How to Give a Killer Presentation

Last Updated Aug 15, 2009 7:21 PM EDT

It's hard to imagine your career going anywhere unless you can deliver an effective presentation. Unfortunately, most of us are born without the presentation gene. I have no idea why, but for most professionals, presenting is a real struggle.

They stand there, like they're glued to the floor, with their 90-slide presentation with a dozen bullets and sub-bullets and a book of text on each slide. Then they complain that executives and salespeople make all the money.

I've sat through presentations that were so bad I wanted to strangle the guy just to put him and the audience out of their misery. I've also seen presentations that were so inspiring they changed my life.

Connecting with an audience, communicating your vision and passion for a subject, can be a beautiful experience. It's also a rare opportunity to make an impression that might impact your future. It can either be a gateway or a roadblock to professional growth. Which one is entirely up to you.

As for me, I've been professionally trained, plus I've had a few decades of practice. Here's what I've learned.

Ten Rules For Delivering a Great Presentation

Developing the pitch. Start with your main point of view and a handful of take-aways. Then build a storyboard around that, one slide per thought. Keep the number of slides down and allow a few minutes per slide.

The icebreaker. Start with something to break the tension (yours and theirs): a welcome gesture, engaging or humorous anecdote, graphic or video, or some combination. Keep it relevant and appropriate. Don't tell a joke.

The old axiom. Old advice, but it works: First tell the audience what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.

Don't read what's on the slide. Know the pitch cold (without having to look except for a brief cue) and speak in your own words. If you (rarely) want the audience to read what's on a slide, look at it and read silently along with them.

Engage the audience. Ask questions. If they don't respond, try offering an answer and asking for a show of hands or ask easier questions. Make the audience part of the experience.

Be accessible. Don't stand behind a podium. Use a wireless mic if needed. Get close to the audience and move from place to place while maintaining eye contact, but only from time to time. Do not bounce around like a ping-pong ball.

Pause for effect and emphasis. Practice being comfortable with silence for two or three seconds. It's the most dramatic way to make a point. Avoid ahs, uhs, and other fillers of uncomfortable silence; they're annoying and detract from your presence.

Make eye contact. But only for a few seconds per person. Too short and you'll fail to engage; too long and it becomes uncomfortable. Don't bounce your eyes around constantly.

Use hand gestures. They're engaging and interesting. But when you're not, keep your hands at your sides. Don't fidget, hold onto things, or put your hands in front of you, behind you, or in your pockets. Avoid nervous habits.

Don't block the audience's view. Don't step in front of the screen or block it from view, except for the occasional walk-across. Gesture with your hand, but don't touch the screen. Don't use a pointer unless you must.

Remember, you weren't born with this ability; it takes practice. Videotape yourself presenting to an empty conference room or get someone with experience to watch you and provide feedback. If your company hires a speech coach for executives and up-and-comers, get in on it. Most importantly, be patient with yourself. Finding your own style where you feel comfortable comes with experience. It may take a few years, but it's worth it. Nothing can boost your career like being able to give a killer pitch.

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