Presentation skills

Like public speaking, the prospect of presenting to a group can make people nervous. It can however, like public speaking, help you progress your career and give you a reputation for being a reliable, engaging presenter.

Whether you’re in a role that is called on to present often or on an ad hoc basis, it pays to improve and develop your presentation skills so when the time comes, you’re prepared and confident. Here are our top presentation tips. 

The purpose of presenting

While the content of presentations will vary depending on your role, industry, level of seniority and the organisational strategies and goals you work to, presentations tend to be delivered with one of these purposes in mind:

  • Informational
    These presentations exist, as the name suggests, to present information and ensure that employees and stakeholders are aware of certain policies, procedures, products and the regulations or laws that govern them. They don’t necessarily require any action to be taken by the audience, but an informational presentation needs to relay material in a manageable, compelling way.

    Example: A CFO presenting the end of financial year results to the business, or IT announcing an organisation-wide software review.

  • Instructional
    A presentation that is instructional needs to be carefully created and delivered as it requires action from those you’re presenting to. Being specific with detail and breaking the presentation down into memorable, actionable steps is advised. They’re usually accompanied by supporting documents and resources that can be drawn on after the presentation concludes.

    Example: The Administration team presenting a new project management tool to be adopted by the department, or Marketing presenting the new brand guidelines to the organisation.

  • Persuasive
    You might be called on to deliver a persuasive presentation if you’re in a sales or tender environment, where you need to pitch your product or project as the best available and secure investment. These presentations usually require comparative data, considerable visual representations and very compelling delivery.

    Example: A Sales Manager presenting products and services to potential clients, or an Accountant vying to get their new reconciliation process across the line with the executive team.

  • Inspiring
    Presentations that need to inspire can be the one of the most challenging to do well. Their messages must be poignant and lasting, and they need to be accompanied by an engaging delivery to make a true impact on the audience. They also need to move or inspire people to action.

    Example: The CEO presenting a new strategic vision to the organisation with ambitious new financial goals, or an executive presenting a partnership with a not-for-profit.

Improving your presentation skills

Your presentation skills will improve every time you do it, and your confidence will grow too. To fast track your development, employ these presentation tips while you research, prepare, practice and deliver your next presentation.

  • Research
    It’s an obvious point, but a tremendously important one. Research means knowing the content or information you’re delivering, but also knowing your audience, anticipating their concerns and questions, and understanding the environment or space you’re presenting in. Being able to tailor your presentation to these elements will strengthen it and reduce the presence of unknowns – a common source of presentation nerves.
  • Practice, practice, practice 
    If you’ve got a presentation coming up, whether it’s to your team, a small selection of executives or the whole organisation, you’ll always feel better if you’re well practised. Ask friends, family or colleagues to listen to your presentation in the days before, inviting their questions and feedback. In the absence of an audience, use a mirror. Focus on delivering your words at a manageable pace, breathing deeply to keep yourself calm and regular eye contact with your audience.
  • Arrive early
    Get to the location of your presentation before everyone else does, and allow yourself time to set up the equipment you need, read through your notes and take some calming deep breaths. If you’re rushing between meetings and aren’t able to arrive early, take a few quick minutes to relax and set yourself in the moment. Physical and mental readiness are just as important as the content you’ve prepared when it comes to possessing brilliant presentation skills.
  • Watch TED talks
    There are literally thousands of TED Talks and presentations that have been conducted all around the world at myriad different venues. Review those that are popular, as well as some that are closer to your field of work, or the content you might be presenting. Take note of what is most engaging about the best talks, and include these qualities in your own presentation.
  • Weave in stories
    Including stories and anecdotes in your presentation will ensure it’s unique, engaging and relevant. Whether you draw on your own experiences, use a colleague’s story or draw on something published and well-known, stories can help personalise the factual content and make it truly memorable. The inclusion of stories and anecdotes is a presentation tip that shouldn’t be overlooked. 
  • Don’t leave it to PowerPoint
    If you're bringing slides, less is more. Keep the graphs and charts simple, using them to summarise points rather than explain them in detail. Pictures can be a powerful way to reinforce your key messages, but make sure they don't distract from your key messages.
  • Be gracious
    Being brash or arrogant probably won’t gel well with your audience, nor will it help you get your information across. Be polite, considerate and patient with your audience, no matter what their size or seniority, and always thank them for their time and attention at the conclusion of your presentation.

Most employees will be called on to present at some point in their career, whether it’s explaining a report in a weekly team meeting, or proposing a new business model to board members. Use these presentation tips to ensure that you’re confident and ready, and that you use every presentation as an opportunity to enhance your skills.