Put On A Winning Show: Secrets To Making Great Presentations

Having planned and attended many conferences I have seen my fair share of presentations. A handful was amazing, and most were forgettable. Speakers spend days, even weeks crafting their performance. Yes, I call it a performance because they should be putting on a well-rehearsed show. A show that engages, conveys their message, and educates the audience. With today’s technologies and resources there is no longer an excuse to put on a bad show. In this post I’m sharing a handful of behaviors, tricks and tools to make your presentations great!


The biggest blunder I have ever made was not knowing my audience. I was asked to speak for a group of event planners. The presentation was to leave attendees with tangible takeaways. Based on the group’s name I had assumed a certain level of expertise. Was I wrong! After five minutes and a roomful of glazed-over faces I realized I was in deep trouble.  Had it not been for the food in front of them, half of the audience would have left. Through some questions I learned that the attendees were brand new to the field of planning, and had little or no experience. My talk was definitely not tailored to their level. Luckily I was able to turn around the presentation with a joke and started from scratch without using the prepared PowerPoint. This was perhaps a rookie mistake, but a valuable lesson learned.

Now I ask about the goal of the meeting and presentation, the audience’s experience level and backgrounds, even their comfort with technology. This helps me tailor the talk and presentation tools.  


PowerPoint and Keynote are perhaps the most ubiquitous presentation tools used.  At heart, these are decent tools to present a message on a screen in slideshow format. Little though has changed over the years, and I have stepped away from using these types of tools when possible.

Looking for alternatives to create more engaging presentations I came across Prezi and GoAnimate. Prezi is about as far away from PowerPoint and Keynote as you can possibly get. It is an online tool that is more based on the mind map concept and provides a much more fluid presentation. GoAnimate is a tool that allows you to present using animated video. Rather than going from slide to slide, GoAnimate lets you present using a professional looking video created from scratch in just minutes. 

Both tools have a free model.

Ask yourself too; do you need a PowerPoint? Can you engage the audience by drawing on a white board or tablet? Yes, at times slides may be a necessary tool to convey a message, but can you do without? Do you want people to focus on your talk or read slides?  


Nothing is more boring than hearing a speaker drone on about a subject without passion. It is even worse when a presentation is a thinly veiled sales pitch. Attendees want to learn, ask questions, and engage with speakers. If you know whom you are speaking to and what they want to learn, and you are passionate and knowledgeable about the subject you are halfway there. 

My favorite thing to do is ask attendees what they want to learn at the start of the presentation, and write it on a board or notepad. It is rare when I am not able to work in examples that address their specific questions. At the end of the session I repeat the questions and provide a brief recap of the answers. I believe audiences want to learn how they can apply what they have learned to real situations. A few real life examples help bring the show to the next level. You are providing tangible takeaways.  


Again, know your audience. If you’re presenting to a room full of bankers in suits it is perhaps best to dress similarly.  Presenting to a room full of developers who come to work in shorts and flip-flops requires a different dress code. Your apparel conveys an important message to your audience. Are you one of them, can they trust your expertise? I can’t imagine a room of bankers taking someone in shorts and t-shirt seriously.


Don’t rely on the planner to get it all right. Check the room prior to speaking; test the equipment, sound and stage. Familiarize yourself with your surroundings and the tools. Make friends with your Audio Visual person. And last but not least make sure your computer is plugged in, or that you have ample battery power to make it through the presentation.

Unless you need it for the presentation, turn off your Skype, instant messaging, mail pop-ups and other items that may distract you and the audience. The only program that should be running on your computer is your presentation software!   

Be gracious to your host and thank them for inviting you to speak.  


Only speak to facts! Don’t incorporate rumors and uncorroborated findings. If you are using other people’s quotes or findings, don’t pass them off as your own. Give credit when credit is due!


How many times have you attended a luncheon presentation that was to end at 1:30 p.m. and you realize the speaker is only about halfway through the show? You stop focusing on the presentation. Good speakers stay within the allotted time and leave time for questions.

Many times you will hear from attendees after a presentation. Some will reach out for advice; others may want to hire you. Respond to all of them! Your response may change their career; offer a solution to an issue. I love it when someone takes the time to write a personal note. Some offer feedback, some ask questions; others just share their stories. Its incredibly flattering when someone takes the time to write you a personal note, and one must repay that courtesy.


Keep the following things in mind to have a great show:

- Know your audience;
- Use technology wisely;
- Be passionate and engaging;
- Dress the part;
- Don’t forget to check the equipment;
- Use facts and give credit;
- End graciously;

Stick to these facts and you’ll have a great show! Break a leg.