Don’t Lose Them at Hello: Tips for Good Presentation Skills

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We’ve All Been Here:

The other day I was among the attendees at a national conference. Like everyone else I wanted to hear an informative presentation by an exciting and charismatic professional. We were quickly disappointed. We were no longer listening to her message.

How the Presenter Lost Us at Hello

The speaker – a successful writer – sat behind a podium and microphone so we couldn’t see her face very well. She promptly told us this was the first slide show she had ever created, then was unable to use the projector’s remote control and couldn’t remember the order of her content. The presenter in the next session also had some technical difficulties, but she managed it well.  She walked away from the computer and talked to us while tech support solved the problem.  Her engaging presentation style kept us interested in her topic.

Becoming A Better Presenter

While it’s perfectly acceptable to warn your audience that you’re not a professional speaker, you should be aware that everyone still expects you to be good at it.

It’s not easy to keep people’s attention. Effective presentation skills improve the chances of people absorbing your message. Make sure people remember you for the right reason. In future articles I’ll talk in more detail about communication strategies and how to create powerful content, but in the meantime use these tips to make yourself a better presenter:

Ways to Improve Before the Event:

Determine the goal

  • Outline the objectives of the speaking engagement. This will make writing notes or creating slides easier.

Plan your content

  • Think about what participants will expect from you.
  • Keep slides to a minimum. Slides should have only four bullets with fives words per bullet. (See know your content)
  • Will you need printed material? (such as business cards or brochures)
  • Make notes. Use your software’s Presenter Notes function to document your script.

Know your content

  • Always assume that you’ll have technical problems and that you’ll have to rely on your notes and your voice to engage the audience.
  • The best speakers rarely look at the slides. Excellent presenters just talk!


  • Always rehearse all the content: Use the Rehearse function of your presentation software to run through the presentation and check your timing. This helps determine if content is the right length. You should also verify your knowledge of the content. You should NOT be reading the slides word-for-word. The slides only summarize your detailed knowledge of the topic(s).

Prepare facilities

  • Show up early to the location, test microphones, computer and projector and slide show.
  • Get to know the room and make it yours.
  • Where is the screen set up to display your presentation – can you stand beside it?
  • Is there room for you to move around while you’re talking?

During the Presentation

  • Never stand behind a podium or a lectern.
  • Make periodic eye contact with members of the audience
  • Stand to the left of the screen – People read left to right; and their attention will naturally return to your face regularly
  • Pause regularly for a breath, to collect your thoughts or check your notes. Silence also encourages people to ask questions.
  • Close well by summarizing your key message(s).

After the presentation

  • Be approachable by telling people they can talk to you after the session
  • Follow up with the host of the event or the participants

In time you’ll develop your own presentation style and preparation will be shorter.  Take advantage of speaking opportunities. But make sure your message stays in the spotlight.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Lose Them at Hello: Tips for Good Presentation Skills

  1. Excellent Post, Ruth! I have seen these presenters that continuously apologize and in essence, ask the audience to forgive their lack of preparation. Frankly it is an insult to the audience. If you accept a speaking engagement – OWN it! 
    I have seen a lot of posts on speaking, but this post covers the nuts and bolts often overlooked. I look forward to the follow up posts mentioned.

    1. Glad it was helpful Hania! It’s amazing to me that people feel that they can be sloppy and still get their message across.  I am working on future posts, but would love to know what readers are interested in communication wise. 

  2. Excellent article filled with a lot of great information.  I am a stickler for preparation and knowing your audience before you enter the room.   Most people are not natural “public speakers” and so having this kind of information is so helpful.  Take advantage of opportunities to speak and then ask for feedback.  If you don’t you may never really know how you are doing and where you can improve.  Thanks for the great article! 

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