How to give the best presentation of your life

There’s only one thing more excruciating than sitting through someone’s deathly dull 437 slide presentation at the company offsite. And that’s being the presenter of a deathly dull 437 slide presentation at the company offsite.

You tried everything to get out of it. You put your colleague forward because, you know, it’s a great, um, development opportunity for her. You made up an urgent hospital appointment (only to have the organisers change the conference date just for you). You told them your dog ate your notes. But to no avail.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld said most people fear presenting more than they fear death. Which means most of us would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. So you’re not alone if the idea of standing up in front of 200 (or just 20) of your colleagues fills you with dread.  

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As a keynote speaker I present to audiences of hundreds every month and, believe it or not, I do suffer from nerves. But I’ve learnt how to use them to my advantage and give speeches that audiences really enjoy.

So if you have to give a presentation – if you HAVE to – try this:

1.     Think about the outcomes of your presentation before you put pen to paper

Ask the organisers of the conference what they want people to do differently as a result of hearing you speak. What do you want people to do differently? How you want people to feel when they’ve heard you speak?

A speech isn’t really about facts – they could read a report to get all that and you wouldn’t even have to be there. It’s about the emotional impact only a human being can have.

Most audiences want a bit of light relief by the time I come on stage, so one of my jobs is to be entertaining. And they want something practical to try so I give them some ideas. If you want people to change a behaviour or sign up to a particular initiative, be clear about this in your own mind. Knowing the organisers want people to hear the highlights of a project you’ve been leading or some critical financial numbers will really help you when you come to write your speech.

2.     Create a simple structure

Most people either fire up powerpoint and start creating their first slide or they just start writing and hope it will all come together in the end. Instead think about your presentation in parts:

Introduction – Start strong. Tell a story, hit them with a shocking fact or use a famous quote that sets up what you’re about to speak about. Then explain the purpose of your presentation, who you are and the rough structure of what you’ll be covering. 

Three key messages – People won’t remember anything if you try to tell them everything so pick three key messages that will form the basis of your presentation.

Call to action – Finish with actions you want people to take, next steps or where to find more information.

Go out with a bang – A strong ending (another quote, story, fact or even a joke if you think you can get away with it) will make your presentation memorable. Start and end well and it almost doesn’t matter what happened in between.

3.     Have some strategies for dealing with nerves

Nerves may hit during your preparation and when you’re at the event (including when you’re giving your talk).

In advance, notice what you’re saying to yourself. Our beliefs feed our fears so if you’re saying to yourself “Everything rides on my success on this day” you’re going to feel pressure. Ask yourself whether your beliefs are really true. Does everything ride on this one presentation? Probably not. What’s the worst that could happen? And, in that scenario, what would you do to turn things around?

Minimise the chances of things going wrong. I always make sure there’s time to sound-check and click through my slides. PowerPoint clickers are like shopping trollies. They have a mind of their own. I want to know where to point mine and how hard I have to click BEFORE I’m live on stage.

And on the day, stay in the present. Try not to think about how long it is until you speak. I don’t listen to the MC introducing me because hearing the big build up makes my heart pound! Instead I look around the room, smile at people, pretend to listen but really I’m humming Don’t Stop Believing in my head. When I hear the words “Ladies and Gentlemen, Blaire Palmer” I tune back in and get up on stage. No time to get nervous!

Finally, don’t forget to breathe. You’re allowed to take a breath on stage. No one will be shocked, so if you need to centre yourself, instead of announcing that you’re nervous, just pretend to take a meaningful pause, take a deep breath, and carry on.

Giving a really good presentation isn’t about talent. It’s about technique. And if you learn some of these simple techniques you’ll wow your audience too. 

Blaire has created a FREE online course which focuses on how to start your presentation called, unbelievably, “10 Best Ways To Start Your Presentation”. If you have a presentation coming up you can sign up now to learn how to kick off your presentation with a bang!

Blaire Palmer is founder of That People Thing, a leadership coaching consultancy, and a keynote speaker. Check out her new YouTube channel for more tips about how to have impact at work and on stage.


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