Group of people listening to a presentation speech.

Four Tips for Excellent Presentations

In order to prepare to deliver an excellent presentation, remember CLAP. C stands for Content, L stands for Language, A is for Audience, and P is for Practice.

1. Content

Predict what the audience needs to know, do your research, and give the message concisely. You can use the most eloquent language, but if your message lacks meaning, then your audience will be on their smartphones. Make sure that what you say is interesting, with examples, stories and statistics.

It is helpful to create a PowerPoint presentation, for your benefit (to remember the order of what you want to say) and for the audience’s benefit (to see the points clearly). However, keep the words on the slides to an absolute minimum. Rather show a point, then elaborate on it in words with further details. Instead of lots of information on slides, use images that link to the topic. Pictures are a great way to engage the audience’s attention. Consider compiling the interesting facts on a handout for the audience to take home, or better for the environment, give a link to a shared document.

The most important way to connect with the audience is to show enthusiasm for the topic. Your excitement sparks their interest.

2. Language

Your language needs to be simple, and crystal clear, whether you are giving a formal presentation or not. Many people think that you need to use posh, long words. Actually, the most important thing is that the audience gets the message clearly, and the best way to do that is in simple English. Write a draft, then edit the speech to cut out complex words. Reading it out loud may also help you to decide which words may be difficult to understand. It also makes it easier for you to remember it if your language is simple!

Consider using signposting language. By this I mean, language that helps guide the audience through your speech. The golden rule is ‘tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them’.

For example, in the introduction, preview the presentation.
“Today I’m going to tell you about the four essential elements of giving a good presentation. One, Content. Two, Language. Three, Audience. Four, Practice and Presentation.
Firstly, let’s look at content …”.

Clearly show that you are moving to the next section.
Words such as ‘next’, ‘moving on’, ‘another point to consider’, ‘turning to the second point’, and the classic ‘firstly, secondly, thirdly’ are signals for the audience to listen up to the next exciting point.

Finally, review the key points you covered in the presentation.
“So, the four essential elements of giving a good presentation were Content, Language, Audience and Presentation.’

3. Audience

Greetings are important. Taking the time to greet the audience, and allow them to greet each other, can set the tone for a whole afternoon. In formal circumstances, you may have to greet the ‘dignitaries’ in the room. This means that you mention the guests of honour by name, in order of importance. In a business setting, you might start by acknowledging the board of directors, and go down the chain of command. Also, introduce fellow speakers with thoughtful details, the audience like to know who is presenting and why.

The complexity of ideas need to be tailored to suit the audience’s level of understanding. If you are a techie, downgrade the technical stuff to suit their level. If you’re an academic, simplify concepts.

A note of caution regarding humour: it is very cultural. Something that might be funny in one country may be totally inappropriate in another. Carefully research the audience if it is a multicultural group of people.

4. Practice

Practise in front of a friend or the mirror so that you can present with minimal notes. By this I do not mean that you have to learn it by heart. Spare the audience the boredom of a memorised speech. Aim to know the key points, without learning the exact words. Sometimes, cue cards are helpful to remind yourself what is next.

Body language reminders:

    • Stand to the left or the right of the screen, not in front of it, so that you don’t block the screen
    • Don’t turn your back on the audience
    • Speak in the direction of the audience, not to the screen
    • Make eye contact with the whole audience, from right to left and back again
    • When you click a new slide, give the audience a few seconds to read the slide
    • Speak slowly and pause regularly, give them time to process new information
    • Remember to breathe, they don’t know you are nervous (fake it till you make it)
    • Smile and enjoy!

Consider choosing content carefully, simplify the language, respect your audience and practice diligently for an excellent presentation, and lots of clapping!

By Christelle van Niekerk.

Check out our other blog Ten Presentation Tips from US Presidents.

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