Back To Basics: Presentation Tips 101

We Can All Use Some Reminders On What Makes A Speech Great
We Can All Use Some Reminders On What Makes A Speech Great

So perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to do some public speaking in the past, shucks maybe this is how you are currently making your living. As with all things that we’ve done a few (or many) times, we have a tendency to start to become just a little bit, how shall I say this, complacent? I guess the word “lazy” would be just a bit too harsh, but I’m sure that you get the point. If our last presentation went over fairly well, then why rock the boat? Well, here’s the harsh reality – you can do better. If you stall now, then you’ll at best be as good as you were last time and in fact you’ll probably start slipping and that won’t be good for anyone.

In order to stop all of this from happening, let’s take just a moment and see what David Brooks who once upon a time won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking contest can suggest to help us get better. David has seven presentation tips for us to remember and learn from:

  1. PowerPoint Is Really Not Your Friend: Way too many of us spend more time working on the PowerPoint slides that we’re going to use instead of working on what we are going to say (business presenters please confess NOW!) No matter how beautiful your slides are, nobody is going to remember them once your presentation is done. Don’t hide behind your slides, instead let your slides support what you are saying.
  2. It’s A Speech, Not A Battle: All too often we approach a presentation just as though we are preparing to go to war with the audience. This is crazy – they are there because they want to hear what you have to say, not to throw stones at you. The most painful thing in the world for an audience is to sit through is a bad speech. Therefore, they are actually on your side. They may or may not agree with what you are talking about, but they want you to do a good job no matter what.
  3. Why Are You Doing This?: Look, why are you going to be willing to stand in front of a group of people and talk to them? What is that reason? It can always be put into one or more of four buckets: to entertain, to inspire, to persuade, or to inform. You need to know the answer to this question BEFORE you start to speak so that you can make sure that your words will accomplish what you want them to do.
  4. W.I.I.F.M.?: How long should your presentation be? Not too long! Your audience will be asking themselves What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) even before you open your mouth. The last thing that you want to do is to sound like a high school Spanish teacher who is going over the irregular verbs. Instead, you want to engage your audience in what you are saying and have them feel that you are having a conversation one-on-one with them directly that lasts just the right amount of time.
  5. It’s ALWAYS Story Time: Brooks makes a great point when he boils public speaking down to this very, very simple formula: make a point, tell a story, make a point, tell a story. When you are done talking, your audience probably won’t be able to remember your points. However, there is a very good chance that they will be able to remember your stories long after you are done. Don’t use other people’s stories, instead pay attention to your world and “see” you own stories.
  6. Write But Don’t Read!: If you want to get really good at giving a speech here’s the secret: write it out word-for-word. Don’t you dare read it to your audience word-for-word! Instead, edit what you’ve written over and over again until the words shine from being polished so much. Then practice, practice, practice. Once you’ve practiced enough, you won’t need to read your speech word-for-word, the words will simply tumble from  your mouth with only the slightest shove provided by notes on cards.
  7. Don’t Forget The “P” Word: That would be, of course, practice. In order to get the little things that make a speech great like pauses and your own natural rhythm correct, you need to practice your speech over and over again. Make sure that you say the speech out loud just like you’ll say it on that special day so that you can hear how you sound and make any needed changes.

How many of these tips do you already use when you are preparing to give a presentation? Do you take the time to write out your presentations or do you just create a quick outline and wing it from there? Have you ever had to give the same presentation multiple times and did you get better each time? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

6 thoughts on “Back To Basics: Presentation Tips 101”

  1. I’ve worked with the World Champion of Public Speaking and he once said to me when you present ‘Talk to one, look to all’

    i.e. when you are presenting talk like you are speaking to only one of the audience and while you do that, look to all of them.


  2. Thanks for these reminders from David Brooks. There are two points I see somewhat differently:

    1. You mention that no-one will remember PowerPoint slides. That’s true if they’re boring bullet-point slides – but they don’t have to be. A slide can be an arresting and memorable image, or a simple and elegant diagram that visually represents what you’re talking about. Those sorts of slides will be remembered.
    2. I’m not sure I agree with point 6 either where you recommend writing your speech word for word, then polishing and then practice, practice, practice. This doesn’t work for everyone. Some people end up with the script in their head. And they end up reading from that script. It can be just as artificial and stilted as if they were reading from a piece of paper.

  3. Andrew: amen to that. You know, I’ve heard that advice for years and yet I still find it hard to do! The challenge is to make sure that you don’t end up “machine gunning” your audience by rapidly looking at EVERYONE for just a second. Instead, look at someone, make a statement, and then look elsewhere. Sounds easy enough, but it isn’t!

  4. Olivia: Hmm, I’m thinking back over all of the presentations that I’ve sat through and honestly I really can’t remember the slides! The slides that do stand out in my mind are the ones that are shown when Steve Jobs over at Apple does one of his big new product reveal presentations – they are simple and elegant (and about two stories tall!)

    Point #6 about writing out your speech is a challenge to me also. I have talked with many presenters who swear by this one. They say that you can’t get better at giving a speech if you haven’t worked it out word by word. I’ve been left with a feeling that this is sorta like Jazz music – you know the music by heart, but each time you present it you get creative in different ways in different parts. I’ve got a keynote coming up in early December and I’m trying it this way. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

  5. I wathched David win the championship in Dallas and attended his workshop the following year in Canada.
    When David walked out onto that stage in Dallas he had won . He looked and clearly felt comfortable. If I remember correctly he said he had practiced that speech about 60 times, and it paid off. Do as he says write it out, and have bullets/headlines in your notes highlighting your main points and stories. As you speak these images flash before you and you are able to stand up, speak like a pro, and “knock their socks off”.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.