How To Be A Better Presenter

In the past week, I've emceed a major marketing conference and delivered feature presentations at three other events. Additionally, with Advertising Week in full effect, I've been on the receiving end of some of the best and worst presentations of my life. These scenarios have given me vivid examples of speech-making dos and don'ts -- and led me to reflect on my own strengths and weaknesses.

Following are some of the major best practices that presenters (including me) should embrace. There are a million books, training courses, coaches and gurus who've covered these before. But common negligence requires broad reconsideration:

  1. Present what you're passionate and knowledgeable about. Otherwise, consider delegating the presentation to someone else who is.
  2. Consider the occasion a gift from those who grant you their precious attention. If you don't consider it such, then don't waste their time.
  3. Have purpose.
  4. Distill your purpose to a point and stick to it. If people don't agree or disagree with this clearly articulated point, then you've failed.
  5. If you can say what you have to say in 10 minutes, then don't take 45. In fact, do everything in your power to say what you have to say in 10 minutes. This requires preparation and rehearsal.
  6. Crowd-sourcing your presentation, or at least getting wide feedback beforehand, will dramatically improve quality.
  7. A presentation is more an opportunity for engagement and listening than orating. A good ratio would be no more than 50% presenting, and the remainder interaction. Less presenting would be even better.
  8. Powerpoint exists to support your presentation. Vivid images enhance you, while  transcriptions in bulleted format degrade you. In fact, the more projected text you have, the worse you come off.
  9. People like written details. So include outlines, case studies, books or other handouts -- as a complement to your Powerpoint. Better yet, share them freely online.
  10. Presentations are more compelling if you include new and fresh material. If you use pictures, data, movies or cases studies that people have seen before, then you'll look like a lazy has-been.
  11. Presentations are more compelling if everything is beautiful and clean, including your Powerpoint, your appearance and your voice.
  12. Eliminate "ums" and "ahhs" and other awkward silence-fillers.
  13. If the venue requires you to use a microphone and PA system, then don't stop talking into the mic halfway through.
  14. If you're wearing a badge or name tag, take it off while you present. Keeping it on simply implies that you're a dork, especially if you're in front of a very large crowd.
  15. Get a proper amount of sleep the night before. It really does show.
  16. Show up early and make sure all the technical aspects of the presentation are taken care of.
  17. Smile, because that's professional and makes people want to like you.
  18. Stay hydrated.
  19. Have fun. If you're having fun, chances are greatest that the participants will have fun with you.
  20. Have a drink afterward with some peers and collect raw feedback so you can improve.
  21. Repeat all the above.



Now, what am I missing?

14 comments about "How To Be A Better Presenter".
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  1. Jeff Rutherford from Jeff Rutherford Media Relations, LLC, October 2, 2009 at 10:28 a.m.

    Great points Max. And, I always recommend, though some people may find their meetings cheesy, Toastmasters can really help you improve your public speaking skills.

  2. Laura Bajkowski from BAJKOWSKI & PARTNERS LLC, October 2, 2009 at 10:32 a.m.

    I would add:
    1. Know the audience composition. Don't "dumb it down" or only "talk to those in the know". Strike the balance so that everyone has a key take away or two.
    2. Speaking of take aways. Tell me something I don't know and can really use. Too many presentations and panels these days have people talking in the abstract, and the listener starts checking emails, texting, doodling, or snoozing until the next session or break.

  3. Michael Kilgore from Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, October 2, 2009 at 10:33 a.m.

    Very useful. Death by PowerPoint (and bullet points) is one of my deadly sins, but I'm

    * trying
    * to
    * be
    * better

    One more tip: Know your audience. It's important to provide customized presentations that are relevant to those granting your time.

  4. Max Kalehoff from MAK, October 2, 2009 at 10:58 a.m.

    Sean: you were pretty good. Was an honor to meet you.
    Larua, Jeff and Michael, all good points.

  5. catherine Wachs, October 2, 2009 at 11:20 a.m.

    Very good list. I would add that anecdotes and stories resonate better (and are retained more) than Power Point bullets.

  6. Doug Frechtling from George Washington University, October 2, 2009 at 11:24 a.m.

    Good points for effective presentations. I would just add treat your audience like friends you are having a conversation with: look at them, don't turn your back on them to address the screen, and observe their reactions to what you are saying.

  7. David Hertz from Dix & Eaton, October 2, 2009 at 11:44 a.m.

    Very useful. I really like No. 7. Too many presenters don't involve their audience in a discussion. Lessons here for media as well who are trying to engage their readers/viewers/listeners.

  8. Steve Noble from, October 2, 2009 at 12:30 p.m.

    Thanks Max. Well done. Visuals work and even some video thrown in too!

  9. Terry Powers from , October 2, 2009 at 4:14 p.m.

    Excellent post. I, too, have seen all of the above from so-called professional speakers. I would add
    - don't talk to the screen.
    I have witnessed countless presenters' backs way too often.

  10. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, October 2, 2009 at 5:17 p.m.

    Thanks, Max. Your list includes way more practical advice than the fella who once told me just to imagine the audience naked.

    I look forward to your next post.

  11. Jim Dennison from DigitalMediaMeasures, October 3, 2009 at 11:08 a.m.

    Make sure your slides are readable beyond the first few rows. Especially the colors and text in charts and graphs.
    Interaction is great in a small venue, but in a large crowd, if 3/4 can't hear what someone in the audience is saying, out come the Blackberries and iPhones.

  12. Catherine Ventura from @catherinventura, October 3, 2009 at 2:01 p.m.

    Great list, Max!
    Two more ideas:
    If it's a Tweetable event, make sure to include your Twitter name and the event hashtag in big bold letters on the screen at the beginning (don't just say them!).
    And I always prefer presentations that include a little humor; sharing something funny predisposes me to like the presenter!

  13. Brian Cody from the Cody Company, October 5, 2009 at 8 a.m.

    Great points Max for the beginners and veterans. If it pertains to your sales presentation authentically tell your
    story. Researching your audience and customizing your
    presentation to that audience is huge.

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    Utilize those audience members who express interest in your presentation and obtain their email address to send
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  14. Gina Cuclis, October 6, 2009 at 1:39 p.m.

    Great advice, but you left out an important point. Your audience gets its first impression of you as you walk on stage or to the podium. Here's a few tips about that:

    • Be mindful of your body language.
    • Walk to the podium at a comfortable pace, don't rush or dawdle.
    • Be friendly, smile as you approach the podium.
    • Don't look at the ground.
    • Relax, don't be stiff.
    • Don't shuffle or thumb through your note cards and papers before you start to speak.
    • Don't make drinking a sip of water your first action at the podium.

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