10 Kick Ass Presentation Techniques

Photo of Alex Hunter by http://www.alexdesigns.com/. Used with permission.

I’ve been lucky enough to make public speaking part of my career. It’s something I love doing and enjoy every second of, but that’s not the case for everybody. For many of you, the thought of standing up on stage fills you with vomit-inducing fear.

But I can’t stress enough how important it is to be able to clearly articulate your thoughts to an audience in an engaging manner, whether it’s a handful of your co-workers or 2000 people at a tech conference.

If you’re trying to get a project green lit, pitch your idea to investors, relay your experience to a group of bright eyed young developers, or rally your employees, keep the following few tips in mind.

1: Rehearse

Again and again and again. So you know every detail of your talk, all the slides and the order in which they appear. Practice in front of a mirror or even video yourself. This is the best way to find potential tripping points, inconsistencies, and also gives you a chance to weed out the crap jokes.

But more importantly, it will make you so comfortable with the content that you won’t need notes or prompts and you’ll appear conversational but knowledgeable.

2: Don’t repeat what is written on your slides

It’s painful when a speaker reads verbatim what is written on each slide. Give your audience some credit, they’re going to be pretty good readers so you don’t need to help them out. Your job is to give context and detail to the one or two lines (at the most) on a slide. Or in some instances, vice versa; I often use slides to add a quick parenthetical note to something I’m saying to the audience.

3: Don’t overload your slides

Further to the last bullet, nothing is uglier or less appealing than a slide with 15 bullet points and a graph. It’s confusing, cluttered, hard to understand and of no value to anyone as a presentation aid. In my recent keynotes, over 80% of my slides only have one line OR graphic/chart on them.

Sure it’s more clicking for me but this isn’t about me, it’s about the audience, and simple slides help you guide the narrative in a clear, concise way.

4: Make eye contact

This may sound like a no brainer but so many speakers spend their time looking at their feet, at their slides, at their notes – anywhere but the audience. If you don’t make eye contact with the people you’re talking to you end up looking like you’re talking to yourself, just like the guy you avoid sitting next to on public transport.

5: Know your audience

I spoke at a two-day tech conference recently and was scheduled to speak on the second day. This turned out to be a huge advantage for me because I spent the whole first day following the (substantial) Twitter traffic surrounding the event and I noticed some interesting trends in the audience reactions to speakers and their content.

As a result, I spent several hours that night retooling my presentation to better suit the audience – I like to think my keynote went down well the next day.

6: Move around

As a speaker, I loathe standing behind a podium when I speak – it feels like I’m preaching down from the pulpit and as far as I’m concerned public speaking is about conversation not lecturing. Also, a podium is physical barrier between you and the audience making it much harder to connect with them psychologically.

So wherever possible get out from behind that podium or lectern, get out on stage, move around, gesticulate and really CONNECT with your audience.

7: Don’t read the script

Reading word for word from a prepared script is the fastest way to put your audience to sleep. It’s also lazy. Don’t do it. It’s perfectly ok to have some notes jotted down which you glance at from time to time but anything beyond that is a disservice to your audience and to you as a speaker.

8: Slow down

It’s really easy to rush through your content and speak very quickly, especially if you’re nervous. It’s much easier for an audience to engage with your content if your delivery falls into a natural rhythm. Try to pace yourself and remember to punctuate your speech with pauses to emphasise key points.

9: Make ‘em laugh

Humor is my most powerful tool when I’m giving a presentation. I almost always try to get a laugh within the first 60 seconds of a talk. It relieves the collective tension in the room almost immediately and helps ease the transition into the bulk of the content.*

10: Be passionate and energetic

I learned this from the best, Mr. Gary Vaynerchuk, whose energy on stage is completely captivating. Look, chances are if you’re standing up in front of people giving a talk, you know what you’re on about – and if you know what you’re on about, you’re probably passionate about the subject.

So make sure you project that passion during your presentation! Raise your voice when it makes sense, be effusive, throw your hands up in the air when you’re making a point! That type of energy is totally infectious and your audience will appreciate the effort.

*A note on swearing during presentations. Those of you who have seen my Future of Web App keynotes might have noticed that I punctuate my talks with some occasional swearing. This is a calculated risk on my part and certainly not something I do whenever I speak at conferences.

Hell, if you did at work you’d probably be fired so I strongly suggest you suss out your audience before you drop F-bombs during your Quarterly Sales Review with the Board of Directors.

That’s the theory, here’s the real thing

Ed: The following video is of Alex’s presentation from Future of Web Apps London 2009.

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Comments

60 comments on “10 Kick Ass Presentation Techniques

  1. Thanks! Nice to read tips from a experienced speaker. I too am a fan of short pauzes, it can really create a tension (a good) when you change the rhythm of your speaking.

  2. I read the article then as an afterthought I watched the video of the presentation Alex gave at Future of Web Apps. I ended up watching the entire thing and was so engrossed I completely forgot that I came to this website looking for advice on giving presentations, and thought I was here to learn about branding. That, I think, is proof that this guy knows what he is talking about when it comes to giving presentations.

  3. Very well written article with some seriously awesome tips for those aspiring to be speakers. A lot of DubLi BAs are going to appreciate this over the coming month!

  4. Thanks for the tips. I’m not a speaker at all but I’m sure going to use those points in communicating to my clients. Also watched your video of Future of Web Apps. Kept me engaged the whole way through, well done!

    • Sometimes. It really depends on the audience. In this case, the slides were overlaid onto the video during post-production so you wouldn’t have noticed any reaction but that slide always gets at least a chuckle from the audience. That said, I really research the audience before I swear, otherwise it can be awkward.

  5. Your article reminded me of a book I just read called “The Articulate Executive” which talked about many of the same points. It describes a POWER formula for opening strong, having one theme, using examples, being conversational, and ending strong. Also a book called “Presentation Zen”, but that was more related to your third point about designing visual aids. Have you read either of those, or do you have any others you would suggest?

  6. You know, I think part of the problem I have experienced in grad school concerning presentations is that the teachers I have had allow students to do them from their seat and the visuals (which come in the form of bookmarked library books and torn pages) are passed around in class. I wish we were forced to use techniques like this. The only reason why I can even give a better-than-decent presentation is because I’m a part time fitness instructor. Shall be passing this page on to my peers!

  7. Sorry man, your self entitled kick-ass seem more like half-ass.
    It’s so funny that you totally step on your own Rule Nr. 2 on your video.
    Also, Nr.6, the “usual rule” is not to move around like a silly cockroach, just don’t stand boringly still.
    Don’t get me wrong (and feel free to cowardly ban this comment) you’re not bad, you’re just not that uber cool as you present (think of) yourself. Typical Marketing.
    Nice effort, though.

    • More than agree with this opinion.

      It started looking like a stand up comedy style in a first minute, in 3rd minute I found it just self branding video, in 5th minute I was bored checking duration.

      Little advice to guys using words like awesome and wonderful in their comments above:

      There are few very good books about presentation techniques, about body language, psychology of manipulating audience, rhetoric . You will find these and many more rules and tips explained in practical terms. If you want to go further in your presentation skill development there are also very good trainings on the market.

      Read one book, return back to this video and comment on it again.

    • I’d never ban a comment like yours, I like healthy debate. Thanks for the feedback, it’s appreciated. I know my style doesn’t resonate with everyone, no one’s will but I enjoy doing it and if the audience can take something from my talks, then I feel I’ve done my job.

      • For these 2 coming down so hard they sure didn’t offer anything to the conversation. It would have been nice for them to offer some books to check out or some rules of their own. I appreciated the article.

      • So here you are. Just few coming right out of my head

        Thank You for Arguing; Jay Heinrichs
        The Definitive Book of Body Language; Allan & Barbara Pease
        (very good one, alma mater of our team when presenting to C or B level seniors in corporation)
        Verbotene Rhetorik; Gloria Beck
        (not sure whether there is English translation on the market, I speak also German so I have original)

        And few more.

        For those using words like “fantastic” etc. …. anything like Presentation Skills for Dummies will make the job. Then I would recommend going further in reading and most important – practicing.

        After that, something like 3 days training with camera and few professionals will make it two steps further.

        Alex, I have similar gift like you – rhetoric capability. But there was quite a way to get to the certain level when I just do not talk others over.

        Tips? Yes, there is one – do only present what you truly believe in and you also have a background experience. That will make others trust and follow you.

        I know some very good speakers who are able to present anything from any area. Possible, but I have never seen them being followed by others.

  8. Pretty ussefull tips, i’ll take that with me on my next presentation thuesday.
    Greets from the Netherlands

  9. Thanks – great article and then really enjoyed the presentation (putting in action the theory!)

    Well Done mate!

  10. Good tips..

    I will have to do an presentation of a new website who i develop for a radio, in two steps, in the air on radio and for a public, this hints will help me i hope.. because i am terrified about this..

  11. Firstly, fantastic tips offered here. It may seem like common sense but good to have an ordered list.

    From my point of view as an aspiring actor is SLOW DOWN and SPEAK LOUDLY & CLEARLY! Take deep breaths before you start.

    You will only engage your audience if they can hear every word you say.

  12. I caught the Gary Vaynerchuk talk @ SXSW this year — he turned a crowd of aloof, gadget-focused techies into a full-on old-fashioned church revival audience through his public speaking skills… It was, needless to say, truly amazing!

  13. Great tips. I know that some people are very nervous when it comes to making eye contact. One way to kind of ‘trick’ people if you’re talking to a relatively large group in rows of seats is to look at the top of the heads of the people in one row. The people in the next row will think you’re looking right at them.

  14. I’d have to agree with Daniel Fonseca that these aren’t “kick-ass” techniques.

    The article title had me anticipating some original thinking, and then left me disappointed. Most of these techniques are the first things one comes across in a quick google search on “presentation techniques” or a first visit to any Toastmasters group.

    And I’d argue that some of the techniques are so common and cliché, that they should be avoided altogether. “Make ‘em laugh”? Starting a presentation with a joke seems so commonplace (especially when, for so many, the delivery feels unnatural), that experiencing it slightly undermines (for me) the authenticity of the presenter, in the same way I doubt the authenticity of the person behind a resume that’s obviously come from a template.

    BTW, the most kick-ass presentation technique I’ve seen recently is the elimination of slides altogether, by Jason Fried. The combination of competence and slight improvisation seems very effective.

    • Thanks for the feedback Matt. I think what I was trying to cover here is what’s worked for me as a speaker. Humor has definitely worked for me but you’re right, I’ve seen speakers bomb when they try and use humor or break the ice with a joke.

  15. I loved this video. A little put off at first by leading with an f-bomb, but it came together nicely. Like you said, it’s all about the audience and when you put it online, you can’t satisfy everyone. But I watched the entire thing and loved it.

    @Matt Henderson – Cliché or not, I’m sick of these 10 techniques *not* being followed by presenters, especially when they’ve got something good to say and worth being passionate about. Good speakers might hit 2-3 of these in a speech, but getting all 10 and mashing them together really is an art.

  16. Hi Alex, my level of english is very low so please give me a chance and translate my comment (Google translate can help), Vi tu video y lo encontre genial, creo que usas muy bien las 10 tecnicas que describes en el articulo, solo como una recomendacion, por favor busca la forma de poner subtitulos a tus videos, piensa que habemos muchos hispanohablantes que te lo agradeceriamos.

    Regards,

    Andrés

  17. well, whether or not you agree with the headline “kick ass” techniques, they were definitely presented in a ‘kick ass’ way and that for me was the clincher. To write about a behavior is one thing but to see it in action is another. That’s how people learn by seeing and this worked! I’ve seen LOTS of presenters that can write about this stuff but to actually do it is well another story……
    Great job!

    • Yep, I’d agree with that as well; the author’s presentation abilities are quite good (although the “fuck you anyway” bit didn’t sit very well with me. I’m not sure what he was intending to achieve with that). But, anyway, I agree the presentation was delivered very naturally and engaging.

  18. I have recorded many student lectures for the university where I work, and one thing I’ve noticed is that when a speaker talks with authority, it is a joy to watch.

  19. Regarding the presentation itself. Maybe it was cut but in 20 minutes you did very well to fit everything in there. Some excellent examples given to back it all up. Great job and look forward to the next.

  20. Another important aspect that must not be disregarded in order to make outstanding presentations is to take into account all technical aspects that could ruin your performance. You might find some useful tips in “8 Secrets for impeccable presentations” on http://www.slidecoaching.com/

  21. Hi,

    Thanks a lot for sharing this with us. They are really useful tips for improving our presentation skills.

    Have a great day.
    Srinivas

  22. Because language is so important one of the words to be avoided in presentations is ‘simply’. It drives me up the wall when a speaker says ‘You simply do this …’. It may be simple for the speaker but not necessarily for everyone in the audience.

  23. Hi Alex, great common sense tips and techniques (who cares?).
    The article is synthetic and interesting and the video is great – I considered it as an 85 presentation, on a scale from 1 to 100. And you broke some rules, obviously! What are rules for? That’s humanity! That’s emotion! If the rules were 100% right we can program a robot and send it to present while we spend our time on the coolest beach…
    I have to agree that some of the F… comments could, or not, have been appropriate, depending on the attendance. I could not use those with my regular public and you surely cannot use at a TED Talk or Ignite presentation.
    Getting back to “common sense” and “everyone knows those rules”, I have to say that I attend several presentations every week (and from time to time I do present a few too) and the fact is that more than a third of the presenters are much bellow the 15 (using that same scale). So we need to ask: what the F… are they doing there and why do they not apply the common sense rules?
    Most of them keep reading overloaded slides not rehearsed, and don’t know nothing about the audience before or after the presentation as they never look at people due to being staring at the screen to read! Amazing! …and they are high level positioned professionals within their organizations!
    Please keep sharing!
    Regards.
    Daniel (mr.mindmap)

  24. Hey Alex, I was referred to this article by a friend. What an excellent post!

    I am looking to break into public speaking myself, this is the reason I started my blog. So it can be a platform for me to be able to get some credibility.

    I will be coming back to this blog for sure! I can learn a ton from you!

    How did you first start speaking and what advice would you give us guys who are looking to get some keynote speeches?

  25. Well done Alex just few suggests to improve even more :)

    - don’t use slides, just go 100% naked (personally I use a video in synch with the speech)
    http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2007/11/post.html
    - don’t turn around to watch the slides
    - more interaction with the audience (i have been using a table tennis table in a theatre for instance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGNcChIRC7o but you can consider several actions/games to do with the audience)
    - moving around is great but when you say something important just stand (it gives more authority to what you say if you move the message is less strong)
    - modulate your speech more (passion is great but different moment of the speech deserve a different speed and approach or everything sounds similar in the end)

    My 2 cents… excellent work!

    Marco

  26. thanks for sharing. be confident if you want to success in your presentation, the way to confident is you must understand what will you say, and that will make you more confindent.

  27. Great! tips but how do you prevent that losing track/lull in the middle section of the presentation?

    • I would suggest to throw questions at them get them out of their heads into your topic.
      Cheers
      Hiba