Being able to create and deliver a great presentation is something that most people need to know how to do, in any field of work. For entrepreneurs, a great presentation can mean funding for their startup. For employees and freelancers, a good presentation means retaining a client or securing a new project. Whether it’s a written, spoken or visual presentation, it’s an important way to express ideas and persuade audiences.
When you think of presentation skills your mind probably goes straight to the delivery part. However, creating a great presentation requires much more than public speaking skills. You need to be able to research it properly, structure your ideas, write the presentation, add visuals and design elements, and then you get to present it (and let’s not forget following up).
Some of these skills may come naturally to some people, while others take a bit more time and effort to acquire. If you’re an organized person to begin with, chances are you’re already good at researching the topic for your presentation and getting to know your audience beforehand. If you’re more of a creative spirit, the structure and the visual design part will most likely be your favorite part. What’s important to keep in mind is that these are skills, after all. They can be acquired and refined so that you have the right mix to create and deliver amazing presentations.
Let’s start with research
The research element is the most time-consuming aspect of creating a presentation. It’s also one of the most important ones. It will give your presentation the anchor it needs to be credible and to provide value for your listeners.
We’ve recently discussed the 5 key steps in presentation research so we won’t go into too much detail here. What’s important for you to remember is to take your time to prepare the presentation. Even if you are an experienced speaker, many of the following steps such as design and delivery will come much easier once your research is on point. It could be a 20 minutes of online research or an entire year of academic research, it always depends on what you want to present and who your audience is.
If you haven’t really done research before, start by framing a few questions that you’re going to answer. Then, identify some of the best sources where you think you can find that information. After you’ve explored those sources and answered your questions, organize your results to reflect your point of view or the argument you’re trying to make through your presentation.
For entrepreneurs creating a pitch deck, this is one of the most important aspects of your presentation. In fact, it’s part of the whole pitching process, as you’re getting ready to convince investors and venture capitalists that you really know your market and how your product/service fits into it.
As for other roles and industries, here are some practical ideas for the research and preparation part:
- Researching the latest techniques for smoking cessation to prepare a seminar for health professionals.
- Assessing the needs of an audience of salespeople for information on closing strategies.
- Surveying members of a division to determine preferences for an IT seminar.
- Creating PowerPoint slides for a presentation to the Advisory Board about developments at a non-profit agency.
- Devising charts and graphs depicting sales trends for the quarter in advance of a presentation to the management team.
- Tailoring language and examples towards an audience of police officers for a presentation on stress management.
- Breaking up a presentation into parts of reasonable length.
- Using statistics effectively to persuade an audience.
- Incorporating concrete examples and stories to illustrate points and maintain audience attention.
- Preparing handouts or digital references so the audience isn't preoccupied with note taking.
- Promoting presentations effectively to generate an appropriate audience.
Organizing your ideas
Here we have a combination of writing skills and organization skills. Organizing the results of your research is the first step in creating a script or a skeleton for your presentation. Plan what you’re going to say, in what order, and at what level of detail.
Organize your presentation starting from a few key ideas. Include specific case studies and examples. You might be tempted to take a broader approach to them but the more you focus your ideas and go deeper into the ones you’ve chosen, the more clear and easy to organize your presentation will be.
Once you have a foundation to your presentation with the key story elements and your main ideas, you can take each section and expand it. This way, you’ll be able to give the same presentation in a longer time frame or in a shorter one, depending on the time you have.
When planning your presentation, be realistic about what can be achieved in the allocated time. You cannot communicate the same amount of information in a presentation that you can in a report or a white paper.
If you’re doing a quarterly report for your marketing meeting for example, you’ll probably want to include your planning estimates, your results, key learning points and next steps.
Making your presentation look good
If you think you’re not that good at drawing and you’ve never considered a career in design, fear not. If you follow a set of rules, you should be able to design a great presentation in no time.
One such rule is to reduce text to a minimum. The presentation delivery is the focus here, that’s why people came to see and hear you (and probably paid a lot of money for it). If they wanted the short description on a slide they could have stayed home and Googled your blog or social media profiles. Keep your slides focused on one theme at a time. One slide, one theme, one text line.
Also read: 23 Free Resources For Presentation Design
If you’re speaking on a more technical subject or simply have a lot of complex data to share, translate it in simple graphs that come together to form a natural part of your story. Use visual elements to illustrate your ideas. Graphs and charts can help show relationships, comparisons, and change. Make sure to use these visual graphics to enhance your message and increase understanding. Too much of anything can lead to over stimulating your audience and losing
The relationships between the colors you’re using are also important. Limit the use of color to 2 to 4 colors/shades. Use colors that will stand out and will be easy on the eyes (dark backgrounds and light text is a good case practice.)
If all else fails, you can always turn to professional visual designers (*cough*cough), such as ourselves, to save you time and help create a beautiful presentation.
Delivering your presentation
Public speaking skills are gained and refined with practice. Rehearsing your presentation a few times before the event is key to increasing your confidence and ensuring a good outcome. It helps if you have detailed notes on every slide to help you remember the entire flow of your speech and how the ideas connect.
Practice it in front of colleagues or friends. Try to replicate the actual delivery as closely as possible, don’t just read it several times or else you might not have a clear view of how much time it actually takes. It will also give you the chance to receive some constructive feedback.
Audiences are quick to pick-up on a tense and uncomfortable presenter. Public speaking is in many ways a form of art or entertainment - presenting yourself and your ideas to an audience. While there is no single formula for a good performance, there are many techniques that you can employ to make it work for you.
Confidence comes when you know you did everything to prepare for your public speaking event. This will put your mind and body at ease and that confidence will follow you on stage. Remember that you know what you’re talking about. You put those ideas on those slides, you ran those case studies and these are your stories that you’re presenting. Own your ideas and don’t let emotions make you forget that you know your topic.
If you’re looking for more practical tips on public speaking, check out these 16 life-saving keynote speech tips.
Presentations are, after all, just another way of communicating. There are some basic rules you can follow but ultimately it’s a matter of practice and improving through constructive criticism. Whether you’re a student, a junior employee, an experienced manager or innovative entrepreneur, chances are you need to master these presentation skills to convey your ideas efficiently.