute segment anywhere, unless I know it is about something of key interest to me.

What is the difference between a regular radio and a mobile phone with radio capabilities or and MP3 player? The display! So why not use it?

I get lists of podcasts from different publishers. They are mostly named just with a date and show name. No hint on content, participants or who the publisher is.

I want:

  1. Text information for every media file: Headlines, who is participating, when was it published? Also there should always be a description of the publisher.
  2. Tags describing the clip content, with interactive tag clouds.
  3. A clickable text menu listing the program “chapters”, so that I can jump directly to for example the news item I want.

And why are so many video podcast shows just a talking head? What”™s the point? It just adds megabytes of useless video to my downloads and looks like television did in its infancy! If the resources for producing a professional video program are not available it is way better to work with audio and texts/still pictures.

And please, standardize file formats and controls. Now I get error messages like “This file type is not playable on this device”, but often they still work. Other times I download a huge clip and then find that it fore some unexplained reason will not play at all.
And the controls are different depending on what media player I happen to be using. Imagine if the pedals and steering wheels did not work the same in all cars!

Scenario: Radio Revival

Personal radio in your mobile

Executive summary:
Radio breaks free of channels and timetables and adapts itself to your preferences, anytime, anywhere. The combination of mobile broadband, smartphone apps and vast media libraries lets you enjoy radio the way you want it.

– – – – – – – The scenario – – – – – –

The rain drizzles down on this very grey Monday morning as Anna boards the bus for her daily 30-minute commute.

-I wonder how long I would stand this without my daily radio theatre”, she ponders while she takes a seat and whips out her mobile and wireless headphones. She selects a new drama in the radio theatre menu.

Her profile is set to 25-minute episodes to fit her commute time and seconds later she is immersed in a much more exciting world of adventure. As she leaves the bus, she almost longs for the ride back, to learn what will happen next.

Meanwhile, her husband Mike is sitting in his car just outside the city, swearing at the heavy traffic. He is facing a 3-hour drive to an important supplier and cannot find any music station on the radio that he likes. -Why don’t I try a book instead”, he mutters and selects the Audio Books menu on his mobile which is sitting in its dashboard cradle. As he browses the different categories, he notes that there are language courses too.

-OK, this is my chance of updating my Spanish. I will take an hour of Spanish lessons, after that I will enjoy that new Tom Clancy thriller everybody’s talking about.”

Their son Bobby is just coming home from his summer job delivering newspapers. His earplugs are still booming with a medieval war drama as he lies down on the lawn to experience the battle climax, with massive sound effects and big trumpet fanfares.

He then starts with his next assignment: mowing the lawn. To kill the next boring half-hour with the mower, he switches his mobile to his favourite music forum. An alert pops up on the display: -New single by Jupiter in your Mix”.

Bobby has opted for receiving promos and ads since he doesn’t want to pay for the shows. The Mix music show is auto-composed daily according to his personal music preferences, with news, songs and interviews with his favourite artists.

Humming and mowing, Bobby decides to buy a download of the new single and pay a bit extra also to send it to his girlfriend, all with two clicks on the mobile.

/Henrik Ahlen 🙂

-You may never know what results come of your action,
but if you do nothing there will be no result”

– Mahatma Gandhi