Great Presentations

Yesterday, I delivered a course on Advanced Presentation Skills. Today, I’d like to share what the content of the day focused on and other pieces I think are important.

Rehearsal is key.

That’s it. Everything else I’m about to describe is more about finessing, state of mind, and some basics. The only way you can deliver a great presentation is rehearsing it. Practise, practise, practise. Preferable at least one of those should be in front of someone skilled enough to observe, see what you’re doing, hear what you’re saying and give you feedback. Nothing else is more vital, nor more important. Every great presenter, every great comedian, every great orator will make the time for this to happen. And all those times you’ve seen someone be able to ‘wing it’ and still deliver a compelling story? It’s because they’ve done so much practise in a variety of settings that they are confident in knowing how to craft their message quickly and draw insight from their experience.

Take your time.

Why are you rushing your presentation? In all likelihood it’s because you haven’t practised, which means you don’t know what your message is meant to be. People are listening to you deliver a presentation because they want to hear what you have to say. Speeding that up isn’t going to help them, and certainly won’t help you. Your mind moves quicker than your speech, and what ends up happening is you start to become a bundle of nerves very quickly. Those nerves will manifest in a variety of ways – quick speech, fidgeting, rocking from side to side, fast pacing, and more.

Have a clear message.

It doesn’t matter if you have to deliver a 1 min presentation or a 45 min keynote. You need to know what your clear message is. That’s what your audience is looking to understand and gain insight from. The length of time you take to deliver it is neither here nor there.


This is in line with taking your time. It helps you to collect your thoughts. If you’re using notes, it gives you a moment to see where you’re at and what you want to move on to. If you’re using a tool like PowerPoint it allows you to see what slides you have coming up (in the Presenter view). It also allows the audience a moment to get up to speed with you. You’re delivering a lot of information, some more important than others, and people need to have time for their thoughts to collect before you speed on.


You are commander of the stage. Whatever form that stage takes, you control it. You are the one who has power at that moment. But this isn’t power in terms of hierarchy, or structures, or decision making, it’s about authority. You have been chosen/self-selected to deliver this presentation. This puts you in a position of privilege.


You have equal status to everyone in the room with you. No one in that room is more knowledgeable than you, no one has more control, no one has more importance. You and the people listening are one and the same. Don’t assume more, and don’t believe less.

Language is key.

The best way to deliver a powerful message is to keep it simple. Do not over complicate with jargon, or terminologies, or cleverness of the English language. The people listening are (in most cases) educated and clever enough to be able to understand complex messages. But they don’t want that. They just want a simple message that makes them think about something. The English language is brilliant and I love it.

Own the space.

You have a stage, and on that stage you will have space. Use it. Don’t dance around, and try not to stand rigid. Find a rhythm that works for you and shows that you enjoy the space you have. This also includes gesticulations. You might want to express yourself with your hands, and you should. But don’t get carried away with it. Allow your hands to show progressive movements that support your message. And then keep them still. The power doesn’t just rest in how you move on the stage and your non-verbal language, it lies in the words you’re using.

Personalise to audience.

This doesn’t mean know your audience, although that is important. This means you have to build rapport with them, and share information with them in a way which they can connect to. Anecdotes, personal stories, insights are all powerful ways of doing this. When the people listening get the feeling you have made an effort to do this, you’ll have them in the palm of your hands.

The detail is not important.

In most cases, your presentations are about a story, a message and an idea you want to present. In most cases, the people listening want to hear about that. The detail of how you got there isn’t important in itself. It helps to support your message, but your message isn’t the details. They’re supportive and that’s it. The message is the insight/idea/story. That’s what you need to focus on. The people listening will ask questions if they want the detail. They just need to hear that you’ve done the work necessary in order to get you to your message.

Have a conversation.

If you’ve done all of the above (and there’s a lot there), it just ends up being a conversation, not a presentation. And that’s brilliant.

Don’t hold back.

You are clever, intelligent, articulate beings. Why are you holding this back? What are you afraid of? Not only are you there to share a message with the world, but you are there to be a powerhouse of knowledge. Allow it to happen when you think the time is right. This might be in a Q&A, it might be a small anecdote that really strengthens the message.

Have aids, don’t rely on them.

You’re the one delivering the message, not the aids. There are myriad tools to help you deliver a great presentation. And they should be used because they’re pretty awesome. But never forget you are the one with the message. The aid just helps you to deliver it.

Manage the hecklers.

Don’t let them take your power away from you. Just because they might seem to have more importance, doesn’t mean they have. You’ve been asked to deliver a presentation for a purpose. Enquire what the heckling is about, figure out if you need to deal with it there and then, and get yourself back on track. No-one likes a heckler, and if you have an amenable audience, they’ll jump in and tell that person to pipe down. If not, learn this skill, and learn it well.

Practise. Practise. Practise.

Below are two great examples of great presentations. The first is delivered by Malcolm Gladwell, author of the books Tipping Point and Blink amongst others. The actual content isn’t great, but his delivery is. The second is the acceptance speech by President Obama in Chicago in 2008. There’s so much right with this that you just have to watch it.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

4 thoughts on “Great Presentations”

  1. You mention comedians practising, and it’s a great example. I once went to see a really well known comedian do a preview show for his new tour. Tickets were cheap.

    And bits of it were absolutely awful. Jokes that didn’t flow, gags that were mistimed, stuff that just didn’t make sense. But the audience appreciated that it was practise, and he was actively getting feedback from us.

    “That didn’t work at all, did it?”

    “That would have been much funnier if the end gag was framed better, wouldn’t it?”

    I’ve seen a DVD recording of the show and tour and he was absolutely brilliant. Such a great performance didn’t just come “off the cuff”, even if his style does come across as natural and rambling.

    I think that has lessons for all of us.

    My personal advice to people when delivering presentations is ditch the notes. At most have prompts for the key points you wish to cover. If you’ve practised you don’t need full text notes. All it does is make people over rely on them. They stare at them, rigid, talking into the monitor or piece of paper they’re reading them from. It makes people speak in an unnatural way, and I always know from the start how good a presentation will be based on whether the person starts by staring intently at a sheet of paper.

  2. Great post Sukh and thanks for sharing (updates Presentation training course!!).

    I think the funny thing now when people talk about presentations is that it’s all become about the deck but if you watch someone like Obama (a genius orator) whilst he has an autocue he rarely if ever has visual aids. The power of his ‘presentation’ is in the words.

    Another point I completely agree with is about practice and you only have to watch some politicians to realise how much pratice they really put into their off the cuff remarks.

    From personal experience I have to disagree with Robert as in addition to structure and practice I do use full text notes – for 2 reasons. The first is when my nerves at their height (usually the first 2 minutes) and my brain isn’t quite functioning properly I can read if I need to (and knowing that helps relieve my nerves) but once those initial nerves have dropped away I don’t need them but just knowing they are there really really helps.

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