How to make a presentation is the one question every good speaker should ask themselves. Situations and listeners vary greatly, which means that even professional speakers shouldn’t ignore it.
So, how to make a presentation? It’s always up to the speaker to decide how to make a presentation and find out what listeners like. At first, it may seem like a difficult thing to do. The less time and energy you give and the more careless you are, the greater the likelihood of making a presentation nobody enjoys.
In reality, it’s a matter of preparation and attitude. Therefore, in today’s blog post, I’ll briefly outline the main things to keep in mind when it comes to preparation and making a presentation.
As a side note, if you want to get even more information about this topic, I think you should also check out these books which are really good.
1. How to make a presentation so that I’m well-prepared?
“Only the prepared speaker deserves to be confident.” – Dale Carnegie
If you are thinking about how to make a presentation so that I appear confident and professional, then we’ll have a look at some important aspects of preparation in this section.
- Know your topic – even better, if you’re genuinely interested in the subject.
- Know your audience – Who are they? What do they want? What are their expectations? In other words, you need a detailed audience analysis.
- Define your topic and objective clearly – I personally think that if you can’t summarise the objective of your speech in two sentences, your preparation is worth nothing. The clearer you define the objective, the greater the probability that the listeners will get your message.
- Think through the entire presentation and practice, practice, practice! The more you practice, the more confident you get.
- Talk about what interests the listeners – One of the advertising gurus, Bill Bernbach, once said, „It is pointless to try to sell what you randomly produce. It is natural to produce what people want to buy“.
- Less is better – Making a brief speech is an art in itself. Many make the mistake of overloading listeners with meaningless details. You should learn how to convey the idea as briefly and clearly as possible. You may want to learn how to make an elevator pitch. Also, take a look at this blog post about how to make an impromptu speech.
2. How to prepare for making a speech?
For those who don’t know, the fear of failure is one of the main reasons behind the fear of public speaking. Just as you need to prepare your speech and materials, you also need to practice not to fail. This way, you’ll better memorize the material and also have a chance to polish your presentation. At the same time, when practicing, you’ll be able to spot the weak points of your speech/presentation (too long or short speech, too complicated wording, etc.).
Now let’s see how to prepare yourself.
- Practice. Do it again. And then a little bit more – When practicing, the weak points of your presentation come out. You’ll also spot the long sentences that leave you breathless halfway. To learn more about how to practice, read a blog post here.
- Believe the audience want to listen to you – They clearly do. Why would they otherwise attend? Obviously, there are exceptions when people have to attend, but you must also remember that you have a good reason to make a good presentation. Moreover, in most cases, the listeners don’t want you to fail.
- Trust yourself, your knowledge, experience, and memory – Making a speech is no different from other areas of our life. If you care to prepare, there’s no reason for you to fail.
- Be yourself – The more you try to be someone else, the faker you appear to the listeners.
- Have a plan B in case something goes wrong. Just having a plan B gives you confidence. Practicing at home, ask yourself „What do I do if..?“ and find the solutions to the problems that spring to mind. Read more about how to make a presentation where nothing can surprise you here.
3. How to keep contact with the audience?
Establishing and keeping contact is crucial. Ever speaker who knows how to make an impressive presentation would tell you to remember the following tips:
- Establish contact with the audience, either by establishing eye contact or starting a dialogue, so that the audience understands who and why the speaker is addressing. Making a speech is not a one-way street, in which you’re talking and your listeners are trying to survive.
- Keeping eye contact with the audience, follow the reaction and react accordingly.
- Don’t forget about humor – Making a speech doesn’t have to be dry and official. Think about it, even philosophical speeches welcome a couple of appropriate jokes.
- Don’t read from paper (if possible) – Speak freely, be open, and act cool! This way, the audience will forgive any blip. The death-by-PowerPoint kind of speakers is not that lucky.
- Use your body language – the duller you are, the blunter the audience’s reception. Making a good speech means using your entire body, gestures, and mimics.
- Give your listeners a chance to interact with you – that is, don’t be afraid of questions, suggestions, etc.
- Treat your listeners as equal partners – I once wrote about an actual story about what happened to a speaker who treated his listeners as fools.
4. How to make a comprehensible presentation?
“No audience ever complained about a presentation or speech being too short” ―
There is a type of speakers who make a presentation in what sounds like English, but it’s incomprehensible. There are also those who speak at such an elementary level that listening to them is about as exciting as watching the grass grow.
If you want to know how to make a presentation that is comprehensible and exciting to the listeners, remember the following tips:
- Think through both the beginning and the end of your speech – An effective introduction raises interest. If your introduction leaves the listeners thinking, „Meh? So what?“, you’ve been doing it wrong right from the start. Never finish your speech without a proper summary, leaving out what the listeners should remember from your presentation. If you want to make a good presentation, a summary is your chance to emphasize what you want the listeners to remember in the first place.
- Speak in a plain language and avoid specialty language (if possible) – When it comes to specialty language, it’s often a problem that the speaker is the only one who understands it. The same applies to abbreviations. Sometimes, even the speaker can’t understand them.
- Tell stories and bring colourful examples – “Make a point, tell a story” is a good rule to keep in mind. Stories (especially, personal ones) are more impressive than unrealistic examples or confusing facts.
- Show passion about the topic you’re talking about – It will also make the audience listen to you more carefully and actually think. To persuade the listeners, the speaker must first show how much they like the topic.
- Speak calmly – If you happen to speak too fast, it will sound like English, but the listener’s mind won’t be able to follow. If you talk too slowly, the listeners might grow impatient for you to finish. Making a speech also means making meaningful pauses when needed.
- Be friendly and cheerful even if something doesn’t go as planned – Positive emotions always create a good environment and friendly attitude. And if you can make a joke about a blip of yours, even more so.
- Don’t exceed the scheduled time – The audience are unlikely to forgive you for that. Especially, if you’ve started your speech with a promise, „I’ll be brief!“. As mentioned above, shorter is better.
Don’t miss my blog post with 33 effective tips on how to make a presentation!
5. How to use visual tools during the presentation?
Using visual tools can greatly impact your message, so it’s worth thinking about it when preparing for a brilliant presentation.
- Use real-life examples – If you use vague examples that the listeners can’t relate to, it’ll be hard to put your point in a perspective.
- Use humor – An appropriate joke here and there will awaken your sleepy listeners and put you in the spotlight. Keep in mind that the best jokes are always the ones about yourself.
- Engage your listeners – Show genuine interest in what they think. Encourage them to express their opinion and tell stories, and you’ll see how the environment changes for the best.
- Use different tools – Add color with stories, video clips, interaction with the audience, and the like.
- Tell personal stories as they tend to be much more effective than all other examples. Keep in mind that a good speaker must also be a good storyteller. I’ve already mentioned that making a speech doesn’t have to be dry.
- Speak in a comprehensible language – Foreign words and specialty language may not be understood, and you might appear snobbish to the audience. Using slang is generally inappropriate.
6. Where to place hands during the presentation?
“Picture yourself in a living room having a chat with your friends. You would be relaxed and comfortable talking to them, the same applies when public speaking.” – Richard Branson
For many speakers, a big issue is where to place hands during the presentation. So they do whatever catches the eye to the audience: fidget, twist their fingers, cross their hands, etc. In other words, they do everything but what they can actually do – gesticulate. Therefore, use your hands to wisely by following the following tips:
- Create situations for using hands – Describe how big or small a thing is. Talk about how many benefits the audience will get and show the number with your fingers.
- Use different movements, otherwise, you’ll look like a robot. Also, predictability reduces the audience’s attention.
- Put your hands in the applauding position – This is the rest position during pauses. As soon as you start speaking, your hands move apart from each other, sometimes wide apart. In larger rooms, you can make wider gestures, in smaller rooms, humbler gestures.
- Make bold gestures – They show confidence and authority. If you need to express anger, throw up a fist; if to blame, point with a finger, etc.
- Don’t learn your gestures by heart! Think about which movements to use during your speech, but don’t learn them by heart, the audience will spot it, and you’ll look ridiculous.
7. Making a speech in spite of the fear of public speaking
The usual way to go about it is as follows: the closer you get to the start of your presentation, the faster your heart starts beating. Breathing is becoming more and more difficult, and you generally feel like there’s a load on your chest. The only clear idea in your head is, „But what if I fail?“
Sounds familiar? If it does, I have one encouraging message for you – don’t think you’re weird. In this chapter, we’ll have a look at how to make a presentation despite the fact that you suffer from the fear of public speaking.
- Stop thinking about failing and focus on what you can give. You’re not the most important person in the room – your listeners are. Focus on them as you’d focus on solving your friend’s problems. This way, you’ll direct your fear of public speaking elsewhere.
- Prepare proper notes and practice using them. Even if you don’t use them even once, they’ll still be there for you. And if you’re worried about where to place your hands, holding your notes is one nice way to keep them in place.
- Act cool and smile even when you feel bad; most people won’t even realize there’s something wrong with you. They’ll behave just as cool. Getting in trouble, make a joke about it, and you’ll see how easy it is to earn big fat plus points from the listeners.
- Don’t worry about what your listeners think of you – You can’t control what others think of you as a person. However, you can be well-prepared for your presentation to get positive reviews. And that’s important! You can be the coolest and kindest person alive, but if you make a very bad presentation, the listeners will be mad. And vice versa, you might not be the best of people, but if your presentation’s been perfectly prepared and carried out, you’ll be recognized.
- Treat your listeners as old acquaintances. Communicate with them even before you start your presentation – even with small talk. If you treat your listeners as enemies, you’ll be making your presentation more difficult for yourself.
- Take control of your breathing as it has a lot to do with the fear of public speaking. When holding your breath, you create extra strain in the body and prevent oxygen access, making it more difficult for yourself. Moreover, it results in a disturbed thought movement. Don’t be afraid to make pauses to take a breath.
- Believe you can do it. Well, if you don’t believe in yourself, why should the listeners?
- Wear comfortable clothes that make you feel good and make the speaker reliable in the eyes of the audience.
Check out the previous blog posts about the fear of public speaking and how to overcome it here:
- Stage fright: What is it about?
- How to overcome stage fright: 7 effective and proven tips
- How to overcome the fear of public speaking – less commonly used methods
- Is public speaking really more feared than death?
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) and the fear of public speaking
8. How to use notes during your presentation?
In all likelihood, you have come across a speaker who, after a greeting and brief introduction, grabs their papers and begins to read in a dull manner. There is no emotion in the voice, not mentioning facial expressions.
If the speaker could only see the audience in a few minutes, they would realize to their greatest surprise that even though the audience’s eyes are directed at them, they’re far away in their thoughts. Therefore, in this section, let’s talk about how to make a presentation reading the notes to achieve a positive result.
Make your presentation livelier and use notes instead of plain text
It „forces“ you to use your own words instead of just reading from paper. This, in turn, gives your presentation that extra spark. The less you have your eyes on the paper, the better. At the same time, you must go through your notes thoroughly to make sure they’re effective.
By the way, look at the notes in the image above. They were used by Steve Jobs on January 9, 2007, when he introduced iPhone’s first model. Can you see the three phones in the picture? Steve used only one of them – two other phones were a backup.
PS! Let’s face it, it’s not the best tip for the lazy ones as it requires much more thorough preparation.
Text on paper – Use large, easy-to-read fonts
Forget the microscopic cheat sheets you know from school (so many have been caught!). If the font size is big enough, it means that you won’t have to hover over your papers all the time to be able to see the text.
Include spaces between the paragraphs not let lose trace of sequence
Many speakers reading from paper don’t keep eye contact with the audience. The main reason is that they are afraid to look back at the papers and not find the right spot.
To avoid this, include clear spaces between paragraphs that will make it easier for you to find the right spot when looking away.
Bring out the most important sentences and paragraphs in the text – so that you always know what’s most important
Many speakers forget the most important part of their presentation. Make sure to highlight important sentences (or paragraphs). In addition to highlighting what’s most important, it also allows you to scan the text more easily and, without getting lost, find the important bits.
When reading from paper, use the following technique: Start with reading the sentence, make eye contact at the end of the sentence
Politicians are also taught this technique. The main reason is that if you make contact at the end of the sentence, the effect is much more powerful than the opposite method.
Nevertheless, most do the opposite. This means that they use their own words at the beginning of the sentence but look down to read towards the end. This way, you leave an impression of being unsure, that’s why you have to check.
Avoid super-long sentences and complex specialty language in your text
If a sentence is very long, you’ll run out of breath halfway, gasping for air. This, however, ruins the rhythm of your presentation.
The trouble with specialty terms is that first, they might tie your tongue in knots. And second, are you sure everyone will understand clearly what you’re talking about?
Don’t ignore the audience and keep contact with them
Keep eye contact, use your body language, and add emotion and color to your story even when reading from paper. Don’t be shy to use gestures and meaningful pauses, engage the audience… it’s all on you!
The less contact you keep with the audience, the greater the likelihood that your presentation won’t interest them. When you’re reading from paper in a dull manner, the audience think, „They could have sent the presentation to me…“ This way, you’re wasting everyone’s time and could have just stayed home.
Practice reading from paper
First, just read your presentation from paper. When you feel like memorizing it a bit, it’s the right time to practice in front of the camera. Why do you think dancers do that? The camera (or the mirror) gives you the first feedback on what your body language says. If possible, use notes instead of A4 sheets.
Learn to speak in both your normal and loud but always clear voice. Also, vary your speech pace, which will help you decide what works best for you. In case you’re a fast speaker, be sure to practice a somewhat slower speech pace. It may happen that you need to fit in a time frame (e.g., thesis defense), then you need to measure the length of your speech when practicing.
If possible, ask someone for help – making a speech in front of your friend will make you more confident. Please note that you should trust the person you ask for help.
Check that the body language of the listener expresses interest, emphasize your words with appropriate gestures. Ask the helper to tell you what they think about your voice and your posture. When practicing, wear the same clothes you’d wear for your presentation – if they’re uncomfortable, you can try different clothes on.
9. How to make a presentation when the preparation time is short
I’m often asked about how to make a presentation in a situation where you find out you need to make a speech shortly before the actual presentation. Making a presentation without any preparation is a challenge. The more skilled ones will make the most of their experience, but the less experienced speakers may be in trouble. I’ll give you some tips on what to do (or not to do) in this situation.
Be as confident as a fox among dogs
Be as confident as the fox in the picture – let your face show that you know what you are talking about. You can be the only professional in your area in the whole world, but if you’re not confident, many won’t believe you. At the same time, try on a self-confident face, and most people will think that everything’s fine. Show with all your nature that you know what you’re talking about and that you want to be there, in front of your listeners.
Don’t tell your listeners you’re not prepared
Think about what happens if a speaker appears on stage and casually drops in, „Frankly speaking, I’m not prepared for today as I found out about this presentation about an hour ago“. As soon as you say that, the listeners will be against you even if you make a nice presentation.
Besides, do you think you’ll get plus points for being honest? Never! The listeners came to attend because they want good insights and useful information… and you basically tell them, „I don’t care“.
However, if you feel confident about your knowledge and preparation, it’s very likely that most people won’t even realize that something went wrong.
Use the little time you have for preparation efficiently
Instead of worrying about how you’re going to make a presentation unprepared, use the little time you have for preparation. Do you know how an ordinary person would spend this time? Worrying about having to make a presentation. It’s a waste of time that won’t make your presentation any performance better.
Therefore, use your preparation time effectively and, say, make a quick plan about what you’ll talking about (or leave out). Write down the main points and use them as notes.
If possible, have a look at the venue and think about what can be improved. This way, you’ll avoid being seen and not heard, or vice versa.
Don’t point out that you need to be somewhere else – Perhaps you had to postpone a meeting with a customer due to this unexpected presentation or you’re in a hurry. The listeners don’t care, and if you mention it, it will be interpreted as, „I’ll try to get rid of you soon enough“.
Don’t ask how much time you have – nothing indicates poor preparation more than this question.
Read more about how to make an impromptu speech.
10. What to do if something unexpected happens?
Your presentation may not go as planned, e.g., the audience behaves unpredictably or your preparation could have been different. Unexpected situations may also occur. In the next paragraphs, we’ll have a look at such situations.
What if there’s an issue with time?
A dead-end is probably the result of poor preparation or confusing notes. It’s really is confusing, and you’re losing track. To avoid it becoming obvious to the listeners, try to appear less nervous and control your body language; at the same time, don’t make voiced sounds when making a pause. As a general rule, speakers tend to give themselves out by trying to excuse themselves.
If, however, the pause lasts longer than planned, stop, excuse yourself, and take a little time to recover. During the pause, give the listeners something to do (e.g., a group task or a question for discussion) on their own.
It’s a good idea to get back to some point in your presentation and start over. For example, go back to the last clear idea or sentence that you remember and take it from there.
What if you’re running out of time?
Occasionally, it happens that you’re running out of time, which may be your or other speakers’ fault. For example, the speakers before you spent the time scheduled for you.
In this case, look at your schedule critically and think about what you can leave out of your presentation. It would be reasonable to exclude something that is good to know, but not critical if left out
If you’re running out of time, don’t rush as the listeners will understand what it’s about immediately, wondering what happened. If possible, share with the audience and offer a solution or tell you what you intend to do.
How to make a presentation if there’s an argument between the participants?
Under conflict, I mean not a fight, but a hot argument. It’d be sensible not to interfere in the very beginning, but to listen and understand what the parties are talking about. You should interfere when the discussion gets too steamy, just saying, „I can see both of you are very angry…“ to cool it down.
Try to understand how you feel about the opinions of both parties and ask them to make a summary. If possible and the schedule allows, it’s wise to switch topics and, if necessary, talk about the argument after the presentation.
Every speaker should know how to make a presentation and please the listeners. At first glance, it may seem like a complicated thing to do. In reality, it’s a matter of preparation and attitude. The less time and energy you give and the more careless you are, the greater the likelihood of making a presentation nobody enjoys.
It is also certain that unless you start thinking more positively about your presentation, you won’t get good results. The fear of public speaking is just like many other things – you need to learn to deal with it. Good speakers do it, but the less experienced ones let it affect them.
How to practice a speech? The poorer your preparation is and the less work you do, the greater the probability that no-one can relate to your speech, in a way that will make the audience forget you already during your presentation (Read more about it here…)
What is audience analysis? Audience analysis gives you the opportunity to get as much information about the background of your listeners as possible. Using this information, you can prepare your message so that it builds on the interests, needs, and expectations of your listeners. (Read more about it here…)
What is a persuasive speech? The main objective of a persuasive speech is to make your listeners do what you want them to do. For example, „buy my product“, „vote for me“, „believe what I’m talking about“, and so on. (full article here)