How to Present Like a Pro
Best practices for engaging and effective presentations.
In 1940, a group of French children discovered a series of cave paintings in the Pyrenees Mountains of Southern France. The sketches on the walls of the Lascaux caves date back to somewhere between 15,000 and 13,000 B.C.E., and they’re of a variety of animals and a single human figure. But if you look closer, you begin to see that the paintings are a series of events — rituals and hunting. This ancient piece of art is the earliest known form of storytelling.
Stories are how we learn. For thousands of years, from campfires to coliseums, men and women have stood in front of audiences to tell stories. In the modern business world, each presentation you give should be, at its heart, a story.
But, too often, that’s not the case.
Scott Kelby, accomplished photographer and award-winning author, is on a mission to change that. He believes that anyone can be a powerful presenter. It’s in our nature to be storytellers, after all. We just need to have the right tools. Here are Scott’s time-tested tips for being a better presenter.
Build an emotional connection
The best thing you can do for your presentation is build an emotional connection with your audience. And the sooner you can do that, the better.
Start by sharing something inspirational. “You can share a memorable anecdote or a moving video, but I highly recommend sharing a relevant, strong, personal story — because stories are how we learn the most,” Scott says.
Whether the presentation is designed to persuade, inform, teach, sell, or share data, the ultimate goal is to spur your audience to react. They’ll react when they feel connected to you. Foster that emotional connection through storytelling.
Your story needs to be real and believable. That’s why a strong, personal story is so powerful. “Whatever the topic is, if you really believe in it, it will create excitement,” he says. “If you don’t believe in it, the audience will know.”
Be the presentation
Let’s be clear — your slideshow, while perhaps a stunning visual, is not the presentation. You’re the presentation. The more you tell your story, the more people will connect with you and resonate with what you are saying.
This doesn’t mean you have to make people laugh or prove yourself. Don’t worry about being funny. “If you’re a genuinely funny person, just be yourself. But I don’t recommend getting up on stage and trying to tell jokes. It’s one of those things that can go really badly,” Scott says.
The other thing to avoid is sharing your credentials. Doing so gives you no more credibility than you already have. “If somebody hired you, or asked you to come give a presentation, that means you’re qualified. The audience already knows you’re qualified,” Scott says.
Create an experience
Even though you’re the presentation, visual aids play a big part in helping to tell your story and get your message across.
“Now what is your slideshow going to be? It’s story time. Honestly, we don’t need a data dump. Nobody remembers data dumps anyway. Tell the story,” he says.
To create a slideshow that complements your presentation and helps you tell your story in a compelling way, consider the following:
1. Update your template. Scott never uses a template that comes as part of the slideshow application. Instead, he recommends buying a professional template. You can find these templates for reasonable prices online. Keep the slides simple, with bold, clean fonts. You can also tailor graphics to your audience by adjusting fonts and colors to match the branding of your own company or the group you are presenting to.
2. Use photos and video. A picture tells a story. “Photos have impact. They have drama. They have emotion,” Scott says. You can use your own photos or photos from Adobe Stock. As for videos, remember that whatever point you’re making, there’s already a compelling YouTube video waiting to be used.
3. Keep slides moving. “People hate staring at the same slide for a long time,” says Scott. Keep your story dynamic by having simple, cohesive slides that you change frequently. Things like bullet points will kill your momentum and distract your audience — make one slide for each point instead. Fancy transitions are distracting. Stick to cut and dissolve.
Work the room
The key to good delivery is learning to work the room in your favor. “Working the room means staying away from a podium or a table. It means using eye contact. It means walking to one side of the room, then turning to engage the other side. It means having passion and enthusiasm for what you’re teaching because it’s contagious,” Scott says.
Don’t let little things distract from your story. Keep the lights off. Carefully select and time the music. Don’t begin or end late! The shorter you can make your presentation, the better. The sweet spot is about 40 minutes for any presentation. At 50 minutes, people start leaving to go to the bathroom — and some of them never return.
Got nerves? Don’t sweat it. “I’m always nervous, every single time,” Scott says. “Being nervous is a good thing. It keeps you on your game. If you know your story, you’ll be fine.”
Whether you’re a first-time presenter standing up in front of five people or a seasoned presenter walking out in front of 500 people, sharing your ideas effectively is an art, an art that is decidedly human. As you apply these best practices, and tell your story, you’ll truly be able to present like a pro. See Scott’s full Adobe MAX session for more tips on presenting.
Read other Best of MAX articles, and watch sessions and keynotes at Adobe MAX online.