The 10 Commandments for Giving a Perfect Presentation

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Kipp Bodnar
Kipp Bodnar



Looking out into a sea of faces while standing on a stage can be one of the most intimidating experiences of your career. It doesn't matter if it's a group of 12 people in a board room or an auditorium filled with thousands of people -- giving the perfect presentation is no easy feat. It's also pretty critical to your success in delivering the message you want to deliver.

presentation best practices

Last week, 2,800 marketers converged on Boston for INBOUND 2012 (It sold out, so you better get your tickets for next year's event now!), and world-class speakers gathered to share their expertise on inbound marketing. During the conference and its preparation, some guidelines for giving great presentations emerged, and we wanted to share those lessons with all our awesome blog readers. Follow these 10 commandments, and you'll be well prepared to wow the audience during your next presentation.

The 10 Commandments for Giving the Perfect Presentation

1) Understand Your Audience's Sacrifice

Think about it: if you're speaking to 100 people for an hour, you're consuming 100 hours of time. This is time your audience could be spending at the office, with their families, catching up with friends, or working on other projects. So before you utter your first word on stage, understand what your audience has given up for you, and make sure you've invested an equal amount of time in preparation to make their time worthwhile and well spent.

2) Be Infotaining

Teaching isn't enough. Yes, your audience wants to learn, but in order to soak up all the knowledge you're giving them, they need to be interested and paying attention. This is why it's important to incorporate some humor and a compelling story into your presentation. In other words, you need to inform your audience in an entertaining way: be infotaining. Furthermore, be personable. Tell personal stories, mention your pets, and mention your kids; find a way to make a personal connection with the audience to keep them engaged.

3) Work the Room

Don't stand in one spot on the stage for the whole presentation. On the other hand, don't walk around so much that it's distracting. Instead, before you begin your talk, pick 4-6 people who are spread out randomly throughout the audience. Then do your best to speak to each of these people during your presentation. This will help you naturally walk around the stage and address all portions of the audience, making everyone in the room feel like they're a part of your presentation.

4) Be More Energetic Than Ever

Speaking to large audiences requires you to be a more energetic version of yourself. Project your voice, sound excited, and make sure your passion for the topic comes through. The more energy you have, the more engaged the audience will be, and if you're excited, your audience will get excited. But if you're lame and boring, there's a good chance your audience will also be bored.

5) Give the Audience Time to React

When you're on a stage, a second or two of silence can seem like forever. But in reality, it's exactly what your audience needs. If you make a joke, give them a couple seconds to laugh. If you're showing an interesting statistic, give it a second to sink in. If you're trying to get across a complex or particularly important idea or concept, say it, pause, and then say it again. Giving your audience a few seconds to react or absorb the information you're giving them is one of the simplest things you can do to make your presentation instantly better.

6) Plan Audience Interaction

For smaller audiences, planned interaction is critical. It's a great way to get the audience engaged and demonstrate that you understand what they want to hear. Prepare questions to ask your audience, and time when you will pose the questions. However, be warned: the bigger the audience, the harder it is to ask them questions and expect a response. Plan ahead for all of your interaction based on the size of your audience.

7) Let the Audience Love You

In EVERY case, the audience desperately wants you to succeed on stage. In fact, they're actually afraid FOR you. If you've ever attended a session during which the speaker totally tanked, you know that it's intensely uncomfortable to watch someone choke on stage. So the more it looks like you're confident and having fun up there -- no matter what is going on in terms of tech glitches, getting stuck on your words, forgetting something, or whatever else it may be -- the happier and more satisfied your audience will be with your presentation. Remember: your audience has no idea what you plan to say, so if you mess up, they probably won't know you messed up. Be confident, and let them love you.

8) Make Sure Your Presentation Has "Ups and Downs"

Presentation design and training export Nancy Duarte writes a lot about this topic in her book, Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences, and it's a really great read. The basic premise is that, as a presenter, you can't constantly keep building your audience up and up during your presentation, and the best presentations have a key element: hope. In order to create hope, you need to provide your audience with "ups and downs." Specifically, you need to flip flop back and forth between the current problem you're addressing and the new solution you're offering to solve it.


The "Down": Buying emails lists and SPAMing them doesn't work.

The "Up": Building an opt-in email list will radically transform your email marketing.

9) Plan for Laughs and Applause

Your presentation is nothing short of a performance. As you're prepping and practicing for your talk, plan to do one session where you focus solely on when you should anticipate and pause to encourage audience reactions such as applause and laughter.

10) Know Your Surroundings

Whether you'll be presenting in a small boardroom or ginormous auditorium, you should try to know as much as possible about your surroundings ahead of time. How much space will you have to walk around? Will there be a confidence monitor available for you look at your slides without referring to the screen behind you? Where will your audience be sitting? Will you have a remote control to advance your slides? These are all important questions to answer to make you feel confident and amply prepared before you take the stage for real.

These 10 commandments are useless without practice, and winging it will only get you so far. Just like you notice the design difference between an iPad and other tablets, it's easy to notice the polish of a presentation that has been practiced and refined. Practice in front of a mirror, or in a small group. Have a clear goal for each of your individual practice sessions. For example, in one practice session, you might work on your transitions between key points, whereas in another, you might work on the timing of your jokes.

Got it? Now take the stage and shine!

Photo Credit: comedy_nose

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Topics: Presentations

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