Awesome Work Presentations in 7 Simple Steps

How to deliver a great presentation in 7 steps
Photo by Artem Podrez:

How to give good presentations (with practical tips from TED, Made to Stick and public speaking experts)

What makes a good presentation?

We know effective presentations when we see and hear one. We certainly know a bad one when we are forced to endure it. The phrase, “Death by PowerPoint” was not coined by accident!

That same phrase came to mind to me recently, while I was at a conference. I was pretty sure that death was on the cards, I was just trying to work out whose demise was most imminent; mine or the presenter’s.

Fortunately, I was able to put such dark thoughts aside by focusing instead on what was wrong and how things could be better.  

In this instance the problem was not that the presenters were not confident, capable speakers who knew their subject. The issue was that the way they presented their material was poor. 

Pretty much every speaker went over their allotted time. Therefore, each section lost time for questions. Breaks were also shortened, meaning that conversation time (important for applying and remembering concepts) was reduced.

Often it was hard to discern what speakers wanted to communicate, the structure was poor, and they were reading from their slides. They obviously thought that because they knew their content, they did not need to practice beforehand. 

The PowerPoint slides were packed with words that were hard to discern. To make matters worse, whilst struggling to read the dense text one quickly lost the flow of what the speaker was saying. When pictures were used there were too many on each slide and the graphics had not been properly adjusted for presentational use.

I could not save the conference but I could try to make things better in the future, hence writing this article.

It is somewhat remiss of me that I have not written this sooner because, as a facilitator and leadership coach, I regularly give presentations and coach people in public speaking. From this experience, I have come up with 7 steps for giving good presentations. The seven stages are:

  1. Know your timeframe
  2. Decide upon the key message
  3. Outline the narrative arc 
  4. Create your slides or visual aides
  5. Rehearse
  6. Give the presentation
  7. Get feedback

What follows is some more detail on each step, with examples and practical tips along the way. 

Know your presentation’s timeframe

How long have you been given to present? Make sure you know how long you have, when you need to start and when you need to finish. Then ask yourself, how long should you speak for? Even after getting a slot, don’t feel that you need to speak for the whole time. It is better to have a short, clear message and leave time for questions and discussion afterwards.

Equally, if you feel that the time allotted to you is not sufficient to do justice to what you have to say then ask for more time. If you can’t have more time, think about how to further focus and refine what you have to say. 

And that leads us neatly onto step 2:

Decide upon the presentation’s key message

What is the one thing that you want people to take away from the presentation? No matter how long you speak, most people will only remember a tiny percentage of what you say. Therefore, you need to ensure that the thing they recall is the central point of your presentation. Make sure you know what it is and if you are not sure, don’t go any further until you have this question answered. 

Who are the key people in your audience? Once you know what the key message is then also think about who are the listeners that you most need to target. Picturing these people, thinking about what they need to hear, feel and understand, is vital information for helping you structure your talk.

Outline the arc to land the message

Once you know the key message and audience, then you can draft the narrative arc. The structure and content should be focused on highlighting and reinforcing the critical information to the most important people. If you are not sure which structure to choose then the Rule of 3 is a good starting point.

Once you have your overall structure, think about the information you need to share. You will likely want to say lots of things so you have to be brutal in your editing. Keep asking yourself, is this information essential to the key message?

If you want your presentation to be memorable, then I recommend following Chip and Dan Heath’s SUCCES framework from their book Made to Stick

The SUCCES acronym stands for:

  • Simple – make sure the message is simple and clear.
  • Unexpected – select statements, questions and facts that surprise people (in a good way!)
  • Concrete – engage people’s senses and use analogies so the audience can grasp the concepts you are sharing.
  • Credible – use evidence or invoke other authorities to make your message credible.
  • Emotional – make people feel; engage their hearts as well as their minds.
  • Stories – humans are wired to love and remember stories (much more than lists of bullets, facts or random data).

Create your presentation slides or visual aides

One challenge we have these days is that it is very easy to make content. Putting together a slide deck does not need to take much time, especially if you are just scribing bullet points. And there’s the rub. Too often, people think they have a presentation just because they have a slide deck. Hence the proverb:

A bushel of slides does not maketh a presentation!

Ok, I made the proverb up, but the point is still valid!

That is not to say that slides are bad. PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, and other such software can be excellent aides to a presentation. But that is what they are, aides to communication. They are not the presentation itself; that is predominantly what you say.

If you use slides, then use the same principles that TED speakers use:

  • One point per slide. That means one message, photo, graph, quote, or whatever. Not multiple bullet points. 
  • Images and photos. Use these to reinforce what you are saying. This is the “picture paints and thousand words” concept. Use them instead of having words where you can as people cannot read and properly listen to you at the same time but they can look at a picture and listen to you. 
  • Graphs and Infographics. Ensure these are clear (even when the content is complex).
  • Use as little text as possible. And no bullet points! And that is not because I hate bullet points per se, I am using them in this article, but don’t expect people to read stuff if you are speaking. If you are using a PowerPoint or Keynote to create a document for people to read (say, after a presentation) then by all means use bullet points, but don’t have them in the part of the presentation when you are speaking. 
  • Use a common San Serif font. These are generally easier to read. Helvetica and Verdana are good examples and are both recommended by TED. Helvetica is considered to be one of the easiest-to-read typefaces and Verdana has wide letters and spacing that aid reading and impact.
  • Use a font size of 42 or larger. Yes, that’s right 42 or bigger!
  • Be careful with font and slide colour. Make sure that the colour of the slides helps legibility. You can experiment but remember that black on white and white on black are safe bets for easy reading.

And don’t feel that you must use digital aides. I still love using flipcharts, whiteboards and props when giving presentations and talks. Experiment and see what works best. And that idea neatly brings us to the rehearsals…

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

Ensure you have time to run through your presentation. Don’t spend all your time on your slides and neglect to practice what you are actually going to say. The words you say are the most important bit and should have the most impact. Try with and without your slides. There is a chance they may not work on the day. So, think about how you can do without them. Have a go at using a flipchart or similar to highlight key concepts.

Talking through the presentation in your head is not enough; you need to speak the words out loud, preferably several times. Rehearse out loud, then in front of a mirror, and then to someone else. Pick someone you love or trust first (that makes taking the criticism easier) and then try a small audience. Accept the feedback, refine your presentation and practice again.

Also, if you want to maximise impact, you are better off not reading from a script. It is much better to have a short talk, that is clear, and you can give without notes, than a long one that you have to read out. Once again, think about TED talks and what makes them great. You don’t necessarily have to be that polished but the principles are the same. 

Give the presentation

Firstly, make sure you have time beforehand, so you are not flustered. If you can, get into the room early to set up and test your audio-visual needs. Get comfortable in the space.

If you can’t get into the room before you present, then take some time somewhere else to prepare yourself mentally. One of the things I like to do is to go for a short walk. This gentle exercise has the added benefit of working off excess adrenalin in your system. 

So, you are now fully prepared. How do you then start the presentation? 

When you get into the room, don’t be flustered. Get yourself ready to go, take a breath and ensure you are upright with an open posture. Pause, take another deep breath and without speaking, take a moment to look around the room, smiling and making eye contact. This will gather people’s attention, reduce any chatter, and help to exude self-confidence (even if your stomach is doing cartwheels!)

Now give your talk and imagine that you are just speaking to one person, sharing something that you are passionate about. Enjoy it!

Get feedback

If you have followed all the steps you can be confident that the presentation has gone well. Enjoy the praise that you get in the aftermath; you have worked hard, and you deserve it!

But there is always room for improvement, so also get some critical feedback. In my experience, this is best-sought one-to-one, away from wherever you did the presentation. Also, ask at least a couple of people that you trust so that you can get multiple views. 

When asking for feedback be specific. For example, you could use the three traffic light questions for continual improvement, namely, if you did the talk again:

  1. What should you stop doing?
  2. What should you continue doing?
  3. What should you start doing?

If you get the chance, edit your talk to capture the advice you receive. Even if you never give the exact presentation again, the process of applying the feedback will help to reinforce it in your memory.

Planning for your next presentation

Take a few minutes now and ask yourself, when do you next need to give a presentation? Put some time in the diary to come back to the 7 steps and use them to prepare.


  1. Know your timeframe
  2. Decide upon the key message
  3. Outline the narrative arc 
  4. Create your slides or visual aides
  5. Rehearse
  6. Give the presentation
  7. Get feedback

And have fun with it! Presentations can (and should) be fascinating, entertaining, or both.

 If you want some evidence of this and examples of great presentations then try one of the playlists such as their 24 most popular TED talks of all time

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