Effective presentations require that you put a good deal of thought into how your audience will react to every component of your presentation. While an engaging personality or an intriguing subject matter will help, you can make any topic work well if you follow several key guidelines, divided into nine areas: Audience Adaptation; Opening; Organization; Content & Ethos; Storytelling; Visual Display; Delivery; Team Interplay; and Conclusion.
Review this evaluation checklist to make sure you’ve covered all the important areas for giving an effective presentation. Descriptions of each of the 50 components are listed below.
Adapting to your audience is, above all else, the most important thing you must consider. Make sure you think about what they care about (not what you find interesting), what they’ll expect to hear, what they don’t already understand (and what they do), and so forth. If you don’t know your audience before going into a presentation, research them. Ask questions. The more you know about them, the better you can prepare for them.
Use appropriate tone: Just like you speak differently with your friends than you likely do with your mother, you’ll want to change the way you speak to one audience over another. Ask yourself: What level of formality is appropriate? Should I attempt humor? (In most cases, unless you know you’re funny, you may want to avoid attempting to be in order to steer clear of awkwardness if a joke doesn’t go well.) Will my audience be relaxed, tense, or bored? How can I adapt to that?
Use appropriate jargon & acronyms: Every audience will have a certain level of understanding of your subject matter prior to seeing you present. It’s critically important that you understand what specific terms they know and don’t know so that you don’t use words or acronyms that are confusing to them. If you use industry-specific jargon or acronyms, make sure your audience knows them in advance. If they don’t, define the terms for them.
Make topic relevant to audience: Make sure that your audience will care about your topic. Sometimes you’ll present information to your boss because he asked you to. In this case, the topic will probably automatically be relevant. But in other cases, your audience may be there because they have to be for work, or they may be there to learn more information but may not fully understand what they’re about to learn. Make sure, regardless of what the situation is, that you tailor the message to the audience’s situation and make them care about the topic.
Knowledge of subject matter appropriate for audience: Present depth of knowledge at the level your audience can understand. If you’re a chemistry professor speaking about nutrition to pharmaceutical researchers, your depth of explanation will be quite different than if you’re speaking to college freshmen about nutrition. Two things are important here: if your audience knows a lot about your topic going in, don’t patronize or bore them by telling them things they already know. If they don’t know much about the topic, be clear and detailed to make sure they’re on the same page as you and start from a common ground they can relate to.
Your opening is key to engaging your audience right from the beginning. If you bore them up front, you may have lost them for good.
Start with Strong attention-grabber: Attention grabbers can come in may forms. Some of the most common include telling stories; sharing fascinating quotes; giving alarming or surprising statistics; asking your audience a question; telling a joke (but only if it’s both relevant and funny); creating an imaginary scenario (“imagine you’re stuck on an island…”); surprising your audience; or giving a demonstration or object lesson. Regardless of what you choose, make it relevant, make it pithy, and make it work for your audience. Do the attention-grabber well, and you’ll be on pace to keep you audience engaged the entire time.
Make Your Topic Clear: There should be no question in your audience’s mind, even just a couple minutes into it, where you are headed with the presentation. State your topic, address the issues, and make it relevant.
Make Your Topic Interesting: Interest comes with relevancy and what we call “exigency.” Make your audience care by letting them know how your topic affects them. Give the facts, stories, anecdotes, issues, etc. that will intrigue and interest them.
Forecast a clear direction for presentation: At the end of your opening, tell the audience what to expect. What are you going to cover? Create a clear road map so that they know what to expect and so that they know where you’re at in the middle of the presentation.
Organization is key to keeping your audience fully engaged for the entire presentation. As soon as you veer off track somewhere, you begin to lose the attention of your audience.
Follow the Road Map: In your introduction, you gave your audience the road map. Now be sure that you follow it in the order that you said you would. Stick to the plan from start to finish.
Include Frequent Transitions & Signposts: Transitions are statements that connect a previous section or idea of your presentation to the next section or idea. Use words and phrases that link the two so that there is a clear connection between ideas and so that audiences can sense a progression. A “signpost” is a kind of transition. It’s a word or phrase that reminds the audience where you are in the presentation. You might connect a dot, remind the audience where you are, or let them know what’s coming next.
Progress towards Finish: Just like in any good movie, there needs to be a sort of plot building at all times. You’ll want to always be building towards a finish, with each piece of your presentation moving you towards some kind of conclusion. Remember that all good communications should have a beginning, middle, and end. Be sure that each component of the middle progresses towards a clear and meaningful end.
Provide Summary(ies) of Main Points: If your presentation goes beyond 10 or 15 minutes, it may be helpful to occasionally remind your audience what’s been said. Help your audience understand, at every step along the way, what is happening and what the information or data means.
Connect Loose Dots: If you begin a story or anecdote, be sure to tell the ending at some point. If you provide interesting data, make sure you let the audience know what it means. If you’re leading towards a recommendation, be sure that the recommendation is based on research or evidence you just suggested. Don’t leave your audience hanging in any capacity.
Content & Ethos
Ethos refers to your credibility. In order for an audience to fully appreciate and follow your arguments and positions, you must show that you are knowledgeable of the subject matter and that the information you are presenting is founded on something that your audience can agree is good supporting evidence.
Use Only Persuasive Argumentation: Avoid presenting an argument with gaps or holes. You may wish to study the logical fallacies for more insight on where arguments can go wrong. When you make a statement, make sure you qualify it and provide appropriate support.
Conduct Sound Research: As you know and understand your audience, you should know what they will consider valuable and worthwhile research for your type of presentation. Generally speaking, you want to build your argument based on a variety of sources. You might provide case studies, survey data, secondary research (information from books, journals, etc.), observations, testimonials, expert endorsement, or something else. Regardless, you must convince your audience that you’ve done your due diligence.
Include Only Relevant Material: While this may seem obvious, don’t present material that isn’t directly relevant to your key points. Don’t get distracted and stick to your organizational plan. Make sure all content has a purpose and that it leads towards that strong conclusion.
Provide Convincing Analyses and Conclusions: Show your audience how much you know about the subject matter by giving them clear, logical analyses of your data and draw conclusions that come directly from your data. Avoid drawing conclusions that come from personal opinion, but rather focus on what your research and data suggest.
Pertinent Data and Evidence: Be sure that all of you data and evidence is directly related to your overall message. Don’t pull in facts simply because you find them interesting. Again, all content needs to build or progress towards something. Don’t get sidetracked with tangentially related data.
All good presentations–no matter for business, school, clubs, or church–are better when stories are told. Human beings have a natural inclination for stories. People want to know how stories end. Make stories work for your presentation by describing people (characters), situations (settings), problems, climaxes, and resolutions. All presentations should have at least one story, but you may incorporate many more.
Tell Stories with Purpose: Don’t tell stories just to tell stories, but make connections between what you are telling your audience with a real example.
Tell Realistic Stories: You don’t want your audience to think you made the story up or that it’s exaggerated. Provide enough appropriate detail so that your audience can believe what you’re telling them is not only true, but its possible, likely, or directly relevant to them.
Tell Stories with Clearly Described Characters: Make sure your audience knows who the people are and why they matter to the story.
Be Sure to Have a Conflict: Stories don’t need to be complicated or extraordinary to be good. But they should have a conflict (which leads to the purpose for telling the story.) There must always be some issue that needs to be resolved.
Don’t Forget the Resolution: When you start a story of any kind, make sure that you let your audience know how it turned out.
Tell Only Relevant Stories: Avoid getting sidetracked or on a tangent. All stories should have a clear purpose and should lead the audience towards your conclusions and arguments.
Perhaps the single greatest complaint in the history of presentations is that PowerPoint slides have too much text. Use your slide deck platform to create visually stunning, supportive visuals. Visuals should always complement (not distract or supersede) a presentation’s message. But images are almost always better than text when on the screen.
Be Simple: Make slide designs simple. As Leonardo da Vinci famously said: simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. White background with black text is a great choice. Avoid fancy or distracting backgrounds or other visual noise. Keep the design simple, giving focus to the key elements.
Be Clear: Be sure that your images or graphics have a clear purpose. If you’re showing data in chart or graph, explain the graph. Don’t talk about something else while hoping your audience will read all the numbers and draw conclusions. Point them to what they should learn from the graph.
Use Minimal (if any) Text: People don’t remember text very well and they don’t remember what they hear very well…unless there’s a picture attached to what they hear. Use pictures to supplement and enhance what you are saying. Avoid as much text as is possible. Oftentimes, it’s better on a slide to not use any text at all–just give the audience a picture that supports what you are saying.
Only Use Relevant of Images: While this may seem obvious, may novice presenters like to include clipart or other non-essential images simply to “pretty up” the presentation. Inserting images just to insert images is not only distracting, it’s tacky. Make all images worthwhile to your audience. If there is absolutely nothing interesting to show your audience when talking about something (that would be rare), use a blank slide. But don’t put in louse images.
Create Effective Charts, Graphs, and Animations: Make sure the graphs are readable for everyone in the audience. Use large text and clearly understandable colors, sizes, and so forth. Always be sure to talk about visualized data on the screen. Don’t expect your audience to have the patience (especially while you are speaking about something else) to read or interpret the data on their own.
Make Visuals Readable: Whatever your visual is, be sure it’s big enough for your audience to interpret it without trouble. No small data points, no pixelated graphics or photos, no tiny lines on graphs.
Color Scheme: Keep colors simple and minimal. Use black text in most cases on a white background. Make sure contrast is always high. Be careful of yellows and oranges as they are often hard to read and they don’t project well on a screen.
Choose Good Typefaces: The font you choose matters. It gives the entire document a personality. Make sure all fonts are readable (no script or crazy decorative fonts) and big. Avoid default fonts like Calibri or Times New Roman and definitely avoid cliche fonts like Comic Sans and Papyrus.
Delivery is about the way you look as an individual to an audience. It’s about you being articulate, clear, confident, approachable, and everything else. If you content is awesome but your delivery is bad, the presentation won’t have the effect you want.
Make Eye Contact: Look at people in the eyes. Look all around the room–don’t get stuck looking at the same person or group of people more than everyone else in the room.
Smile and Show Enthusiasm: Practice so that you’re less nervous and present with a smile and/or enthusiasm about what you’re talking about. No monotone voices, no bored expressions.
Move Naturally: Avoid unnatural nervous ticks, like swaying, shifting hips, playing with hair, pacing, playing with clothing, etc. Most people have some weird habit when presenting in front of people. Learn what yours is and stop doing it.
Project a Loud, Articulate Voice: Make sure everyone in the audience can hear you. No quiet talking or trailing off. Avoid filler words like “um” or “like” or “uh.”
Change Vocal Intonation: Move your voice higher and lower. Act as if you would talking to a friend. Be excited, engaged, and change the sound of your voice so that it does become monotonous.
Have Good Posture: Show confidence and professionalism by stranding straight, facing the audience. Don’t look at the computer screen, don’t lean on a table, don’t slouch, don’t put your hands in your pocket.
Exhibit Confidence: Easier said than done, right? Just be sure to talk slowly (so you don’t seem nervous), smile, take deep breaths, and be passionate. When you look nervous, your credibility drops.
Speak Slowly: Many nervous or excited speakers get going to fast. Speak at a slow pace so that your audience can process what you are saying, especially when you’re talking about complex subjects or you’re explaining research or data.
Dress Appropriately: Know what your audience will be wearing and dress at a level just up from them. Know if the situation requires formality or not. Avoid distracting or revealing clothing. Women, you must be especially careful with this as revealing or low-cut clothing can be more distracting on an audience than typical business clothing for men.
Show Poise: Things don’t always go well. You might forget something or your PowerPoint may not work or you may trip on a cord. Just relax and show poise. If you’re calm, your audience will be calm with you. If you freak out, your audience will get really uncomfortable and your credibility will be shot.
If you’re presenting with a team of people, there are a few extra delivery considerations.
Introduce All Presenters: Make sure the audience knows everyone participating in the presentation. Describe their role to the audience so that there’s no confusion.
Interact and Engage with Each Other: While presenting, talk about each other and let the audience know throughout that you worked together. Don’t hesitate to use each other’s names and say things like “Thanks, Mike, for the details on….” and “As Tiffany just mentioned…” Avoid just dividing up the time of the presentation by presenters (don’t just say, “you take the first five minutes, I’ll do the next five, and you conclude.”) Rather, go back and forth between the content of the presentation.
Have Clear Roles & Responsibilities: Make sure you each have a valuable part to play in the presentation. If it’s awkward or your have too many people, consider removing people without clear roles from the presentation. When you’re not speaking, be sure to be out of the way of other speakers.
Utilize Each Other’s Strengths: Know what each person is good at or most knowledgeable in and let them present that. Sometimes, if a person on a team isn’t great at presenting, but they’re good at designing or organizing, they may play a different role in the team presentation.
Always have a conclusion. There’s an old mantra in public speaking: Tell them what you’re going to tell them (introduction forecast). Then tell them (middle). Then tell them what you just told them (conclusion summary).
Summarize Presentation: Remind your audience of the key points and conclusions drawn. Wrap up any loose ends and make your point clear.
Have a Clear and Obvious End: There’s nothing more awkward for you or your audience than them not knowing when to clap. Be sure you lead towards an end with a clear finishing statement. Avoid just stopping and saying things like, “K, that’s it. Any questions?”
Finish Strong: Leave the audience with something to think about. Maybe tell a final story or give a powerful statistic or quote. Regardless, don’t just end without thinking through a really strong, pithy statement to leave your audience with.