Your guide to perfect presentations

Presenting on screen

Whether face-to-face or via an online meeting platform, presentations are increasingly demanded as part of the selection process for jobs and promotions and are part of the remit for many senior roles.  

A great presenter can introduce a concept to colleagues and peers with wit and ease.  For some people this is a skill that comes naturally.  For others, the idea of doing a speech is irrationally terrifying.  Whichever category you come into, giving a stand-up speech or online presentation is an opportunity to show what you know and put your ideas across.  

Here are some techniques to ensure that your presentation achieves its objectives and, if you are nervous, following this checklist will help you stop the nerves from getting in your way.  Written by ABE's head of marketing, Linda Wilkin.

Prepare for success

As with so many things in life, advance planning is key to success.  Even if you are an excellent speaker, if you haven’t got the content right you’ll still be wasting everyone’s time (particularly your own).  So, start by listing:

  • Key information you need to convey
  • Who your audience is and what will interest them
  • How you want to conclude
  • The ultimate objective of your presentation

Write a script for yourself, with this checklist in mind. Then look at how effectively your presentation meets its ultimate objective.  Read your script out loud to make sure it works when spoken.  If you are able to, test it on other people and invite feedback.  Chances are, you will find some editing and adjusting are needed as most of us write differently from how we speak.  Also, make sure it’s snappy, don’t overlabour your points or your audience’s attention will wander.   At the same time, think about how you will ensure your presentation has credibility.  Do you need to provide independent facts and figures to support your assertions?

Finally, think about your audience, are they familiar with the subject,  do you need to provide more background information or are you taking too much time explaining things they’ll already know?

Use PowerPoint wisely

If your presentation is in a business setting then you are usually expected to produce some slides to go with your words.  However, be aware popular phrase ‘death by PowerPoint’ was borne from people sitting through seemingly never-ending presentations looking at badly laid out slides filled with text.  I have sat in a job interview where someone’s poor presentation slides and it ruled them straight out of the selection process so don't underestimate their importance.

On the other hand, cleverly crafted visual presentations can lift a dull subject and help to keep your audience engaged.

Here is a checklist for your slides' text:

  • Avoid too many bullet points – try to keep to four or less
  • Don’t use too many words – you’re there to elaborate – if your audience is reading they’re not listening
  • It’s better to have less information over more pages – ie just have one key piece of information per slide – it gives your audience time to focus on the message and absorb the information
  • Don’t use too many fonts – it looks messy and is distracting – two is your maximum
  • Try to avoid using bold, underlines and capital letters other than in headings – it’s the equivalent of shouting at people
  • Remember capital letters are harder to read than lower case so, if your headings require more than five words, it’s better to just capitalise the initial letter of the first-word 
  • Keep your font large and easy to read

Make the most of visuals

Great graphics can help to give your presentation the wow factor.    Look for eye-catching colourful imagery that your audience may not have seen before.  If appropriate, choose an image that surprises or amuses your audience.  Something less obvious will make it more memorable.

With the overall layout of the presentation, you want consistency but not uniformity.  Styles such as fonts, headings, and bullet points should be consistent with each other throughout the presentation.  That is what creates your visual branding, however, you do not need 48 identical slides – so don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit in terms of how you present your text, the type of images you use and where you position them.

Finally, put your images and words together on your slide, stand back, look and ask yourself these questions, ‘Do they look great?  Can I make them even better?’ until you get the answers ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Stand and deliver

Feeling well prepared with great visuals can do a lot to alleviate anxiety about giving a presentation.  Here is the checklist to help you come across as confident and knowledgeable:

  • Take a deep breath and project your voice 
  • Talk slowly, if you talk too fast, people won’t be able to absorb the information you’re providing 
  • Reference the slide and expand on the point it's making – don’t just read it out, people can do that for themselves

Make sure you look towards the audience so don’t get distracted if the slide presentation is behind you.

If you are very nervous and need the comfort of your script written in front of you then start this way but do look up from it and, as you get going, try using it less.  Fix on someone or something you find comforting.

Finally, don’t worry if you feel nervous, it’s normal, most people are.  It shows you care about getting it right, so take a deep breath, accept your tension and don’t feel bad about it.  Grab this chance to show what you know and, before long, your nerves will be a thing of the past.