Presenting anything to an audience is a strange and dubious feeling. To a very few of us, it gives thrills (I’m in that lucky portion of the population), and unfortunately to most others, it gives chills. After all, public speaking is so stressful that a famous study ranked it a less preferred activity than dying!
As a professional coach, I get most of my clients through speaking. Also as a brand marketing manager at a corporation, I spend a lot of my time presenting my ideas to our executive and sales teams. So I have to be somewhat good at it.
Although I was born to present, I’ve still learned a few tricks along the way that I want to share with all of you. These tips have taken me from good to great as a presenter (as my feedback forms tell me) and I hope will do the same for you—even if you do have presentation chills.
Tip#1—No matter how dry the topic, speak from the heart
Whenever I ask clients about the most memorable presenter they’ve ever seen, they talk about how passionate the speaker was and how moved they felt by this person. Nobody talks about how credible or factual the presentation was.
A great example of speaking from the heart–even for a dry subject, was demonstrated for me when I met a deathly wall of silence during a National Sales Meeting. The audience, mostly out of towners who had gotten up at 4am for a long flight into the meeting was at the point of exhaustion and could barely keep awake let alone participate or even hear what I was saying.
Dismayed at the picture before me, I tapped into my passion—I wanted to add value to these people! So, I started to talk about how all this would help their lives and asked questions about how else I could help them to achieve their goals. Instantly, I felt a shift within myself—taking the presentation to a higher level despite the circumstances.
Tip #2—Know thy subject cold
I suppose that goes without saying but it has been my unfortunate experience that even some experienced presenters or sales reps are quite shaky on the topic with which they’re trying to dazzle their audience. This happens specifically if you’re presenting someone else’s presentation or information.
It is my heartfelt advice to indeed anticipate all questions and understand all that you present.
But that’s not enough, I also recommend that you practice all your answers.
Even if it’s your 600th sales presentation, don’t assume that you can think on your feet and just go in to the meeting with a night’s preparation. After all, you wouldn’t expect a professional athlete to stop practicing just because they’re very good at what they do. What makes presenting any different?
Tip #3—Know thy audience
I once delivered the exact same presentation to two different audiences in as many days and the results were astonishing: while one group was highly engaged and interactive, you could’ve made ice cubes on the faces of the other group members.
From then on, I made sure to ask myself ‘the pain’ question before taking the stage. I would consider what was ‘the pain’ of the audience with respect to the topic I was talking about.
For example, when I was speaking about Time-Management to entrepreneurs, their pain was around self-management. However, when I spoke to corporate managers about the same subject, their pain was mostly related to getting their teams to complete projects on time.
The pain question helped me position the content to each group’s individual need and perspective.
Tip#4—Let your personality shine
Whether you’re painfully shy or a total crack up at parties, you do have a distinctive personality.
When I work on presentation skills with my clients, we first determine the brand character of the person. A Brand Character ( See my previous post) is the human characteristics of a business and can also be applied to you as the presenter.
For example, one of my clients decided his most prevalent characteristics were: warmth, generosity and charity. He chose Mahatma Gandhi as his brand character, who fit these three descriptors for him. From then on, no matter what the topic, he would inject these characteristics into his client presentations. He would begin conversing about the other person’s needs first, then relate the topic to a much bigger picture of what he wished the world to become. This not only relaxed him as a presenter but also brought a genuineness and intimacy to his presence in meetings.
You can have all the technical aspects of presenting down pat but unless you let your personality shine, it just doesn’t resound with the audience.
Tip#5—Perfect all the basics
I almost don’t want to mention this tip because seasoned business folk like us know the frustration of watching fuzzy slides, cringing to the high pitched squeak of a mike and waiting impatiently for the presenter to find his notes.
The only way to avoid this is preparation and practice. In my mind, some of the basics are: technical set up, visual quality of presentation slides or handouts, too loud or not loud enough voice projection and knowledge of the upcoming slide.
Please don’t ruin the meeting by mastering the first 4 tips and falling down on this one!
Remember, it’s really just the basics…
Tip#6—Never utter a word unless you have eye contact with someone in your audience
This is a wonderful tip that I picked up from a training company called Delta and Associates. Before I learned of this notion, I too was guilty of flipping to the other page on my laptop, walking over to the screen or looking at my notes during a presentation meeting while still speaking at the same time.
If your mouth is open and you haven’t engaged someone’s eyes while you talk, your message gets diluted and lost. It’s distracting and interrupts the flow of your presentation.
Recently during an agency pitch, I had to endure the agonizing presentation of a junior account rep who NEVER once looked at the group around the table and was instead glued to the screen as she read the slides during the entire 10 minute onslaught. Most of you are too experienced and confident to do this yourselves, but in the excitement of presenting, even I get caught up and forget to stop talking if I’m not looking at someone. So this tip is a good one to remember.
The thrills, chills and skills of presenting to one or to one hundred will never change for most, however with these tips in mind, it might just push you from good to great and do your poor audience a great big favour.
With kindness as always,

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