Towards more effective presentations

I’ve been giving presentations, talks, leading workshops etc. for a long time and they are (to my constant surprise) generally very well received – and it was for this reason that I was recently asked to put together some guidance for others.. I am also mindful that few people appreciate being told how to do something they feel they are more than capable of doing without my help! So, If you’re a confident and effective presenter then move along – there’s nothing for you to see here. On the other hand, if you feel there’s no harm in spending a couple of minutes to reflect on your presentation skills, or those of colleagues – then it might be worth sticking around for a few mins..

So, this preamble is really just about establishing a context for what follows..

here’s some things I know..

You can’t please all the people all the time.

Your audience can be a mixed bunch; some people know it all already, some didn’t want to attend, some are distracted by more serious concerns, some are all eager and bright eyed and bushy tailed – and it’s not always your fault if they sit arms folded looking like Captain Grumpy for the entire session..


I am always acutely aware that almost every member of the audience has left their real work to come to listen to me, and that work will be waiting for them when they get back. If they’re teachers then someone else is teaching their class – and the teacher will never get that time back again. It is a privilege and a huge responsibility to speak to these people and it is my responsibility to make the experience as meaningful and relevant as possible.

This piece of writing is not about the wild and wacky web 2.0  presentation tools out there – an effective presenter can do it with Powerpoint, Word, MSPaint, juggling balls or a bunch of flowers. We’re talking here about the importance of understanding how to persuade, to motivate and to engage – and the choice of presenter.

Now. these are the words of me, not who I work for (duh! for whom I work).. so I’ll be a tad indiscreet here. Sometimes the wrong person is doing the presenting..

It is with some frequency that I’ve been unfortunate enough to be the victim of a presentation given by someone, who is a stand in for the big cheese from one of those bodies, who were supposed to be giving guidance on national policy and strategy and stuff. Inevitably the feedback from the delegates is around; ‘all they did was read from the screen/notes – we could have done that ourselves’

Then there is the person who is excellent at their job, done great stuff – and are a bag o’ nerves when stood infront of colleagues. There are others who are not nervous at all – but are incapable of ‘reading’ the needs of the audience. You can see examples of this type of presenter at BETT talking about BSF, PFI, Assessment yadeyada..

Audiences at BETT are:

  • tired
  • rushing to fit everything in
  • distracted
  • half interested (have they just come for a sit and a rest?)
  • without their glasses
  • struggling to hear

At BETT the art of presenting is very different from presenting to the captive and rested audience in a school or local conference. The presenter needs to be animated, vibrant, enthusiastic and able to adjust the presentation to take into account those who have joined it midway – or about to move on.. Also be aware that there can be people from all kinds of schools, different countries and they need clear and simple messages – even when the subject of the talk is quite complex.

And finally – the technology will let you down. It always lets us down and that’s why I have my presentation on my own Macbook (even when I’m required to share the presentation PC, I take it on usb stick, I upload to the learning platform, I print hard copies, have screen dumps of websites in the event of internet failure, take my own speakers and if push comes to shove I have a version of the presentation in my head that I can deliver with no resources at all.. prepare for the worst and you wont be disappointed..

And, when I’ve done all that preparation, and the presentation is over – it really is very pleasing to hear from the delegates when they’ve found the session useful – and even better when they say they enjoyed it!

Towards More Effective Presentations


audience george/29729877

What’s the point of a presentation?


A presentation is an opportunity for an individual to share an idea or message with a group of people and usually involves additional audio and/or video aids to support this process.

There are many ways to communicate with your audience; email, web, Word or PowerPoint document, video, audio, etc. and a presentation is an opportunity for you, a real person, to interact with your audience, who are real people.

There are presenters who waste this opportunity by presenting their subject in the wrong medium. How often have you attended a presentation where the majority of the performance was merely the presenter reading the contents of the slides to you?

The Presenter



Selecting the right presenter is as important as the content of the presentation. In a perfect world, the person responsible for the content of the presentation will be an effective presenter and the event or performance will be appropriate and well received by the audience.

The wrong combination


Right content – wrong presenter

This has been known to happen at conferences where an important representative of an organisation has agreed to attend, cancelled at the last minute and someone from their team or department has been ‘sent along’ to cover the session. In these cases we see a presenter presenting someone else’s slides and almost inevitably is less well prepared, less familiar with the structure and content, and resorts to mostly reading from notes or the screen sometimes with little real understanding of the subject or context.

Right presenter – wrong content

Presenters who are engaging, interactive and dynamic in ‘real’ life can sometimes become ineffective by ‘wrong’ content. There have been occasions when an excellent classroom practitioner reduced the impact of their message or experience by relying too heavily on dry, lack lustre slides that effectively undermine the presenter, rather than support and add value. It is here that we can mention the importance of quality AV resources; projectors must be powerful, screens should be flat and level, sound systems should be clear and audible and yes, internet connectivity must be reliable and fast.

Am I good enough to be a presenter?


Presenting is undoubtedly one of those activities that some people find easier than others. It is true that experience can help a presenter hone their skills, however as many audiences pay (in time and/or money) to attend events, we should be wary of using them as guinea pigs while the presenter develops their skills and confidence.

For those presenting to half a dozen colleagues, or a large conference, in both cases they should seek honest feedback during the preparation and rehearsal of the presentation. This can help minimise the possibility of ‘dying on one’s feet’ or being criticised in the post presentation evaluations by delegates.

If you don’t want to present then don’t do it – who wants to listen to someone who doesn’t want to be there? We should all know our strengths and while some people enjoy the excitement and applause (!) of a successful presentation, many can feel crushed and dismayed by negative, and sometimes hurtful, feedback.

There are ofcourse excellent presenters with excellent content and they, quite rightly are always in demand at events and can ensure full attendance. However unfortunately there are also those who continue to deliver poor presentations time and again and this can have a lasting legacy on the conference and organisation.

Okay, I understand. I still want to deliver a presentation – any tips?

Know your audience, (do they have prior knowledge of your topic, will they understand the relevance of your content?) understand the context of the event and prepare accordingly. Why are the delegates there, what do they want to hear, what do they need to know and what is the point of your presentation?


Timing is very important. Know how long you need for your presentation and don’t stretch it or rush it to fit the constrictions of the wider event. If you’ve been allocated one hour but your presentation is 40 minutes, it is better to create an alternative presentation or ask for a shorter slot on the programme. Talking more slowly is not an effective way to ‘fill the hour’!

So do I have to use PowerPoint?


Not at all. PowerPoint is a flexible presentation tool that when used with care can provide the presenter with an easy to manage presentation that meets the needs of the presenter and the audience. Used incorrectly (as with all presentation tools) it can confuse, demotivate and frustrate the audience. Think of your presentation tool as your friend and your co presenter. It is there to support you, add value to the presentation or talk and you must have faith that you are both suitably prepared to not let each other down. There are many other presentation tools out there, Mac users can also use Keynote, while Prezi is a popular example of the many free web 2.0 web tools available for all platforms.

Graphics, Layout and Colour Scheme


It is easier to convey a sense of consistency of message if you use a common colour scheme, including discreet logos where appropriate, throughout your presentation. Generally it is more effective to use dark backgrounds with lighter text but ultimately the real test is to view your visuals from the back of a room of similar dimensions to the one you’ll be presenting in. By doing this you will also gain a sense of appropriate text size and style. A font like Arial in sizes larger than 30pt is more likely to be clear and easily read than less formal fonts such as lucida Caligraphy.

Images and Copyright



Pictures can be used to illustrate a point and the quality of the image is important. A tired and over used clip art image is unlikely to impress or communicate, while a photo can be very effective. Be wary though of using pictures that distract from you and your message. It is important that any image you use is cleared for copyright. There are many sources of copyright free images on the internet and a search for ‘creative commons’ in a search engine or a photo sharing site such as will usually yield positive results.

Your Performance


Whether the subject of your presentation is exciting classroom activities or raising awareness of serious global issues you must seek to entertain, engage and motivate. It is up to the presenter to instil in the audience the enthusiasm to plan to do ‘something’ as a result of the presentation. With this in mind it is important that the presenter sees the presentation as an opportunity to persuade the audience to rise to a call for action. The aim should by the end of the presentation that every member of the audience has the information, support and access to resources to move forward.

Key activity

  • Make and maintain eye contact with members of the audience
  • Use gestures, expression and vary pace and intonation to keep their attention (‘Yes, I’m talking to YOU!’)
  • Repeat your key messages and key words. ‘We, at Northern Grid’, ‘Northern Grid have established…’ etc). This is especially important where the presenter may be one of many presenters during the event. You need to establish your identity, be proud of your message and encourage the audience to join with you in sharing the message.
  • It is through the presenters’ own commitment to the presentation that the audience can be helped to engage with the various stages of the talk. Each section should be as or more important than the previous, with a clear narrative that takes the audience to the key message by the end of the session. There should be no dull or lacklustre parts to the presentation, If there are sections that the presenter knows to be tedious or dry, it is unlikely that the audience will feel any different. Perhaps these elements would be better served as a handout or presented via an alternative medium.
  • The presenter should have conviction in the presentations key message; “I am right – and I’m going to prove it’
  • Seek to inspire and not to teach. When the audience feels inspired they will respond positively to the message and the presenter
  • A presenter should demonstrate that they understand the challenges that face the audience members and offer practical ways to overcome these. Audiences respond more positively to a presenter who outlines the challenges and strategies to overcome these rather than a presentation of apparently effortless successes
  • End with a call to arms – let your audience know what they must, and can, do following the event.

And finally the Q & A


It is important that you remain polite and calm! There may be difficult (sometimes rude) questions. If you know the answer – and it’s what the audience want to hear, then say it. For difficult or awkward questions explain that you can provide additional, more comprehensive information via email after the event. This will give you time to find the right answer – or draft a polite response to a, sometimes, provocative question.


How not to use PowerPoint


And here’s Zefrank telling you what to do. Funny and on the nail.

I really like this resource on the rule of thirds. It applies to taking good pictures – and designing good slides


What Bad Presenters Do Best


3 Responses to Towards more effective presentations

  1. […] He also shared a blog post on effective presentations he has written which can be viewed here […]

  2. Mags Amond says:

    Simon this is a terrific summary of what to do, not to do, and more importantly what to THINK about before (and during, and after) presenting. I hope to get to one of your presentations…

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