Presentation tips

Posted by Doc
Nov 09 2010

Planning and Preparation

  • Read books like “Presentation Zen” and “The Naked Presenter” by Garr Reynolds, and “Slide:ology” and “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte. Learn core skills of designing, planning, and building the presentation deck. Read Garr Reynolds’s blog, as well.
  • Remember that the deck is not the presentation, you are.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t expect your audience to retain dozens or even a dozen key learning points.
  • Decide up front what your core message is, and a few sub-messages, and stick with that. Martin Fowler talks about threes: three main points, then three sub-points under each.
  • Fewer words on the slides is better. Plan for the audience to pay attention to, listen to, and learn from you, not from reading the slides. Use words sparingly, use relevant images and illustrations, keep it simple.
  • Use visuals. Keeping words to a minimum doesn’t mean blank slides. Use appropriate photographs or illustrations that reinforce what you’re saying.**
  • Make it flow. Plan your presentation like a novel or a movie, so that the audience is guided from beginning to end.**
  • Use “callbacks” to reinforce key messages. Don’t just say something once. And don’t repeat ad nauseum. Reinforcing key messages periodically has real value. This helps to lock in the words that trigger the associated concepts.**


  • Deliver knowledge, not just information.
  • Tell stories. There’s nothing like real experience to drive a lesson home, not to mention engaging the audience’s interest.
  • Make eye contact. Eye contact means that you are connecting with the members of your audience. If you’re not making eye contact, they might as well be listening to or watching a recording.
  • Face your audience. Don’t turn and face the screen. Turning away from the audience disengages, and also makes you look like you’re not ready.*
  • Take the audience’s temperature. Constantly monitor for alertness, interest, fatigue, distraction, and so on. Check their body language, facial expressions, and movement.
  • Move. Don’t stand in one place, particularly if that one place is behind a lectern. Don’t play it safe. On the other hand, don’t move frenetically. Slow walking, gesturing with your hands, changing the distance between you and the audience are all good. Use your movement to emphasize what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method is a great example of this.
  • Have a conversation with the audience. Don’t talk at them. Don’t lecture them. Talk to them as if you’re having a one-on-one conversation, explaining and discussing something.
  • Relax. The more tense you are, the less comfortable they will be.  The more relaxed you are, the more they will learn from you.
  • Make it fun. Your audience will come away thinking you’re wonderful if they have fun. It helps if you have real, interesting content, of course. 🙂
  • Know your material, don’t read the slides. The audience has every right to expect you to be knowledgeable about your material and your subject. If you have put the words on the slide, and are reading the slides, then why does the audience need you?  See the note above about fewer words.*
  • Breathe. Seems simple, right? Allow yourself to pause, to look around, to take a deep breath.  A three-second pause will seem like eternity to you, but goes by in a flash for the audience.*

* [added 22 Nov]
** [added 26 Nov]

2 Responses

  1. Can’t help but feel I may have been a bit of an inspiration for this blog post, given my obsessive behavior over my slide deck last evening.

    Thanks Doc.

    – (Other) Doc

    • Doc says:

      You’re always a bit of an inspiration, my friend. This one was the result of seeing several people working on their presentations yesterday for sessions today and later in the week. Plus my general experience, of course, and a reminder to myself.

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