How to make an engaging presentation

This last week I was able to do one of my favorite things in the world- give a 15-minute presentation to a large audience.

For many people, public speaking is a source of dread. I know I was born different. I have always loved public speaking and have received high praise for my presentations, whether silly high school pep rallies or academic conference lightning talks.

BUT having a love of attention and a lack of shame does not mean you will always have engaging and successful presentations. Making a great presentation, large or small, can benefit from a couple of KEY factors. I have benefited from the advice of professors, advisors, friends, and bosses, all of which had very different styles and attitudes but managed to make presentations engaging in their own special way.

Over my years of successes and failures, I have determined which ones are the most critical.

SO, without further ado, here are my tips for creating a great presentation:

Making the presentation

  1. Make your results into a story. Whatever you worked on or are speaking about, you had some journey to get there. What drove you to complete this task, research this thing, and speak to this audience. Get in touch with this BEFORE YOU OPEN UP POWERPOINT.
  2. While we’re on the subject- NO GREAT PRESENTATION STARTED WITH POWERPOINT FIRST. Yes, it is a great tool, but it should be used towards the end of your prep process. If powerpoint is open right now close it!!
  3. Physically (paper, whiteboard, sand, whatever) draw out the key steps in your story. What was most important? When you have a clear idea of what you know you need to convey, you can then figure out the order in which you should say it. What figures do you want to include and where should they go?
  4. Do not adhere to the standard intro, methods, conclusion format! Tell your story in the most natural way possible. Sometimes this does not involve the standard format and that is OK!
  5. Think of a hook to start your presentation. Get creative.
  6. Finally, when everything is laid out properly, you have a story with a logical flow and something to grab the attention of the viewers when you begin, THEN put it into powerpoint.

Editing and practicing the presentation (these go hand in hand!)

  1. (if you are using powerpoint) Make sure your slides are simple. NO SENTENCES. No more than four bullet points per page. Think about if a graphic could convey the words you have, and if so, replace it!
  2. Work through the aesthetics. Yes, your message is important but no message can be properly conveyed with trash graphics and painful images. Use HIGH-quality pictures. VERY high-quality pictures. Find a background of black and use white as your text. Keep a color scheme and stick to it. Keep in mind that some people watching your presentation might be color blind, so don’t use more than 3 colors for writing.
  3. PRACTICE. Every presentation is different, and some might not require you to have every word memorized. If you do not need a full script, that is still not an excuse to not practice!! When you say your presentation aloud you might notice something that you didn’t when you wrote it. Maybe you don’t like the flow as much. Which brings me to the last point of this section…
  4. Make adjustments, practice again, make adjustments, practice again. Take one or two days of practice to make sure everything is fine-tuned. At a certain point, you should settle on a final edit and stick to it or else you will edit forever. Set a date for when you want to have the presentation down pat (I shoot for 4 days out at least)
  5. Find an audience, give them the speech. It’s time! If you do not love crowds NOW is the time to build up your tolerance. Do it once for your dog, then your family, then some friends or co-workers, etc. Use this to your utmost advantage!! Be explicit about if you want critiques and what you want critiques on before you start talking. For example, I would tell my mom “hey I would love to hear what you think about the beginning and if you think any of my points about data need more elaboration”

Presentation day

  1. Minimize your distractions. Put your phone on airplane mode a couple of hours before you start. Snapchat can wait till after you finish.
  2. Come out from the podium! You don’t need to cartwheel but don’t hide. Everyone knows you are on stage, they want to see you! A podium can feel safer but to an audience member its very bland and moving around, even a little, can bring a lot more life to your voice.
  3. Get (a tiny bit) personal. Even a small personal detail conveys to the audience that you are here for more than facts and findings. Sharing a little anecdote or dream makes everyone a little more comfortable with you. Being seen as self-important is never a good thing when you want people to enjoy your presence.
  4. Dont be afraid to pause. This is new information to your audience, they could always use a second to digest what you are saying. If you forget your train of thought it is far more obvious when you stammer through ‘ums’ and ‘likes’ opposed to taking a 2-3 second breather.
  5. If you forget (you won’t) MOVE ON. They’ve never heard your speech! Only you know you’re leaving something out!! Move onto what you know and dont panic.
  6. Honestly, its the first and last 30 seconds that make the most impact. Make them count! Even if you mess up in the middle CLOSE STRONG. Bring it home to a message that is interesting and can resonate with your audience. What was the point of your talk? This is your opportunity to bring it home!!

These skills are not acquired overnight. Public speaking is a huge skill set, and it can be a stepping stone to opportunities you might not have thought possible.

Work hard on your speech, no matter the purpose. If something matters to you, you deserve to share it. You should always strive to impact your audience, even if it is one person.

What did I miss? Leave comments! Let me know your favorite resources for speaking tips!

One thought on “How to make an engaging presentation

  1. Great read! I love how you emphasized that you’re telling a story not just presenting facts and findings. I’m really big on tone and pitch. There is nothing more boring than listening to someone present in monotone.

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