This is a guest post contribution by Advait Joshi.
You’re worried about your presentation next week.
You’ve got an incredible idea - a project that could catapult your idea to superstardom. But you’ve got only one chance to do it, and you’re not sure you can.
You’ve never been particularly good at presentations, but you’ve always coasted by. Except, this time, you need to be more than good. You need to be stunning. You need to convince those guys that you can implement your dream project.
You practice and practice every day, thinking that that’s the answer to your problem. But you’ve always practiced before a presentation, and you’ve never found yourself doing markedly better.
You’re scared, but you’re pushing it down.
“I’m not afraid,” you say, then head on to the presentation.
Once it’s done, the fear returns. You didn’t speak loud enough. You looked up once during your presentation. It’s over. You’ve blown it, or so you think.
You go to Google and search for tips on presentations. But whatever you see is far too general, far too vague to ever apply to you. Are you destined to never find any actionable tips on how to give a breathtaking presentation?
The Five Ways You Can Improve Your Presentation
1. Work on Your Tonality
Your tonality is one of the most important aspects of your presentation. You may have the best information, body language, and stories in the world, but it probably won’t be worth a damn if you don’t speak clearly and confidently.
So how do you work on your tonality and, in general, your voice?
While improving your speaking ability is a huge topic that can easily take an entire article by itself, we’ll briefly run through the basics:
Give yourself at least five seconds for both inhaling and exhaling.
Consciously Force Yourself to Pause Frequently When Speaking
This gives you time to gather your thoughts without resorting to filler words and phrases e.g. umm, like, you know, etc.
Lower Your Speed
Take more time to say words, and enunciate them clearly. As long as you’re understandable and aren’t boring, people probably won’t even notice that you’ve reduced your speaking speed. This will also help you enunciate words better and avoid stuttering and mispronouncing words.
Control Your Pitch
Don’t speak in a monotone. Consciously vary your pitch depending on the situation. Don’t try to make huge changes in this department – subtlety is key.
Tongue-twisters may seem like childlike constructions meant to amaze and amuse, but they can be much more than that. Like most skills, speaking can be improved through exercise, and tongue-twisters are one of the best ways to exercise the part of your brain that deals with speech.
Follow the steps above and you can guarantee that you’ll at least get people to sit up and listen to you when you start speaking.
Furthermore, an orator’s voice will help you better every human interaction you may find yourself in.
Whether you’re trying to convince someone to do you a favor, lie your way out of some issue, or sell something to a potential client, your voice will be your best weapon.
If you’re interested more in learning about tonality, drop a comment below, and we might even end up doing a full-fledged article on this in the future.
2. Create Structure
There’s no one more boring than a rambler.
However, it’s not easy to be concise. Brevity doesn’t come easily to everyone.
Is there any way you can ensure that you’re not going to ramble?
What you need to do is to write down your central idea – your thesis. Then, write down everything else you want to present. Make sure you detail why your thesis is advantageous and what its downsides could be. Make sure you explain every facet of your thesis.
One of the best ways to organize the information you need is using a mind map. Find a nice app that allows you to create mind maps and go to town on it. Or go the traditional way and put pen to paper.
After you’re done, give it a quick onceover. Cut away anything that isn’t necessary or doesn’t help you build up to your thesis.
Once you’ve done that, decide on how you want your presentation to flow.
What do you need to talk about first? What do you need to talk about last? What needs to come in the middle? What statistics do you have, and where do you want to present them?
Write them down in the order you choose. In this step, you can put down as much detail as possible. Not only will this help you see whether you’ve chosen an appropriate order, but it will also help you cement the information in your brain.
Next, summarize every point onto your list into a sentence. Group similar ideas under sub-headings. Structure your presentation in the following manner:
Choose a reasonable number of sub-headings depending on the length of your presentation. Try to keep your subheadings less than a sentence in length. These sentences should act as triggers, reminding you of the rest of the content under that sub-heading.
3. Research Your Audience
What kind of audience are you going to be speaking to?
Once you find out, start editing your presentation to cater to your audience. If you’re presenting to a group of conservative, old businessmen, you may not want to plaster your speech with jokes. If you’re presenting to teenagers, you probably don’t want to come off as patronizing.
Remember that the entire point of your presentation is to convince the audience of your thesis, and the only way you can do this is by explaining to them why they should be convinced – from their own perspective.
In How to Make Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie outlines six principles to make people like you. One of them is ‘talk in terms of the other person’s interest’.
Why you think your thesis is advantageous doesn’t matter. If you want to convince your audience about your thesis, show them how they would benefit from it.
If you’re trying to pitch a research fair to a group of university students, don’t talk about how much you’ll do for the fair or how the fair will help the university. Instead, talk about how research opens up opportunities for students.
Talk about the recognition usually associated with publishing research papers. Talk about how they would benefit from the fair, and you’ll get a much higher number on board.
In short, make sure that your audience is immediately able to understand how implementing your thesis will benefit them.
4. Avoid Over-Relying on Visual Aids
Slideshows, graphs, pictures, videos - they all look fantastic and are an incredibly quick way to disseminate huge chunks of information.
However, there’s a right way to use them and a wrong way to use them.
Visual aids should be used only to enhance. Your presentation should take center stage while visual aids orbit the periphery.
Your audience should never feel that they are getting more content from sources other than you. If you use a slideshow, it should contain the bare minimum information required – preferably the sub-headings from the previous step with perhaps a sentence or two for explication.
Never read from your slides. If your presentation simply consists of you reading through your slides, why not just send your audience an email of the slides and let them read it for themselves?
Make sure a slide or picture is truly necessary before you make it a part of your presentation.
Visuals should only be used for creating an emotional connection, disseminating large chunks of information, or summarizing a number of ideas. Anything else is unnecessary and should probably be eliminated.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but just make sure that everything you add to your presentation is there for a reason.
5. Don’t Worry About Confidence
A huge number of articles that talk about presenting tell you to ‘be confident.’
But what does that even mean?
Confidence is a very vague and abstract concept that is incredibly hard to attain. Being confident isn’t something that you can just decide to do – you need to pour tons of time and effort into it.
Don’t think you have enough time or energy to devote to building your confidence?
Don’t worry about that, either. Confidence isn’t something all-encompassing, and few people are confident in literally every aspect of their lives. While there are a few such individuals, they are the exception rather than the norm.
What we need to do here is build our confidence in regards to presentations.
So, let’s clarify further. How do you build your confidence when it comes to presentations?
Unfortunately, you may not like the answer to this question that much.
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘practice makes perfect?’ It’s much truer than most people view it. And it applies to presenting as well.
There’s simply no way you can build your confidence up without real practice. Luckily, this doesn’t mean that you’ll have to give five hundred presentations before you’ll be confident enough to present extremely well.
There are dozens of other methods you can use to practice presenting. Improv classes, public speaking clubs, and even talking to friends counts towards the practice that will make you perfect.
The only catch with this is that practice needs to be conscious. Talking to your friends without dedicating a huge chunk of your brainpower to the task will only take you so far. Talking to your friends while consciously trying to understand how you talk and how you can better your speech will actually help you raise your presentation confidence.
In addition to that, there are some things that you can only learn practically. Having theoretical knowledge isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t even half of the equation.
That being said, there are a few practical things you can do to increase your confidence. The first is to improve your body language.
Body language is an integral facet of the way we communicate. While we may think that words convey the majority of the information in an interaction, the truth is that body language also plays a huge role.
If you want to be seen as a serious presenter, you need to change your body language accordingly.
So, how do you use strong body language?
The main thing you need to do is gesture a lot. Don’t go overboard with huge, dramatic gestures, but try to illustrate ideas with sensibly scaled hand and body movements.
Hold up your fingers when talking about your number. Balance imaginary scales when talking about comparisons. Let your body supplement your speech.
Find out what gestures you’re comfortable using, and incorporate them into your daily speech. Make them a part of you and you won’t have to worry about your body language separately, at least when you’re going to present.
The final method you can use to increase your confidence is reframing the situation. There are two main ways that people reframe during presentations and speeches, but feel free to create and implement your own.
Which are these two methods?
Imagine Your Audience Naked
Most people suffer from stage fright because they are afraid of the power their audience has over them. They’re afraid of being judged, heckled, humiliated, and ridiculed. Imagining your audience naked tilts the power back in your favor – at least in your head.
And luckily for you, confidence is mostly about what’s going on in your head.
Keep Your Head In the Game
Obviously, we can’t say this enough. Remind yourself that you know more about the topic you’re presenting on than your audience. First, this needs to be true. Do as much research as you can on the topic you’re planning to present on.
Even if you’re presenting to a panel of experts, the research you will have done should give you a slight advantage over your audience. Once you realize that you know more than your audience, you’re no longer powerless.
You turn into an educator who’s trying to help your audience learn more about your thesis – and that’s a very empowering feeling.
And there you go. These five points are the major things you need to look at when you’re preparing for a presentation.
Follow them and incorporate them into your presentations, and you’ll be granted ovations, feet shuffles, or nods of understanding from your audience – depending on how expressive they are.
Now that you’ve read this article, you probably realize how powerful the tips above are. If you think some of your friends or acquaintances might get something out of this article, share it with them – spread the love!
If there’s anything you think we missed or misrepresented let us know in the comments section, and we’ll do our best to get back to you.
And finally, if there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s the fact that confidence is a skill. Build it up like you would any muscle in your body, and you’ll see huge, positive changes in every aspect of your life.
You may not believe us now, but even if you don’t, what’s the harm in trying?
Advait Joshi is a freelance writer who loves anything to do with technology. If you don't find him working on his blog at, you'll probably find him wrapped up in his sheets reading a good, long novel.