Earlier in my career, my vice president asked me to prepare and deliver a presentation to our Board of Directors on a project we were leading. I had very little experience speaking in front of people, and I was terrified. I remember filling each PowerPoint slide with information, ready to “wow” my audience with detailed data and LOTS of bullet points. My face flushed and my voice was shaky as I delivered my presentation and answered questions.
Once I was done, I was certain I didn’t want to ever do it again, but my manager encouraged me to find opportunities to speak more so I could increase my leadership presence. With continued practice, presenting became easier and more natural.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, affects 73% of the population. Most people dread having to present in front of others. Yet developing your presentation and influence skills will increase your leadership effectiveness.
And in our post COVID world, leaders now have to be prepared to present virtually as well as in person.
Delivering a successful and impactful presentation involves connecting with your audience and providing concise and valuable information.
Whether you are presenting to the Board of Directors or your departmental team, the following 6 best practices will ensure you design and deliver an impactful presentation.
1. Determine the type of presentation you are giving.
Are you giving a motivational speech to your employees? Sharing the vision for the next year with the entire staff? Providing a project update to the Board of Directors?
Each of these presentations requires a different approach.
If you are painting a vision or giving a motivational speech, you may want to rethink the PowerPoint (unless you use only one word per slide or use pictures to illustrate your points). If you are giving a more formal presentation, keep your slides simple and don’t overload them with too much data.
The delivery format of your presentation is also important to consider. Will you be in person or virtual? With a virtual format, make sure you incorporate pauses to check in with your audience and allow them to ask questions. It can be harder to gauge the energy of the audience virtually.
2. Begin with the end in mind.
What do you want your audience to walk away with? What is the goal of your presentation? Are you aiming to persuade the Board of Directors to support a new project? Get employees excited about the vision and three-year plan of the company?
Start with your main idea and work backwards.
Most people start with a topic and then pull up PowerPoint and begin filling in the slides. By doing this, you usually get bogged down in the details and lose the overall “frame” for the presentation.
Think about the result or outcome you want from the presentation, and then brainstorm and write down the main points you want to cover.
3. Prepare your outline.
Giving an effective speech or presentation typically takes a lot of preparation. For your presentation to be truly persuasive or impactful, you should develop an outline of the main points you want to cover in your presentation.
You want to make sure your speech or presentation has a clear structure. A structure is most important for you, the speaker, to make sure you are not going off on tangents or missing your points. I recommend having 3-5 main points with a clear transition to each point. Using numbers gives your audience a framework with which to follow your ideas, recommendations, or data. It’s also much easier to remember a presentation that has clear main points.
After developing your main outline, flush out each of the points by using stories, statistics, or examples.
4. Prepare your visuals.
I have learned to be more concise and persuasive over the years, but one of my biggest challenges as a speaker is to keep it simple and not overload my audience with too much information. If you are using PowerPoint, less is more. Too much information on your slides distracts your audience from your message and puts the focus on your slides.
While the audience is reading your slides, they are not listening to you – the speaker.
Try using cartoons, pictures, or even just one word to illustrate your point. Then elaborate and explain your main points, but be sure to be concise. In most cases, your slides should not be the main focus; they should supplement your message. For example, having a graph on your slide to illustrate your point is fine, but having paragraphs of text is a distraction.
And NEVER read your slides. This is a sign of lack of preparation.
A best practice is to write your main points in the “Notes” section at the bottom of the PowerPoint. Once I have finalized my presentation, I print the Notes pages and use it to practice my speech and make additional notes. This helps me to commit my ideas to memory.
If you want your audience to walk away with some written information, consider preparing a report or one page sheet of your main points to hand out after your presentation is completed.
5. Practice, practice, practice.
If there is one action you can take to make speaking more comfortable, persuasive, and impactful, it’s practicing your presentation. People are often surprised when I tell them I spend an average of 30-40 hours preparing for a one-hour speech (between creating the topic, outline, visuals, and practicing).
I’m not suggesting you need to prepare that many hours for a presentation to the executive team, but not spending time practicing and “winging it” will not make your presentation as influential or persuasive and could come across as unprofessional.
Taking time to practice will make you a more confident, persuasive, and polished speaker!
When I prepare for a one-hour speech, I do a full run through every day for a week before the presentation. I don’t memorize the speech–that will make it less authentic and can really backfire if you get so caught up in remembering your lines that you lose your place.
Instead, I make sure I am comfortable with the main points, the examples, and stories I’m using. Practicing the entire presentation allows me to get very comfortable with the material so I can engage with the audience and not be “in my head”. You will be amazed to see how much more comfortable you will feel speaking in front of people when you practice, practice, practice.
6. Engage your audience.
Most people don’t love sitting in a room while someone talks to them for an hour. And with many of our meetings now on Zoom, it can be even harder to keep the attention of your audience. Start by sharing a quick overview to set the stage of what you will cover during your presentation. For example, “Today I will share with you the three financial areas that I recommend we focus on in 2023 to increase profitability.”
Whenever possible, engage the audience in your presentation. Ask a question, ask for examples, and check in with them occasionally by asking for their thoughts or feedback. If you are presenting virtually, ask the audience to share their own examples or ideas in the chat feature.
If your presentation is a project update, ask one or two of your team members to elaborate on one of the points to keep the presentation interesting.
Another way to engage your audience is by appearing approachable. Make eye contact, smile, and change your tone at times to have variety in your delivery.
Implement these six strategies in your next in-person or online presentation and your audience will be grateful to not have to sit through an elaborate, boring presentation.
With proper preparation, and continued practice, you will become more comfortable, confident, and influential as a leader.
What is YOUR top tip for delivering a successful presentation or being a persuasive speaker?
Comment below! I’d love to hear from you!
Note: This post refreshed the 2015 “6 Strategies for Becoming a Persuasive Speaker” post.