Seven Steps to a Great Presentation (And One Example)

Last Updated Dec 14, 2009 11:56 AM EST

Public speaking can reduce grown men to quivering wrecks. Public speakers can also reduce their listeners to quivering wrecks of tedium and despair. There is little worse than listening to some self-important panjandrum droning on about how wonderful they are. Here are seven ways in which speakers can reduce the pain for everyone.

1. Energy, enthusiasm and excitement. If you are not excited about your idea, don't expect anyone else to be. You will be judged more on how you say things than on what you say.

2. Throw away your crutches. Crutches are for walkers who can't walk and PowerPoint are crutches for talkers who can't talk. There are few good ways to die: death by PowerPoint is not one of them. Throw it away and you will sound better and look better.

3. Think into you listener's head: Focus on the one or two people in the audience who really matter and figure out what they need to hear and why they should listen to you. Tailor your message and style to those people. Presenting is not about you: it is about the one or two people you most want to influence.

4. Tell a story. People do not remember spreadsheets and paragraphs. They remember pictures and stories. Construct your talk as a story with a start, middle and end. You can tell little stories within the big story to keep people engaged.

5. Use words well. Keep it active and positive, not passive, negative or conditional. Two nice word tricks include:

  • The rule of three ("I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat and tears....")
  • The contrast ("In this election we will not make the most promises..... we will keep the most promises!")
  • These can be combined into a rule of three which leads to a contrast: "Never in the field of human history has so much been owed by so many to so few..."
6. Mind your (body) language. Again, a few simple tips:
  • Stand on the ball of your foot, not the heel: keep the energy up and the body straight.
  • Engage the audience with your eyes: deliver each sentence to one person instead of gazing out blankly at a sea of faces. This keeps them and you alert.
  • The bigger the audience, the bigger the hand movements.
7. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. And then rehearse some more. Script the start, so you avoid a nervous start. Script the end: avoid the very weak "any questions?" finish.

This is all very easy to say, much harder to do. So I set myself a challenge: summarise one year of work and 70,000 words of my new book into three minutes.


You are welcome to score the result and see if I practice what preach. The result may be slightly over the top for a routine report on budget variances, but hopefully you will not die of boredom watching it.

  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership