As it is presentation season at Notre Dame, I’ve had a few recent requests from students for my “tips on making your presentation awesome” guide.  So, I thought I’d post this here and share it with everyone.  None of this is rocket science, but I’ve found that just thinking through some or all of these points in the build up of preparing for a presentation can be a helpful refresher and get a group talking about things that they can do to be more persuasive in their presentation.  The key, for me, is to think of a presentation as a conversation in which you are trying to persuade someone to believe in your ideas.  The list below is an aggregation of ideas I’ve shared with groups through the years after watching and grading hundreds of group presentations on a wide variety of different topics in business classes at Notre Dame and Michigan State over the last 7 years.  I hope this helps!

The List

  1. Use embedded pictures and stories to stoke interest in your ideas, making your ideas come to life with tangible or funny examples that illustrate your points.
  2. Pay attention to eye contact (this doesn’t mean perfect eye contact, just a consistent engagement with the audience, very limited reading from notes / slides).
  3. Pay attention to transitions between speakers (smooth, graceful handoffs between collaborators working together who know each other and are working toward a common goal, not abrupt starts and stops of modularity). 
  4. Pay attention to cadence (both within and between speakers!).
  5. Pay attention to volume (we need to be able to hear you, but don’t yell at us).
  6. Pay attention to your introduction (short, sweet, professional).
  7. Pay attention to your conclusion (sum up your best stuff simply and persuasively).
  8. Pay attention to perceptions of modularity (although the work may have been done in parts, make the presentation seamless, appearing to be one coherent whole of collaborative creativity)
  9. Think about your presentation as a multi-media experience (it is always nice to engage the audience through multiple media devices, such as lecture, slides, handouts, video, audio, etc. This doesn’t mean that you should try to do everything, just a keep these things in mind to make your presentation as engaging as is appropriate).
  10. Pay attention to PowerPoint design (simple, elegant designs that have colors that make it easy to read text, a limit to the amount of text per slide, interesting use of graphics and pics)
  11. Pay attention to professional appearance as part of the charm and polish of your presentation.
  12. Try to be engaging, as audience engagement always matters.
  13. Avoid fidgeting too much, but moving around a bit can be good.
  14. Avoid talking to other group members behind the speaker as much as possible.
  15. Smile.  Be funny if you can, but don’t be obscene.  Be persuasive!

 Final thoughts: 

  •  In the reality of the professional world, the simple truth is that presentation effectiveness is always a function of both style and substance.  I want you to be great professionals, so I’ll be grading you on both.
  •  Teams are often great at critiquing each other’s written work but don’t even think about each other’s presentation prowess.  Break the ice.  Take this list and talk it over as a group.