Whether you speak as a routine part of your job, or you’re a paid professional speaker (or want to be), you know that public speaking is one of the most important skills that visible leaders must master. There’s no better way to establish expertise and solidify your reputation than being able to deliver a great presentation.
Want to elevate your presentation from average to perfectly polished and professional? The typical advice is to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse; know your content cold; and research your audience. These are obvious best practices, and you’re probably are already doing them. But, if you’re aspiring to get better (aren’t we all?) or earn more money as a paid professional speaker, these tips will help you level up the quality of your next big moment on stage. Don’t be shocked by the simplicity. These aren’t complicated, but they’re often overlooked and poorly executed. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details…and these details can add last-minute stress or even kill your presentation. Give them the attention they deserve, and your delivery will appear smooth, effortless, and natural – practically perfect!
Sound. What kind of microphone will you have? Is it fixed to a podium, and you are therefore stuck behind it? If it is a lapel mic, have you avoided any potential interference via clothing, jewelry, or hair? Do you have an easy, discreet method of securing the mic battery pack? I prefer a headset, because the mic moves with you as you turn your head to engage the audience on all sides of the stage, offering consistent sound quality from beginning to end. Most venues can accommodate your preferences. Either way, it is best to know.
Slides. If you are using slides, how will they be advanced? Do you have to hold the ‘clicker’ or stand next a laptop, or (worst of all) say ‘next slide please’ so someone else can advance them for you? Will you have a confidence monitor, or the ability to use ‘presenter view’ if you wish? How about a count-down timer? Ensure smooth flow by planning for any logistical constraints.
Dynamic pieces. Have you checked that any animation, live polls, or video files work properly with the venue equipment? If you need it, will there be reliable internet service? If you can’t confirm this well in advance, it’s advisable to have a backup slide deck that doesn’t rely on animation, embedded files, or internet streaming.
Lighting. What about the lighting in the venue – will your slides be easy to read? If you prefer the lights on fully or dimmed, can that be accommodated? Do you need any transitions of lighting during your presentation? Make sure this is set for smooth and seamless operation or you’ll lose the audience in the few seconds it takes to figure it out.
Pointers. Never use a laser pointer. There are many simple ways to highlight focus areas on a slide without a pointer. Even the most confident and seasoned speakers will appear to have a tremor, which not only makes it hard for the audience to follow your points, but also makes you look nervous, even if you aren’t.
Moving on stage. Define the ideal zones for standing and moving on stage in the context of the stage lights and projector screen. Avoid standing between your audience and the slide, and avoid having lighting or slides projecting across your face and body as you are speaking. Will there be any video recorded or streamed? This may limit where you stand and how much you move. If you will be able to move across the stage as you present, make note of the areas that are too far forward, back, or less ideal across the width of the stage so you can avoid blocking your slides, being blocked by objects on the stage or in the room, and ruining the benefits of the stage lighting. These mistakes are not only an eyesore for the audience, but they’re also a great way to ruin your chances at great photos or videos from the event.
Face time. Nothing breaks a connection with the audience like turning away from them. Never turn around (with your back or face away from the audience) to look at or motion to your own slides. Even without a confidence monitor, master verbally walking the audience through your slide. This can be done for the most complicated scientific material with the right techniques and preparation.
Keep it simple. Never put up a slide that is ‘too busy’ or ‘too small’ and avoid the dreaded “I know you can’t really read this, but…” You know these are audience killers, because you’ve probably been in the audience when a speaker has done this! Truly skilled presenters never do that, unless doing so is somehow making a point of its own. You need not actually display a complex figure in order to explain a key point about the content. A few simple strategies can go a very long way in managing this challenge; it’s more important to be able to speak to the data than to display the data.
Timing. Tailor your presentation to the event, even if you are repurposing slides or content. Rehearse enough that you will not run out of time, and/or structure your talk so that you have two natural conclusion points. Then, if you must make some adjustments on the fly, the audience (and event planner who hired you) will never know. And please, freshen up your title slide. Nothing conveys a lack of professionalism like a presentation from a master deck that is clearly recycled.
Finish strong. Pay as much attention to your conclusion as you do to your opening. Your first few moments should hook the audience, as you grab their interest and establish your credibility. The final moments should inspire your audience to take new action or hold a new perspective. Never trail off. Have a powerful, memorable conclusion that gives a clear benefit to the audience members. They’ve invested their time and attention in your presentation, so make it worth their while. After all, your time on stage isn’t about you. It’s about the audience.
Want more tips and tricks about public speaking? Check out this video, which answers the most common questions about how to get started, what to charge, how to negotiate, how to find paying venues, and more: