What to do when you’re asked to give a presentation

Public speaking is terrifying… nerves and anxiety can be crippling but with a bit of work you can completely transform your self confidence and belief.

I’m always looking to improve my presentation and public speaking as I believe that being able tell stories that engage and inspire is one of the most important skills in business.

… but I also know … In this post I’ll share some of the most important lessons that I’ve learnt so far…

#1 Be brave – do not give into fear

It’s pretty easy to avoid public speaking if you want to…

‘I’ll just hide in the corner’

‘I have too much other work to do…’

‘I am not in the office that day…’

‘I’m not the best person to present this…’

All common excuses….

The cold reality is though, that the more you avoid it, the harder it is to start. Trust me, public speaking is outside of everybody’s comfort zone to start with but the more experience you can get early in your career, the more it will help you later on.

Yes, it’s going to feel uncomfortable (that’s normal) but if you really want to get to the top then being brave, having some bottle and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is absolutely worth it – you’ll thank me in 10 years.

#2 Get your story straight.

It sounds obvious but the key thing that underpins a great speech or presentation is great content that tells a dramatic story and keeps the audience engaged.

For years I would dive straight into creating slides without giving any proper thought to the structure of the presentation or the key messages that I wanted to land.

As a rule you should spend more time on crafting the story than creating the supporting slides.

My advice here is to write down the key headings of your story in bullet form before you even start to think about the visuals.

Think about the key messages you’re trying to land and how you want the audience to feel (is it sadness, joy, excitement, sympathy?).

Like all good stories, your story should have a start, a middle and an end and take people on a journey to arrive at the destination.

A simple structure could look like this.

  1. Headline – (an engaging statistic or quote that summarises the key message and grabs the audience’s attention).
  2. Start – (Outline the context / or problem).
  3. Middle – (Explain what needs to happen or how the problem can be resolved / contrast the position now with the future to create impact and effect).
  4. End – (Conclude your findings and add a call to action).

Read your story back, does it make sense? –  if it doesn’t keep tinkering until you are 100% happy.

Once you’ve got your story straight you can now start working on your slides and commentary.

Choose images and pictures that convey the emotions you wrote down earlier to help articulate each of your points.

#3 Practice, practice, practice.

I used to think that some people were just born presenters…

When people got up on stage and delivered a flawless speech in a confident and relaxed manor, I would watch mouth open in awe…

I used to think… they must have a natural gift and that I could never do that…

But I was 100% wrong…

Don’t be fooled like I was…

It might look effortless but hours and hours of work and practice goes into those presentations.

Steve Jobs used to famously spend days (even weeks) alone on the stage practicing before his legendary Apple keynotes.

It’s a pretty simple concept really… as you get more comfortable with the material, more experienced at speaking in front of an audience your delivery improves and your confidence grows.

Giving a great presentation is no different to any other skill that requires hours of practice to perfect – you wouldn’t expect to get up on stage and play a flawless violin solo without hours and hours of practice…

…nor would you expect to perform at the highest level on the sports field without training for months and months beforehand…

The same is true of public speaking and presenting – the more you practice the more comfortable you will feel and the better you will become.

You can practice in front of friends, colleagues, the mirror, on video or even in the room that you are due to give your presentation… (that works really well as it allows you to also get comfortable with the surroundings and simulate the atmosphere).

The key is to get really familiar with the material and comfortable hearing the words come out of your own mouth.

I know it looks like the best speakers are ‘wingin’ it’ – they are not and you shouldn’t either…

Practice, practice, practice.

#4 Get feedback

This is a really key one…

I learnt the value of feedback before an important presentation to a group of executives a couple of years ago.

I had spent hours crafting what I believed to be the perfect story, creating the visuals and getting the call to action just right.

With a sense of pride I presented my masterpiece to a few colleagues and asked for some feedback… (expecting it to be great)

I was devastated… here’s some of the comments that I got back.

‘hmmm, not sure it really lands any of the key points’

‘It’s a bit boring to be honest’

‘What is it you’re really trying to say’


Whilst the feedback was difficult to take at the time, I  restructured my story, slides and changed the delivery.

After building the feedback into my presentation, I went back and  blew my colleagues (and a week later, the Executive Board) away! – It’s widely considered as one of the best presentations I have ever given!

The point is this…

Asking for feedback on both the story and delivery can be uncomfortable but it can hugely improve the overall result.

Feedback is a gift – It can provide a different perspective, pick up on obvious things that you may have missed and help you perfect your style tone and body language.

Definitely ask for feedback at all stages of the design process (and even after the main presentation)…

Ask for feedback from a wide range of sources – people who are close to the content and also people who would be hearing for the first time.

Ask for feedback and LISTEN.

#5 Remember, it will be worth it…

This links back to my very first point.

In most cases public speaking and presentations are a choice…

You have to go on the journey to become good at it…

Some presentations won’t go well… you’ve just got to take that on the chin, learn from it and bounce back… (email me if you want to talk about it).

Some presentations will go brilliantly and it will be up there with the most rewarding and fulfilling moments of your life… enjoy those ones!

There will be ups and there will be downs…

You will have to work hard, deal with the nerves, be resilient… but always remember…

It will all be worth it.

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