10 tips for award-winning presentations

a trio of deserts nicely presented

Many people are content just to get through a presentation without forgetting a key point. But when the pressure is on to really impress, an average presentation won’t stand out. Presentation experts Libby Hammond and Kevin Coleman share 10 tips to make an award-winning presentation.

1. Understand your audience

You’ve read the brief, prepared your slides, and think you’re all set. However, a briefing doesn’t always take into account the audience’s expectations. Often people asked to speak at an event are given the event title, who is coming and what the event organiser/company wants them to speak on.

This is a very speaker-centred  approach. Let’s shift this to an audience-centred presentation. There are three things any audience in the world at any event wants: to leave with a ‘feel good’ factor, to hear one or two new pieces of information, and to network and make some good contacts. Actually, to find someone who might headhunt us for a new post is also very welcome!

So, key to your award-winning presentation is preparing with the audience’s expectations in mind.

2. Be authentic

By this I mean be true to yourself – know your natural delivery style strengths and use those to your advantage. Do you know what your personality and  delivery style strengths are?

The secret to identifying your authentic self includes looking at your ‘internal terrorists’ and dealing with them.  ‘Internal terrorists’ sabotage your confidence and affect your nerves! Dealing with them leaves you free to be relaxed, enjoy your speaking strengths, acknowledge but not get side-tracked by your  ‘weaknesses’ and, best of all, have a really enjoyable time as you speak to your audience.

A great example of this is author and keynote speaker Robin Sieger, who has a genuine, distinct message which is delivered in a humorous and authentic way – in short, it rings true to the audience. If humour is not one of your natural speaking strengths, you can use a great quote, story or picture to great advantage.

3. Show your core passion

Passion has a lot to do with what you want your audience to go away with – that is, the ‘take-away’ value.  Whatever you are passionate about is what will ultimately have an impact on your audience. At this stage, I want to say that your core passion is not necessarily what you  think you are passionate about. For example, when I ask an audience ‘What is your core passion?’. They might say: music, theatre, food, and so on.

But when we do the ‘onion’ (or ‘Shrek Model’ as ogres are like onions…), what becomes evident is that their core passion is not music but actually something quite different, for example, leaving people feeling good about themselves, or with a ‘can-do’ attitude. If you know your ‘core’ passion, this will have informed your presentation content and will have a very positive impact on the audience  – and you’ll end your talk feeling very motivated as well.

You will have no need for what I term ‘platform plagiarism’ – speakers who revamp other people’s material without crediting it to the original source, or worse, just repeat the same talk at every event. Audiences always remember who said what – no matter how many months between events! Be aware of your core passion and prepare your material to ensure that passion comes across.

4. Influence

Think about the content of your talk.  What is the one message/action step you want the audience to leave with?  Award-winning speakers are influencers rather than information deliverers. Less is more, and if you have to use PowerPoint, use it intelligently.  Have you experienced overloaded PowerPoint slides that are then talked through?


Libby Hammond

I remember working with a government advisor who had 50 slides for a 45-minute presentation. In the end he prepared 8 slides and spoke with none… and was voted the best presenter at the global conference. A slick presentation does not necessarily mean you are  influencing your audience,  so don’t get side-tracked by gadgetry when just being who you are with a simple, clear and passionate message will win the day.

Libby Hammond, Founder, Confident Communicators (www.confidentcommunicators.uk.com)

5. Find the right tone of voice

Think carefully about how you use your voice. Consider speakers or politicians whom you admire and think about what makes their voices compelling. Try to emulate them. Beware of speaking too quickly (no matter how nervous you are) or no one will be able to follow you. If you do not project your voice you will also be wasting your breath, but you knew that already! Try to include variety in the pitch of your voice and also in the pace at which you speak.

6. Pace yourself and be appropriate

Remember that a pause, or even a short period of silence, can speak volumes. Timing is everything, as any comedian will tell you. But humour can kill you. However, even though you are not a stand-up comic you may have a funny anecdote or dry sense of humour that you can carry off. A funny line can make your presentation memorable. Remember there is a time and a place for everything and you don’t want to be remembered for the wrong things.

7. Be aware of body language

Making eye contact with your audience is important, but don’t fix your gaze. A public speaker once told us that she imagines that in the centre of her forehead she has a spotlight, which, as she speaks, she casts slowly around the audience.

Don’t play with the change/keys/marbles in your pocket, particularly if you are male.

8. Practise your PowerPoint

If you use PowerPoint make sure you can face your audience but also glance at your small screen so that you are able to speak in a relaxed way ‘around’ whatever is on each slide. Don’t read the slide, the audience is likely to be able to read for themselves.

9. Plan your prompts

Kevin Coleman

Kevin Coleman

Plan carefully for how you will prompt yourself. Many people find prompt cards helpful. If you are going to use them, ensure you retain them in the correct order by tagging them together. Dropping them is not then disastrous. Don’t hold paper – write on card – the paper rattles. Be careful of lecterns – you can get hidden or lost behind them. Gordon Brown, for example, sometimes looked hidden behind his lectern.

10. Have a get out of jail card

Finally, make sure you have a back-up system in case things crash. Even if you never need to use it, just knowing you have a back-up plan will help calm your nerves.

Kevin Coleman runs marketing consultancy Alliantus and manages the Discovering Start-Ups programme for Cambridge Wireless, running courses on Pitching, Presenting and Networking. (www.alliantus.com)


Published On: 4th Apr 2011

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