Presentation skills - how to stand up and be heard

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November 7, 2017

After watching u/Rian_Stone 's video (thank you, I really took a lot from it) I notice there's some quite constructive feedback given on the forum about presentation style/substance. It is obvious that a lot of the respondents have been in the position of presenter before, and have some good advice about how to do it well. Some of you were posting "how would I do if I were in Rian's position?" The reason I'm posting this is because... that's what I was thinking. I don't think I would do half as well.

And now I have been invited to give a presentation to a group of professionals at a conference, none of whom I know. Its in the STEM field, and in a relatively new area of that. I did consider it, and then reply that I would be happy to present (lean into discomfort, right). While I am thrilled to have been invited to talk, I am also... ahem... concerned.

It's been many many years since having to give presentations at college. In my work life, I've found that most of the presentations I have had to give have been to people I knew and who knew me and/or my work prior. Or were in a classroom or teaching setting and therefore less pressure.

I'm also going to be perhaps the least qualified in the room (but fuck it, they asked me so that must mean something...) which adds to my sense of fear. I don't have a LinkedIn profile (sure as hell ain't on FB or socials) so for a lot of people in the room this will literally be the first time they have seen/heard of me.

The feedback from this post was helpful. I'm not so retarded to ask "how would Chad give a presentation" but if you have any pointers, tips etc that I can use, it will be appreciated. I also don't have an alt account to post on reddit - I'm sure there are other subs - but since your opinion is valued I'm asking you.

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Title Presentation skills - how to stand up and be heard
Author thunderbeyond
Upvotes 12
Comments 26
Date 07 November 2017 09:45 AM UTC (3 years ago)
Subreddit askMRP
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[–]johneyapocalypse8 points9 points  (5 children) | Copy

I am a professional speaker. As an uber driver recently mentioned on the way to a conference I "get paid to talk to people". I liked the way he put that. :-)

Speaking well can be an aphrodisiac in and of itself and the ultimate way to demonstrate high value. Last Friday I hung out with a few ex models - really hot stuff - and they were all over me simply because I had owned the room(s) in the conference in which I spoke. Here is what I have learned over the years.

Buy the book Presentation Zen. Follow it. Live it. It is life-changing if you speak often.

Don't try to memorize your entire presentation, unless you think you'll do very few presentations in your life. I speak around the world, travel regularly, and change my talks every time. It's both impractical and unnecessary to memorize these. If you're jamming up for a big Ted Talk, go for it.

Skip the boring-ass, pre-2000 power point bullet points and paragraphs of text. Audiences cannot both (1) read your boring slides and (2) pay attention to you at the same time. Instead, if you're using a presentation, use big, bold, interesting imagery that aligns with the points you are making throughout the speech.

Contextualize your story-telling - the key to great presentations - to capture your audience.

The results? 50% of the jackasses stand behind a 200-year old lectern and read from their boring power points. 25% stand behind the lectern and look back-and-forth between the audience and the screen. 20% stand in front of the screen looking back-and-forth between the audience and screen. And the magical 5% stand in front of the screen, move around, and look at the audience - each person individually - and never look back. I get out from behind the lectern. I walk around.

Own the room. It is so easy. Why? Because everyone else sucks. And when you stand up and walk around and kill it - compared to the others - it resonates and you get points both for (1) being amazing but also (2) differentiating yourself from your lesser peers in such a manner as to completely captivate your audience.

Be hyped - but be careful. Tony Robbins recommends jumping around and so do others - before you hit the room. I don't do that. In fact, I'm the opposite. I'm like a caged lion ready to pounce and I need to take steps to move in the other direction. I don't drink coffee. Sometimes I'll take a Xanax or a beta blocker. I have to restrain myself because I get so jazzed, especially internally, and that can present some shortcomings... dry mouth and getting so hyped when you speak that you forget to breathe enough.

The manner in which you present yourself is key. Speak from your gut. Loud and dominant and hitting every nook and cranny of the room. If anyone in the audience has to say "I can't hear you" then you are failing. Look around. Walk around. Don't just stand there. Use your body. So much of your ability to own your audience comes from your innate use of body language. It's powerful. Look each and every person in the eyes. Your first few times it might feel weird, but later on, you realize that each audience member really appreciates it.

Dress well. Look like everyone else but with an edge - bring your own special style. I dressed so damn spectacularly at my most recent conference that I could have been hanging out with George Clooney afterward.

Know your material. Don't get too technical. Don't overwhelm your audience. Your audience can only handle so much - they like concise and they love story telling. Tell a story, with a beginning and a middle and an end. Relate the story to your subject matter and it will sink in and hit them in their guts.

Learn to love speaking and it will pay off x 100.

I get a high from speaking. I walk around like Jesus for days after. I love it and crave it like a drug. It wasn't always like that. The A/V in my first talk failed. In front of 500 people. The conference head gave me a dressing down. In front of 100 people. And it wasn't even my fault. But I moved on and learned to love speaking.

Good luck, you'll kill 'em.

p.s. Don't be too self-effacing. Some people might say "get awww-value for saying how nervous you are by telling the audience" - but I do not recommend that. You are setting the tone for the room. Make a splash. Make each person look forward to everything you have to say. The manner in which you introduce yourself and your presentation can set that tone.

[–]thunderbeyond[S] 0 points1 point  (2 children) | Copy

I will be reading and re-reading this a lot over the next few days. Thanks for a very helpful and comprehensive reply. Sounds like you are killing it!

[–]johneyapocalypse1 point2 points  (1 child) | Copy

You're welcome. Thank u/Rian_Stone, though, since he started the conversation by speaking in the first place. I think he spoke fine and I'm not sure why all the flack.

He spoke without anonymity - in this environment and on this subject - which takes balls the size of Indonesian coconuts.

Since you're hot 'n heavy in the pre-preparation phase, aka consideration, I would add:

Accept it. Lots of doors open when you speak in public.


  • Redundancies are key. Have a backup plan. And then a backup plan for your backup plan. Seriously. I mentioned my first talk failure. What made it irritating is that I had a backup. But not a second backup.

  • Humor works wonders. "Salesy" humor, conversely, is transparent and tacky. Once you've given enough talks you can tell the difference in how your audience reacts. Laughter wins battles but genuine laughter wins the war.

  • Spontaneity will get you their hearts and minds, too. If you speak often then you likely moderate often. And sit on panels. If you're the guy who can keep a dull moment from elongating, or save the guy who's A/V fails, or help the amateur who's humiliating himself in front of everyone, then you are the SOD (savoir-of-the-day).

  • Work your magic on other speakers, even your competitors. When your top competitors introduce you as a friend you have likely just pocketed some big dollars from someone in the audience.

  • MOST OF ALL BE AUTHENTIC. Don't be the awful "speech" guy. It's so easy for seasoned speakers to become that guy. I recently met a world-renowned speaker and thanked him for something I learned from his talk. I'm always learning from others. If they do it well, I copy it. But he got that awful glossy-eyed speaker-cum-sales guy look in his face and started speaking at me. Not to me. But at me and over me and around me. Don't be that guy. Or that girl. I've seen both and they're gross.

[–]Rian_StoneMod / Red Beret1 point2 points  (0 children) | Copy

I really hope /u/dream21 shows the presentation soon. It really does hit on a lot of these points. Definitely more polish than the interview

I'm not sure why all the flack.

The last thing I would want is a bunch of fluffers keeping me hard. Would rather ignore personal attacks, than miss out on useable intel

[–]SteelSharpensSteelMod / Red Beret0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

[–]snatch_haggis0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

Buy the book Presentation Zen. Follow it. Live it. It is life-changing if you speak often.

Came here to make sure somebody said this.

[–]UEMcGillI am become McGill, Destroyer of Blue Pill3 points4 points  (4 children) | Copy

Professional presenter here. The biggest thing I tell people is, know your shit. I'm in sales and they give us sales material all the time. I rarely use it, or mostly if I do it's because it has a reference or a picture.

  • Don't read verbatim off the slide.
  • Slides bullets should be 4-5 words. You're the presentation not the slides!
  • Tell a story
  • use the slides to reinforce your story

I give stadium speeches about dry boring chemical processing equipment. But even then I try to work in anecdotes about my experience and how it's made people's lives better. I try to relate how my target audience is going to benefit. I'm a storyteller by nature, so that's the style I use. Your style may be different, so emphasise what's good about it.

Don't be afraid to ask your peers to review it with you. /u/rian_stone previewed his presentation for weeks in the mod discussion.

Once you're up there don't think of it as a crowd of faceless people. Just think of it like you're at a dinner party talking to a few people. I pick maybe 5 people or so spread out through the crowd and tend to focus on them. I might ask them a question or get them to confirm an idea I have, that kind of thing. I just try to keep it comfortable. People see you relaxed and it comes through in the presentation.

[–]Rian_StoneMod / Red Beret0 points1 point  (2 children) | Copy

And boy oy boy. The first four drafts were disjointed

[–]thunderbeyond[S] 0 points1 point  (1 child) | Copy

I take it that peer review was a necessary and helpful step in your preparation?

[–]thunderbeyond[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

Getting an outside opinion is a very sound idea. I've been in plenty of presentations where the presenter reads from the slides - point well noted. Thanks.

[–]red-sfpplusHard Core Red2 points3 points  (4 children) | Copy

Some good comments so far, but let me add some as well for you.

The first thing you need to master is your "Elevator Speech." This speech is used to convey a large amount of information in the shortest amount of time possible. Think of two people riding in an elevator and your asked - "thunderbeyond, tell me about yourself."

When I do presentations, here is an example of what I use to introduce myself - this also establishes credibility to the audience.

"My name is red-sfpplus, I have been a technology consultant for over 20 years. I started out in the security space doing penetration testing, and ethical hacking but over time I have moved into the cloud space centered around Compute/Storage/Networking for both on-prem and cloud solutions. I have extensive experience in the financial industries, casino/gaming and healthcare markets including the regulatory aspects of those sectors."

Your elevator speech can be changed obviously into 3rd person if you are having someone introduce you, but all you are doing with this elevator speech is telling the audience why you are on the stage, and not them. It should also be tailored to the crowd you are presenting to. Do not get to technical in it.

When you are on the stage, during Q/A here are a couple tips for you:

Always close the distance between yourself and the person asking the question. I will walk right up to the front row and maintain eye contact with the person asking the question. Once the question has been asked I will take a step back and depending on if we are in a room where I might need to repeat the question, so everyone can hear it I will do that.

Once the question has been asked what I do is take a step or two back, and start walking to the opposite side of the stage while I begin to answer the question. You do not want to stand and stare at the person who asked the question while you answer it - engage the entire audience. The practice of coming up close to the crowd while listening, and then taking a step or two back gives you a few seconds to "process and think about the question and start to formulate the answer" By moving on the stage you are still providing action, but it gives you 1-2 second to process the info.

As you answer the question you should understand where you are in your answer. A nice touch is to end back in your original spot where you heard the question to finish your last one or two sentences while you re-engage the original persons eyes while you close out. Use this when the question is especially good. I do not do it all the time, just to the folks who deserve it.

Make sure your wardrobe is on point. You will have 100's of eyes looking at you. Shoes, pants, belt, shirt, watch, hair, etc. all need to be 100% on point. Make sure your clothes fit correctly when standing AND sitting. If you are going to be getting up and down a bunch I will tuck my dress shirt into my underwear, so it stays tight and doesn't come untucked over time. Also - dress to your intended audience.

Force yourself to sip on water during the Q/A when they are asking questions. The worst thing you can do is get dry mouth when presenting. This also buys you a few seconds here and there to check your status, think about questions and process you answers. As long as you are moving people typically do not notice these things.

Keep an open posture. Try and keep your palms out. Look at you're the back of your hands, then the palms…which is more inviting to look at?

I personally do not like to present with my suit jacket buttoned. I know the general rule is that your suit should be buttoned all the time unless you are sitting. I have not found this to be comfortable, or inviting. The only time I do, is when I am stuck behind a podium, but when I am walking around on stage it is open. YMMV - I think this is a little grey here.

General comments:

If your presentation is 60 minutes, have 75-80 minutes' worth of content. Everyone speaks faster when presenting. It is much easier to skip content or present less facts than to get to the end and realize you are short on content.

Be a mile wide and foot deep in knowledge on your content. Do not worry about being an expert on everything, but you should know your material inside and out, but also understand enough about ancillary material and topics to field questions. Understanding how the engine works 100% is great, but you need to also understand how the transmission and brakes help to transfer and slow that power down as well, so you have motion in the vehicle.

Double, triple and quadruple check any technology you will be using. Laptop, pointers, lasers, audio/video. Always have a spare, and spare batteries with you. Try to get to the venue and understand the layout of the stage/presentation area so you can formulate your "routes" in your head. Make sure where you are standing doesn't block the projector, speakers or things like that. Invest in a laser pointer that has a TIMER on it with a green laser, totally worth the money.

Final comments:

Remove the word "um" from your vocabulary. Silence is better than this word.

Do not tug, touch or adjust your clothes unless there is a clear discomfort. These are nervous ticks. You should not be touching yourself on stage.

Divide the room into sections in your mind. Try to maintain eye contact with each section during the time you are speaking, every 20-30 seconds or so.

Never show your back to the crowd. You can show your side, but know your paths on stage so they never see your back.

For the love of god, when walking DO NOT LOOK DOWN. You have to keep eye contact while you stroll from left/right etc. There is nothing to trip on, because you did a pre-walk of your stage prior to presentation - right???


Have fun.

[–]hystericalbonding0 points1 point  (2 children) | Copy

Invest in a laser pointer that has a TIMER on it with a green laser, totally worth the money.

I'm with you on everything except the laser pointer. They're good for unexpected questions about an image, but it's worth crafting your storytelling and images in a way that doesn't require you to pull out the pointer and distract the audience.

[–]red-sfpplusHard Core Red0 points1 point  (1 child) | Copy

Yeah. I use my pointer 95% to advance slides and to keep track of time. Only time I use the laser is if I want to point to specific item on the slide which is not often.

[–]hystericalbonding0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

About a decade ago, I started crafting slides to highlight the important part rather than use the pointer. Sometimes it involves turning one slide into a base and a highlighted version, sometimes it's a single slide with some adjustments, and most often I try to pick an alternate image where the important part is as obvious as possible. It's a small adjustment that made a huge difference to my talks.

I totally agree about slide advancement and walking around - being tied to the podium is a necessary evil if the A/V sucks or if you can't walk, but if you can do the whole talk from behind the podium, then they might as well be watching a recording. It's all about engaging the audience.

[–]thunderbeyond[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

There is a lot in here! Thank you. One interesting point is about the elevator speech. I don't have one, and it rings in my ear when the convenor says "send me your bio". Time to get working.

[–]hystericalbonding1 point2 points  (1 child) | Copy

WISNIFG has some stuff about handling questions and challenges from the crowd when lecturing.

How To Win Friends and Influence People is useful if you want to make it compelling.

Have your content ready way beforehand, so you can practice enough to get a feel for the strong and weak points.

Practice, read tips and tricks, practice again, read more tips and tricks.

[–]thunderbeyond[S] 1 point2 points  (0 children) | Copy

Thank you, great links as well.

[–]SteelSharpensSteelMod / Red Beret1 point2 points  (1 child) | Copy

Start attending Toastmasters meetings. Also, when you practice your speech, have someone videotape you. It's amazing what you'll pick up on.

Know your speech inside and out. Lots of practice.

[–]thunderbeyond[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

The Toastmasters idea is a good one. It looks like a better way to practise than improve than just in front of a mirror. There is one nearby, thanks for your response.

[–]wildnight98MRP APPROVED1 point2 points  (1 child) | Copy

You don't need to worry too much about their expertise. As speaker you will control the presentation. If someone asks you a question you aren't prepared for, either (1) divert to pre-planned material ("that's a good question but let me give you guys this foundation first...", or (2) say "that's a big question--let me defer that to the end to see if I still have time and I'll take a crack at it then"--and then you let it go. All good speakers use these techniques and you come out looking like a subject matter expert--which you are on your narrow issue.

If you don't have time to prepare formally (toastmasters, etc) just talk to anyone about your subject (your wife, your friends etc). I also like to call out of the blue other subject matter experts, tell them I am presenting on such-and-so, and ask for their thoughts. This is a great way to connect with other influential people and also they say awesome things that I would never have thought of that I can roll into my own presentation. If you talk about your subject enough beforehand you will have more material than time, as well as plenty of practice, and you'll be good. Just don't keep it all in your head until presentation day.

[–]thunderbeyond[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

Nice strategies- and yes the post-interview QA is daunting. These ideas will help. Cheers

[–]screechhaterRed Beret1 point2 points  (2 children) | Copy

Keep it simple.

Follow the golden rule.

Tell them what you are going to tell them.

Tell them the information get to the meat and potatoes. The core. Do not get too detailed to where you lose your audience

Tell them what you just told them. “To review.....”

When answering questions be honest. Do not fucking answer what you cannot

[–]thunderbeyond[S] 0 points1 point  (1 child) | Copy

That last point rings true. It is so clear when someone is talking out their ass. Due to the nature of the topic and my level of experience, the likelihood of questions I cannot answer is high. Honesty will be my policy. "I don't know but I can get back to you on..." I appreciate your response.

[–]screechhaterRed Beret1 point2 points  (0 children) | Copy

You can really kill the question and answer shit by using the three steps.

I went to a university that had 4 writing intensive courses and 2 communication classes no one was exempt from it.

It was amazing to see the football players and ghetto basketball players grow. Some of our TA ‘s would help with - “ok- lets talk about how to guard someone, how to throw a great free throw, etc” fuckers were unstoppable once they keyed in on passion.

I gave a 10 minute on ergonomics once Doctors, nurses, IT people, all commented “Wow, amazing how suttle differences in monitor height, seat placement, desk height - all factor into pain in the shoulders, neck etc.”

I followed the three steps and did not pretend to know more than what I did. I stated I was not an expert in the field but the data I collected had given me some real insight in helping people out before they got to workman’s comp claims. Saving everyone time, money, surgery, and most of all pain

[–]snatch_haggis1 point2 points  (1 child) | Copy

Semipro presenter here, present at client and industry events a few times a year, largest room I've presented to was a couple thousand people.

I've tried a lot of different approaches to prep. I would say the best talks I've given had a good mix of me having the topic nailed down and rehearsed enough that I was ready to speak to each slide, but not so over-rehearsed that I sounded wooden.

Try to think of this as a conversation, and make it feel as natural as you can. You want to rehearse, and ideally even rehearse in front of a friend or a camera, but don't rehearse so much that you seem checked out. Overpreparing will also make it easy for your mind to wander on autopilot, which ironically will make you stumble more.

Somebody already mentioned presentation Zen. I tend to talk about Jobs vs Gates when I talk about presenting. Which would you rather be?

The slide is not the content. It's very easy to obsess over the slides and fiddle with them endlessly and try to make the content perfect. Fuck the slides. You are more important than the slides.

The slides are visual fodder to frame what you have to say and add a bit of emphasis here or there. If your slides are overloaded with data, the listener skims the slide and then ignores you until you make it to the next slide. You don't want that.

You want their eyes on you, not the slide deck.

You mentioned STEM, and I think in tech especially, presenters are terrible at missing the above. Make an outline, come up with the conversational flow of what you want to say, then create slides that give you visual cues when to go from one topic to the next, but for the love of God do not read the slides to the audience, and if this is content based on research or a paper you did, do not just barf the paper onto a slide deck.

So think of it like this, you run into someone you know, and they ask you about whatever topic you're presenting on, and you have whatever-your-timeslot-is (15 minutes, 20, 30, whatever) to give them the rundown on the topic and why it's interesting. Maybe you give them a few fun things that they can take away, a good story or two.

You're not going to cover the topic exhaustively, this is impossible and really not what a preso is for. Think of it as a sort of brief commercial for the subject area, and then make room for Q&A so the audience can take time to fill in the blanks.

As was also mentioned, you should be the best dressed person in the room. Work on your posture, breathe correctly, project your voice well, even if you're mic'd up.

Ideally, get a lavalier mic so you can walk around. Don't pace maniacally, but it's good to move around naturally a bit as you talk, and it keeps the audience's visual interest.

If there's just a mic and a podium, don't stand behind the podium, unhook the mic from the stand and hold it with your hand. Keep it about 3 inches or so from your face and don't breathe directly into it, breathe across it, or you will sound like an obscene phone caller.

Keep your distance from the mic consistent, or the sound guy will have a hard time and your volume will be erratic.

I am someone who gestures a lot when they speak, if this is you, it's generally good because it gives something to draw the audience's eye (again, think Jobs vs Gates). A lot of the PUA body language stuff applies, don't put your hands in your pockets or cross your arms. Keep your hands open, arms extended a bit at your sides.

Eye contact is important, I work my way right to left and back across the room as I speak. You will find at least a few people who are paying attention - keep coming back to them, and finding new ones, as you go. Focus on winning this handful and you'll win the rest over too.

I'm also going to be perhaps the least qualified in the room

That kinda perspective is gonna fuck you up man. You are gonna be the most qualified on this topic by the time you give the talk. Believe it.

Now go out there and be awesome.

[–]thunderbeyond[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy

Useful and inspiring. Thanks. The feedback from seasoned speakers is brilliant.

You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea.

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