presentation mastery

(Almost) everything you need to know to deliver a powerful presentation to any audience

Table of Contents

Good start is half the battle

How to Start a Presentation (and Finish It Strongly!)

When it comes to business presentations, consider this.

When you recall a great presentation you experienced, do you recall how great the bullet points were?

Or how those technically challenging and crowded slides really did it for you?

Unlikely, right?

You’re much more likely to remember great storytelling.

Here is how to start a presentation to ensure your audience is with you every step of the way.

Let’s face it. Business presentations tend to strike dread in the hearts of most people, and it’s not just for those in the audience. It’s often the case for the presenter, too.

On either side we’re fearful of being bored and being boring.

For the presenter, part of alleviating those fears is making sure we sound interesting and look interested in what we’re talking about. (That’s where a good executive presence coach comes in.)

But body language and a resonant, clear voice isn’t the be-all and end-all of presenting.

Think for a moment.

What do people actually like listening to?

The answer is, they like listening to a good story.

It’s pretty simple. All of us love stories.

We are programmed at a deep level from childhood to love hearing stories about other people’s experiences, and the more we can bring great storytelling into our business presentations and communications, the more effective we will be.

1. How to start a presentation: The opening story


For your business presentation, you need to hook ’em from the get-go!

Stories are powerful because they hold people’s attention. Like the stories Benjamin Zander or Joe Landolina (videos below) use to begin their speeches, they occur in a specific time and place and therefore hold our attention and feed our imaginations.

Stories ask us to imagine being in that time and place with the speaker.

Stories bring drama, mystery, tension, or surprise.

So, how do you begin?

Start by setting the stage and introduce the situation, then there’s a problem that arises that needs to be solved, and then the resolution to the problem.

A beginning, a middle, and an end.

Every story has these and so, too, does every good presentation or speech.

Take a minute to watch these two clips.

Here’s Benjamin Zander:

And now Joe Landolina:

2. How to start a presentation: Paint the picture


When you’re thinking about how to start a presentation, remember this: audiences love to identify with the speakers.

We trust what we know and we trust what is familiar to us, so laying out the landscape at the beginning with a statement or fact that we can all relate to helps to create an instant rapport with the audience.

The more the audience can use their imagination and see the story, the more they invest in what you’re talking about, so give them a bit of detail to set the stage. Use statements we can all identify with.

Two quick examples:

We all know what it’s like to be rushing because we’re late…
It’s always a push in the 11th hour of a deadline…

3. How to start a presentation: Your mission is…


The picture that the speaker paints could also be, for instance, a problem.

Such as: “If we don’t diversify in our social media strategies, this company is going to fail in 2 years.”

That’s a powerful picture to paint and grabs people right away.

This great storytelling technique immediately creates credibility because it shows you’re familiar with the issues.

It also creates anxiety, and therefore emotional and intellectual appeal.

Because now that we’ve heard the bad news, we automatically start searching for solutions.

Next, now that you’ve hooked your audience, here’s how to keep going in a winning vein!

4. Show vulnerability


Never underestimate the power of personal identification.

As we said before, people trust what is familiar to them and what could be more familiar than humour, poignancy, or adversity. (Example: Watch Hyeonseo Lee’s Ted talk, My Escape from North Korea )

There’s something satisfyingly voyeuristic about hearing other people’s tales of woe, embarrassment, or adventure.

When we reveal something reasonable and personal about ourselves, we become vulnerable and open to our audience and their judgments.

This is an invitation for them to think, “Oh, man, that happened to me, too!”

And in that moment we all become human together.

And it is our humanness that ultimately keeps us interested.

The speaker could be Barack Obama but when he’s talking about how he grew up, the neighbourhood he lived in, and his parents’ struggles, we can all still relate to those details.

Even though we know he went on to become President of the United States.

5. Unleash your creativity


Above all, be open to being creative and thinking outside the box.

John Bohannon is a science writer who uses dance instead of PowerPoint to illustrate new laser and molecular technology ideas.

Not only does this create compelling and captivating viewing but it simplifies complex concepts, tells a visual story, and is irresistibly memorable.

We won’t all be getting a dance company up on stage with us to illustrate our story but it just shows what you can do when you let yourself be inspired and use your imagination.

Have a look:

6. Give the presentation you would like to experience

Ask yourself what kind of presentation would hold YOUR attention.

Then map out your story, include personal anecdotes, and allow yourself to be moved by the power and logic of the story you’re telling.

Remember, you’re in a room full of human beings all of whom have the same insecurities, challenges, and desires that we all have.

So grab them, keep them, and then bring it home.

Finally, you’ve done everything right. Now you need to finish!

7. How to finish a presentation: The closing remarks

If you’ve done all that, you’ll have hooked them, introduced tension, given them something to relate to.

Before you finish, though, it’s time to give them a bit of release.

When you’re wrapping things up at the end of a talk, remind the audience of the problems they face, and then give them some solutions.

You can also suggest actions to take to move towards solutions or how to think differently to solve their problems.

But above all, make sure you’ve told given them some great storytelling. You, and they, will be glad you did.


There you have it. Seven tips to delivering the perfect business presentation.

  • Start by setting the stage and introducing the situation
  • Lay out the landscape with a statement or fact everyone can relate to
  • Outline one possible solution (which you’ll go through in the key points of your talk)
  • Be your vulnerable self (because everyone before you has the same insecurities)
  • Allow your imagination to run loose
  • Think about the presentation that would capture YOUR attention
  • Close with a quick recap (a bit like I’m doing right here!)
Don't be boring

Key skills to avoid boring presentations

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You know what a boring business presentation is like to sit through.

When the speaker’s voice has become so dull and annoying that it starts to sound like a mosquito buzzing in your ear.

But are you aware of the pitfalls so that you can avoid them next them you stand up to deliver a presentation?

Follow these five steps to avoid the “Death by Monotony” presentation.

First: How to Know What Makes a Boring Business Presentation


So what’s happening?

Most of the time this unfortunate situation arises because the presenter has fallen into the Monotony


They speak from one place in their voice in one rhythm and don’t vary either one at all, and this happens without them even knowing it.

Now, this could be someone your know. It could—let’s face it—even be you and you don’t even know it.

A monotone vocal delivery is one of the worst sins and most common mistakes you can make when it comes to public speaking. Luckily, there are lots of skills and voice coaching techniques you can implement to prevent it.

Here are just a few tips you can use to stay out of the monotony trap and keep your audience interested and engaged.

The Five Key Business Presentation Skills


1. Vary Your Pitch


Here’s one basic fact of physiology.

The ear needs to be entertained and kept interested.

So first off, vary your pitch.

Pitch is your vocal range, it’s the movement in tone between the top of your vocal range and the bottom and everywhere in between.

As children, we naturally have a varied vocal range. As we learn to speak we explore the range of sound our voices can make.

Then as we grow older, something happens. We start to have opinions and start editing ourselves. We start to become self-conscious.

One big mistake we make is thinking that a deep, weighty, monotonous tone for credibility, maturity and gravity.

In short, we stop using the full range of our voices.

Experiment with your vocal range—it’s there for a reason. Remember that the ear needs to be entertained and kept interested so change it up, vary your tone, and use the full range of your vocal pitches.

Watch this great example:

2. Do Not Underestimate the Power Of Articulation & Pace


Next, make sure you’re articulating and speaking clearly and slowly.

It may seem obvious but do not underestimate the power of clarity.

We may have heard our message a hundred times but we forget our audience is hearing it for the first time.

Everyone can afford to slow down their delivery.

We often rush and end up mumbling our words together because we want to get through the material as quickly as possible or are afraid of forgetting what we have to say next.

Think into your consonants, breathe, and you will slow down.

This eliminates rushing and your audience will thank you for it.

3. Use of Pause


Pause is perhaps the most effective and underused of voice coaching techniques.

Pause is powerful, so learn to understand and use the power of pause in public speaking.

Former US President Barack Obama is a good example of someone who uses pause well and often.

We can implement pauses to gain different effects.

When we pause before a word or phrase, it creates the classic tension—release.

And when we pause after it, it allows the audience a moment for the information to sink in.

When we use pause, we also vary the pace of our delivery.

Varying our pace and using pause keeps the rhythm of our vocal delivery varied and keeps the ear from falling asleep.

4. Volume & Breath


What’s one key objective that too few people think about in speaking.

The need to be heard!

When it comes to volume, this where breathing properly comes in handy.

If you are getting enough breath into your lungs, you won’t have to worry about being heard because your voice will be supported.

Remember, breath = fuel for the voice.

We’re not talking about shouting here.

There’s a big difference between having a supported, resonant sound that fills the space and shouting. The former is about generosity, the latter is unpleasant and off-putting.

5. Make a Recording


Finally, record yourself. Whether it’s your iPhone or your laptop, video taping yourself when you’re rehearsing has never been never easier.

It is the only way you can see exactly what you look like and sound like. More importantly it can help decide where you need to make changes.

You can also just use audio recording. Record just your voice and you will quickly know if you’ve fallen into the Monotony Trap!

The mind's eye

Eight visual presentation skills

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PowerPoint is always lurking in the background and we’ve all seen terrible PowerPoint, right?

Some thoughts on the murky world of PowerPoint.

1. Ask yourself, “Do I really need that slide?”


Why not trust yourself to communicate the message, maybe you don’t need a slide.

If you carefully structure your message and deliver it with vocal presence then you don’t really need a slide.

Remember, it is YOU that will engage, educate, motivate – not a slide deck.

2. Always remember why visual aids are used


Visual aids are there to help make your presentation memorable – they are not the presentation, they are merely an aid.

Don’t use your slide as a crutch and remember you are the best visual in the presentation.

So always ask yourself is this slide aiding my presentation?

Is it helping to make me memorable?

3. Get rid of that terrible “Agenda slide”


They bore, they lack imagination and they are lazy.

Your audience are most certainly listening at the beginning of your presentation, this is the time to make an impact and engage, so think about that “agenda slide” do you really need it to tell the audience what you are going to talk about?

If you think you definitely need it, do some homework and get a good design.

4. Get rid of bullets


They really are not clever or nice to look at, they are certainly not memorable.

Bullets are not nice items anyway – so come on stop shooting your audience!

5. Stop using your slide deck as dumping ground


We see it all the time.

People putting all their thoughts on the slide, and before you know it there’s a slide so full of text that it is no longer a visual aid.

It’s a novel!

It confuses, bewilders and annoys.

6. Stop using ClipArt


It’s not memorable, it doesn’t visually engage, in my humble opinion it looks a little amateurish.

There are plenty of resources out there to get good visual images, often for free.

Start with Unsplash or Google Images or Flickr.

7. The 30-20-10 rule


This is a tried and tested rule that all sensational presenting incorporates to some degree

It’s a great example of ‘a little knowledge goes a long way’.

Simply stated:

  • 30 is the minimum font size to use on slides — this keeps your word count to a minimum, so it forces you to use only the words that truly matter
  • 20 is the maximum length of a presentation in minutes — 20 minutes is enough time to say what you need to say about pretty much anything
  • 10 is the maximum number of slides to use — Slides are never the story in sensational presenting. You are the story. The slides are only there to serve you. Ten slides or less is enough to support any message.

The 30-20-10 rule will help you avoid Death By PowerPoint and avoid losing your audience.

Not just for laughs

What comedians can teach us about presentation skills

It can be difficult to keep your audience engaged during business presentations.

How do comedians keep their audiences engaged?

Some people are naturally funny.

Others think that being funny is a gift from birth that only the chosen few are blessed with, and that the rest of us should stay far, far away from trying to make people laugh.

The fact is, being funny is a skill like anything else, like driving a car, learning a new language, or learning presentation techniques.

Comedians spend years crafting and honing their content and delivery, making them one of the few public speakers that clock up the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell says make you a master.

Performers learn a lot the hard way. there’s just no other way to do it.

You can practice, practice, and practice until the cows come home but at the end of the day you have to get up in front of a real audience to test it out.

Here are a few interesting presentation techniques from the world of comedy to help speakers in the business world master the art of keeping audiences engaged.

1. Rock it from the start


Everyone knows that getting off to a good start sets the tone for the rest of your journey.

When you’re practicing your speech or presentation, the first 30 seconds will make or break you.

Psychologist Jennice Vilhauer does this effectively in her TED talk, “Why you don’t get what you want…”

If you don’t engage people and give them a reason to listen in the first 30 seconds, you’ll have a pretty tough time getting them back.

A killer start to your presentation will set the tone for the rest of your talk and keep your audience engaged.

So practice this, hone it, and know it until you can do it in your sleep.

2. Know your timing


When you’re practicing, breakdown the sections of your content.

  • First 30 seconds
  • Numbers of key areas
  • Stories
  • Wrap up
  • Takeaways

Time yourself so you know how long each takes and how much time the whole presentation will be and when in doubt, keep it short.

You will keep your audience engaged, and they will thank you for it.

3. Don’t wait to work the room


Comedians are clever at working the room.

They “cast” someone in the audience so they have instant familiarity with the room.

Introduce yourself to people as they come into the room; don’t wait to find common ground with your audience until you start your talk.

Break the ice with them from the outset, greet them as they come in, have a bit of banter with them.

You’ll automatically have back story with them when you start your presentation.

4. Warm up first


All performers warm up and do something to get them in the ‘zone’ as TEDTalk presenter Julien Treasure talks about below.

Stretch your arms up over your head before you step onto the stage, take some deep breaths, loosen up your muscles or do some articulation exercises.

Whatever you do, do something. 

This will help calm any nerves and also get your body and mind focused on the task at hand.


5. Self critique


Whenever you get the chance to present or speak in front of an audience, always film or video yourself.


It’s so easy now to do it now with phones and tablets.

Get a friend or someone you know will be there to video you so you can watch it back and see exactly what you’re doing and sounding like.

Performers and comedians love this because it gives them instant feedback on everything they’re doing and how they are keeping audiences engaged.

6. Be human


No one feels comfortable around people who seem like they’re perfect all the time.

We connect with people we trust, who feel familiar to us.

Really funny material comes from comedians who know it’s not necessarily about making people laugh; it’s about making people think, it’s about showing them that you know what it’s like to be human. 

The audience finds something in you that resonates with them. 

Comedian and writer Ricky Gervais talks brilliantly about this here.

As a public speaker, take heed of some of these techniques from comedians and see if they help in your performance.

Comedians face the toughest audiences in the world so they know what they’re talking about.

Remember, good preparation and practice will pay off in dividends when it comes to getting up in front of an audience and delivering the goods.

Great communicating is learned; no one is born a great speaker.

Remember that you’re a human being in a room full of human beings and every audience loves to see people succeed.

They want you to be great! It makes their job of listening so much easier.


Olivia's surprising strategies for great presentations

confidentspeakWhen I think back to my college days and my first presentations I remember one tutor very clearly and to this day he is my public speaking guru — he’s my ‘Tony Robbins’!

If it weren’t for Mr. Rutland, I wouldn’t have got the wake-up call I needed to get the focus of my presentation where it belonged.

Off me, and on to my audience.

I want to share the strategies for great presentations which I learnt from the wonderful Mr Rutland with you.

Here’s the scenario.

I had to give a final presentation in one of my college courses. I was acting and performing regularly so I figured I had a pretty good shot of dazzling my unprepossessing tutor.

Mr. Rutland patiently sat through my 15 minute presentation.

There were a lot of slick slides my friends had helped me with. I had some funny jokes, flashy body and hand movements, and a few sarcastic comments — all the bells and whistles!

When I finished, I was beaming, waiting for my tutor to tell me just how brilliant I was.

He smiled, nodded, and then he said the words that would stay with me until today,

“Stop trying to be interesting to the audience. Be interested in the audience.”

How could I have gotten it so wrong? Wasn’t I entertaining, polished, and prepared? Didn’t I do all the homework?

The answer is yes to all those.

However I was missing one fundamental truth that drives all the best speakers, speeches, and presentations:

It’s not about you. It’s always about the audience.

So here are a few strategies for great presentations to help you to take your attention off yourself and focus it instead, on the audience during your next presentation or keynote.

1. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes


You need to ask the question your audience is asking themselves,

“What’s in it for me?”

Audiences consider their time important so they want to know it’s going to be well spent listening to you.

They want a reason to listen. 

This is probably one of the most important strategies for great presentations, so PLEASE give it time and thought.

You have to give them that reason in the first 30 seconds or you’ll lose them.

Here’s where a strong “hook” comes in.

Have a strong hook right at the start and give them what they want – you tell them exactly why they should listen.

2. Great vocal delivery can make or break a presentation


Audiences are always looking for a reason to tune you out so don’t give them one.

By using vocal techniques and skills like pace, pause, pitch, volume, and articulation you can change up the audio and keep their ears interested.

This is the pallet of colours and textures you have to create great vocal delivery.

And they do work, so it’s worth learning, practicing, and using them.

3. Make them the centre of your universe


Audiences love to feel like they’re the centre of attention, so show them that they are the centre of your universe for those minutes by making eye contact .

By using eye contact, open body posture, or hand gestures you can make an emotional connection with your audience that will keep them listening.

This TED talk from Daniel Levitin is an example of good eye contact.

4. Never underestimate the power of a smile


Smiling makes you feel good and tells your audience you are happy to be there.

It has to be more than just words so face them, connect with them, and show them through your delivery how important they are.

5. What do they know and what do they feel?


When you begin to map out your presentation (and you should do this before you even look at PowerPoint) ask yourself these questions:

  1. What does your audience know before you present?
  2. What do they feel? 
  3. What do you want them to know and want them to feel afterwards?  

This will help form the framework for a presentation that engages them.

This, along with a good, strong hook, will create the bones of a presentation that puts your audience’s needs first.

6. Be generous


When you get nervous and feel that urge to start “performing” —or even worse, run away — just remind yourself of one thing.

“It’s not about you. It’s all about the audience. Whew!”

Take the pressure off yourself.

How generous can you be with the information you have to give?

How can you be of service to your audience in that moment?

Take the focus off you and turn it instead on to what you can do for your audience.

Audiences don’t want to do any work, they want you to take them by the hand and show them how important they are and all the great stuff they’re going to get out of your presentation.

They want to feel good after you leave the stage. They want to get the sense that their time was well spent.

So remember, take the spotlight off yourself and turn it on the most important people in the room: Your audience.

Head, heart and hand

Three top tips for sensational presenting

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We have a team of voice coaches on hand, and we often consider about physical and vocal skills when it comes to sensational presenting.

How you look and how you sound are always at the top of my list of important skills.

But there are a couple of other factors to consider outside your physical appearance and your vocal presence.

These three tips are not so much about the mechanics of delivering your words, as they are about being human.

Sensational presenting really starts to sing when you remember that a presentation is so much more than just words and information.

Sensational presenting: The head, the heart, and the hand

Think of your presentation as being more than just words and information.

This will help any stiff formality or obstacles between you and the audience fall away.

How can you connect with your audience as a human being in a room full of human beings?

People want to be touched emotionally. When you reach out to your audience on an emotional level, they will trust more readily.

And trust is what you want from your audience.

1. The head

First, you have to assure the audience that you’re worth listening to.

After all, they’ve taken time out to be there and want to know their time is being well spent.

You need to establish your credibility with the audience.

Sensational presenting shows the audience you know your subject.

That you are an expert in your field.

What’s your pedigree, track record for success?

2. The heart

Strategies For Great PresentationsSecond, you need to let them know you’re on their side.

Sensational presenting involves your audience liking you or at least knowing that you know their pain.

Let your audience know that you are aware of their challenges and that you have answers to help them with those challenges.

The audience is always asking themselves one question as they sit there spending their precious time with you:

Why should I care about this?

Sensational presenting answers this burning question for the audience.

Your audience will care if you show that you care.

Perhaps share a story from your own journey that illustrates how you overcame obstacles or challenges of your own.

When they hear you’ve overcome difficulties yourself, they know you empathize with them.

3. The hand

Lastly, the hand metaphor refers to what they take away from your presentation.

Sensational presenting leads the audience towards some kind of practical, concrete steps or knowledge they can take home and put into practice.

The audience comes in with questions and wants to leave with answers. 

Put into their hands something they can use, a tool that will help them with their challenges.

This reminds me of Chris Anderson’s definition of persuasion as “the act of replacing someone’s world view with something better”. 

The audience wants to leave feeling different than when they came in.


Knowledge Can Be A Dangerous Thing

Sensational presenting involves weeding out what the audience doesn’t need to know and what they do.

There’s a great book called “Made To Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath, which warns that a lot of knowledge can become a bad thing if left unchecked.

When you’re an expert in your field it can be easy to speak in acronyms, use phrases the audience doesn’t know, or use “in jokes” that leaves 90% of the audience completely lost.

Make your presentation easy for the audience to understand and follow and use simple language.

It’s not a matter of dumbing down. It’s a matter of simplicity.

Quick recap

In conclusion

I hope this guide to presentation mastery has been helpful for you.

We’ve gone over how to start (and finish!) your presentation.

We’ve talked about the danger of death by monotony, and eight tips and techniques for visual presentations and slide decks.

We’ve considered what we might learn from comedians, and also gone through some perhaps surprising strategies to deliver an exceptional presentation that can influence, engage and compel any audience to action.

There are lots more guides and resources available over here.

If you’d like to receive more hands-on support and guidance from Confident Speak, you can find all our programs over here.