A Beginner’s Guide to Presentations

Giving a presentation can be stressful. No matter how well you know a subject, it’s easy to lose your cool when you’re in front of a big group — especially if you’re not well-practiced in public speaking.

But your next presentation doesn’t have to be a disaster. If you prepare carefully and master the art of the perfect presentation, you can wow your colleagues, clients, professors, peers, or anyone else involved in the situation.

Measure twice, cut once

“Measure twice, cut once” is an old carpentry saying with a lot of practical applications. The idea is to be sure of what you’re doing before you put the final work in and do anything irreversible. When it comes to presentations, the equivalent is to research and organize before you finalize and present.

Even if you know a lot about your topic, you might find yourself rambling. It’s easy to make mistakes and present things out of order. The very first thing that you should do for any presentation is sketch out a basic outline. The information that will fill your presentation should be fitted into that structure, so that you’re organized from the start.

Communication is key

Once you know what you’re going to say, you need to know how to say it. That means creating easy-to-follow visual materials and writing a clear, concise, and informative presentation.

Focus on readability and brevity in visual materials. You can (and will) elaborate on this stuff in your oral presentation, so don’t cram PowerPoint slides or handouts with superfluous details.

As you speak, you should be addressing the whole room. Good presenters are dynamic, but not too much so. Amateur presenters often feel the need to sway or move about too much. Steer clear of that, and stand firmly and confidently. Move your arms to gesticulate, and don’t stay rooted in place the whole time, but relax. You don’t need to jump all over the place to keep people’s attention.

Practice, practice, practice

If you were hoping to read some secret here that would help you give great presentations without any practice, you’re out of luck. The boring truth is that getting good at giving speaking presentations and using visual aids in front of an audience requires practice, ideally in presentation-like conditions. You’ll want to give your presentation out loud, perhaps in front of a mirror. You’ll want to enlist friends and family members as practice audiences. And you’ll want to seek out ways to speak in public and give presentations whenever possible to hone your skills for the really important ones.

Nailing the details

When the day of your presentation arrives, you should be completely ready to give your talk and present your visual aids. But it’s not too late to fine-tune the little things about your performance.

While we’d all like to think of people (and especially the audience for your presentation) as rational, it’s just not the case. Human beings love to jump to conclusions and believe their own biases. If you get the details wrong — if your audience doesn’t like the way your shirt is wrinkled or notices the typo on slide number four — then you’re not going to be taken as seriously as you should be.

So take the time to perfect the little things. Dress neatly and professionally. Double-check printed materials and PowerPoint slides. Consider customizing your handouts and presentation materials. Customized presentation folders with the title of your talk printed on the front are the sorts of little touches that can really boost your cred.

Once you’ve done all of this, you’ll be ready. Get out there and show them what you know.