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Quick Tips for Presentations

I’ve written a lot about public speaking. Here’s a condensed set of tips for your next speech — especially if you’re using Power Point slides. First of all, remember that you’re the star of the show. Your slides are there to support you — not to draw attention away from you. Keep your slides simple. If they’re too detailed, well… why do we need you? Once you’ve gotten yourself onto the stage, then follow these basic rules.

  • Always aim to finish ahead of schedule. Everyone is overloaded and over scheduled. Giving your audience 10 minutes of their time back is a huge gift. You’ll look smart, well organized, and trustworthy.
  • If you tell a good joke (or story) at the beginning of your speech, people will assume that you’ll probably tell another one during your speech. Thus, they’ll pay more attention. This only works if you tell a funny joke. Telling a lame joke just makes you look lame.
  • Body language — whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident. If you feel more comfortable behind a podium, fine. If you feel more comfortable out on stage (not behind a podium) that’s fine, too. Just make sure the audience thinks you’re comfortable and confident.
  • Remember to breathe.
  • Always allow yourself 10 to 15 minutes of quiet time before going on stage. You need to collect your thoughts. Don’t allow anyone to interrupt you.
  • If you’re from headquarters and you’re speaking in a region, local employees will want to add local information to your speech. That’s fine but only up to a point. Establish a deadline — new details can be added up to an hour before stage time. After that, no new ideas — you need to integrate what you’ve already got.
  • It’s a good idea to memorize your first paragraph or two. There are a lot of distractions when you first walk out on stage. Memorizing your first paragraphs will help keep you on track until you get settled into a rhythm.
  • It’s also a good idea to memorize your last paragraph or two. A lot of people (including me) make mistakes while trying to deliver a strong closing argument. Memorizing the argument can help you close effectively.
  • Never put more than a dozen words on a slide. If you do, you’re writing a memo, not speaker support slides. If you want to write a memo, then write a memo. Just don’t try to present it.
  • If you’re losing the audience’s attention, the magic words to bring them back are, “for example”. Tell a story — everybody loves a story as opposed to an abstraction.
  • Don’t try to sound like a college professor. Nobody likes to listen to college professors.
  • Beware of your lazy words. If you’re at a loss for words, you often insert your lazy word. It’s what you go to when you can’t think of anything else. (The word is “awesome” for many people). Identify your lazy word(s) and try not to use them (very often) in your speech. It just makes you look intellectually lazy.
  • Use more slides with less content on each slide. Keep the slides moving. Every time you click to a new slide, the audience refreshes. This is especially true in webinars.
  • Use the “B” key. If you press the “B” key in Power Point’s presentation mode, the screen will go black. The audience has to return its attention to you — which is where it should be. When you’re ready to move to the next slide, press any key and the slides will magically re-appear. (You can also press the “W” key. It’s just like the “B” key but the screen goes white).

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