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How to give a killer presentation

Erin Delaney

Careers Commentator
Is the thought of a presentation enough to turn your legs to jelly? Here’s how to slay next time you’re asked to give a presentation.

When faced with giving a eulogy at a funeral, Jerry Seinfeld famously said he’d rather be the one in the casket. And this coming from a professional! So it’s little wonder that when grads are asked to get up and compete for a job they really want by giving a presentation, it’s enough to turn their legs to jelly.

Here’s how to slay next time you’re asked to give a presentation.

1. Find out the details

To give yourself the best chance at nailing it, find out:

  • the subject you’ll be talking on: if you’re able to choose the topic, select something you’re familiar with and can speak about confidently.
  • the length of the presentation, and whether this includes time for questions.
  • the facilities and visual aids available: flipchart, laptop, internet access, presentation software and so on.
  • who you will be speaking to and their level of knowledge and expertise. This will help you pitch your talk at the right level.
  • What format the presentation will take: whether it’s introducing yourself and talking about interest, hobby or achievement, or whether it’s on a specific topic or current affairs subject.

2. Plan the structure

While you’ll want to appear relaxed and fluid when you’re up in front of recruiters or fellow candidates, you’ll need to plan your presentation down to the tiniest detail.

Beginning: Welcome your audience, let them know what you’ll be speaking about and the topics you’re going to cover. Or, if you’re presenting in a narrative style (more like a story), get their attention.

Middle: This should take up the bulk of the time, so if you have five minutes to speak this should last about three of them. Give a minute or so to each main point, don’t try to cover too much. Choose the most important things to talk about and cover those points really well.  

End: This should be a summary of what you’ve covered, or should make the point of the story you’ve told.

Questions: Invite questions from the audience and give thoughtful considered responses. Thank your audience for their time, attention and participation.

3. Remember, body language says as much as your mouth does

You could be talking about the most boring or the most interesting topics in the whole wide world, but it’s how you deliver them that the audience will remember most.

  • Give a big, warm smile at the beginning. Help the audience feel comfortable.
  • Speak slowly and deliberately. If you feel like you’ve started rushing, take a second to pause and then start speaking slowly again.
  • Be conscious of filler words and sounds like “um”, “like” and “yeah”.
  • Make sure to vary your intonation so you don’t sound like a robot! Even formal presentations should be fun and engaging.
  • Make eye contact with everyone in the room, giving everyone equal attention.
  • Use visual aids to help convey your message, but be sure not to talk to them! Keep your focus on the audience, always.
  • Have fun giving your talk! While it seems like a very serious moment, it’s actually a huge opportunity to let your personality shine through. If you’re having fun and relaxed, it will rub off on the audience. Think less primary school captain election, more Tony Robbins.

4. Use visual aids to illustrate points

If you’re making a complicated point, or the information you’re conveying is compelling, demonstrate and illuminate it with a visual. This could be anything from a chart to a diagram to a meme (just make sure it’s appropriate for your audience!). Keep your visuals simple, easy to read at a glance (don’t put too much information in), and make sure you keep them as an aid and don’t use them as a crutch.

5. Practice, practice, practice!

As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. Watch TED talks to get an understanding of more and less successful presenters, copy hand gestures you like the look of and do a recording of yourself delivering your presentation to the camera to get a clear picture of how your style stacks up. For even more practice, consider joining a Toastmasters group to refine your presentation skills and receive feedback from like-minded people. The more you practice, the more likely you are to nail the presentation.