Professional presentation: tips & tricks

After a recent workshop, a few participants asked for practical tips and tricks to improve their professional presentations.

Now, the more I teach, the more I hesitate to give general advice. Because everyone is so different. And contexts vary so wildly. What works for one person (or context, or type of presentation) is an absolute no-go for another. And where there are rules, there are always exceptions…

Keeping that disclaimer in mind, here are some things that might help:

less is more

Cut your text in half, and then in half again. This forces you to consider the essence of what you want to convey. Do the same with the amount of ideas, the amount of slides, with the amount of information and pictures on your slides… Advantage: less to present, less to remember.



When you are on stage, time moves differently for you than for the audience. To calibrate, slow down to something that feels like a crawl. This is hard to do when you are nervous and just want to get through it so…


practice with friends

Choose one or two people with whom you feel very much yourself; a time and a place where you feel relaxed (sometimes working outside does wonders); clothes in which you feel self-assured. ‘Present’ to your friends, then ask them for feedback. Not about their opinions, but about their feelings, which is much more effective. When did they feel connected to you as a speaker? Why? What happened there?


mind the gap

Written text and spoken text are different animals. Try this for a change: make your slides first. Put them on a loop, press play. Then build your text bit by bit. Not by writing your words down, but by speaking them. Find words and sentences that you don’t stumble over. As your story emerges, change the order of your slides where necessary. Cut out slides that you cannot find the words for. Build slowly, through several iterations, over several days. In practice, too, less is more! Bonus: without a written text to fall back on, you might find it easier to remember what you wanted to say.


listen to the music

Spoken text is rhythm, intonation, volume, silence… and the variation of all of those. Try approaching your presentation as if it were a piece of music.


make eye contact

If that is hard for you, find another way, or another channel: the audience needs (and longs) to connect with you. If you dread eye contact, you can use sound, movement or humour to create intimacy, for instance. One brilliant and extremely shy student of mine, used her laptop camera to project her eyes onto a larger screen. We were looking into her eyes, and she was looking into a lens. It was an amazing experience.


one thing at a time

For your next presentation, maybe try to change one little thing, to make yourself more comfortable. See if that works. Next time, maybe try another little thing. Try not to beat yourself up if it goes wrong. Give yourself a pat on the back instead, because you tried.


bring a friend

If facing a crowd alone is really hard for you, why not ask for support? You might have a friendly colleague who loves the stage and is willing to help. One student of mine used a ’talkshow’-format to cool her nerves: she sat down with a friend, and they performed the presentation like a friendly fireside chat. To have someone by your side, asking you questions that you prepared together, might make you stop worrying about ‘remembering everything’ (stage secret: the audience usually does not notice when you forget something). Their questions structure the talk in a seemingly casual manner; you only have to answer. And the stage becomes a little less lonely.


think connection, not perfection

A ‘good’ presentation, in my eyes, is not a slick or dazzling performance. It is a human being on stage who manages to convey something: a thought, a result, a feeling, an idea…

image: Melbourne dad shows off, 1940’s Australia. Image found, edited and shared with the world by Steven Given.