Tips to present better

If you want to improve your ability to create powerful business presentations you have to master three aspects: preparation, design and delivery. In these articles I'll show you how.

If starting a presentation strong helps you capture people’s attention, ending it strong helps you be remembered. After all, the end a presentation is the last impression you give an audience about yourself. If the primacy effect tells us that the beginning of a presentation is what people remember most, the recency effect tells us that what happens at the end of a presentation gets remembered more compared to the central part. Therefore, the most important parts of a presentation are the beginning and the end (though you can't put the audience to sleep in the middle).

The attention curve follows a path where at the beginning of a presentation the attention is normally high because the audience give you the benefit of the doubt: Maybe this chap has got something interesting to tell us today, they say.

Then, with time, the attention drops physiologically unless you’re good at keeping it high. Remember what Dr. Medina told us in Brain Rules? Every ten minutes it’s as if you have to buy the audience’s attention again by using emotionally charged events. Then at the end of a presentation—especially if you make it clear that you’re about to finish—the attention comes back to you. Therefore, even if you’ve made a mediocre presentation (not recommended!) make sure you plan your conclusion properly and end strong. 

There are several ways to end a presentation effectively and there is no better way. However, there are alternatives to avoid the boring Ok, I'm done, thanks for your attention—any questions?

Call to action

Each presentation should include a call to action. People don’t come to listen to you just to receive information. They are there because they want to understand what they can do with what they learn from you. They want to understand how they can apply your message to their daily lives. If you manage a newsletter where you share interesting content on the topic of your presentation, you can invite the audience to subscribe. If you’ve presented an offer, you can invite them to have an initial consultation with you to determine whether or not you should continue the conversation. The call to action can vary depending on your objectives but be clear in terms of what you want the audience to do after the presentation. 

Repeat the main ideas 

You've probably heard of the following narrative structure proposed by Aristotle: "Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” Without using it too often (otherwise you risk sounding robotic) you can refer to this technique when concluding a presentation by making a brief summary of the key messages. Sometimes I like to close my presentations with a summary slide where I show the key takeaways. By repeating the main ideas you help the audience to not forget your most important points. An effective way to end a presentation is this: "If there is one thing I would like you to remember, it’s this...

Go back to the beginning 

This is my favourite technique, which is also used in many films. A clear example that can’t be missing in your film culture is The Prestige, one of Christopher Nolan's milestones. It's the story of two competing magicians. The film begins with the narrator's voice explaining that each magic trick consists of three parts: the pledge (where the magician shows an ordinary object), the turn (where he transforms the ordinary into extraordinary, for example by making the object disappear) and the prestige (where the magician makes the missing object appear again). Then a compelling story begins and only at the end do you understand why the film started that way, with that explanation by the narrator. And the film ends with the same voice reminding us that every magic trick consists of three parts: the pledge, the turn and the prestige. Exceptional! 

Your presentations can be circular too—they can start from an idea and go back to that same idea and strengthen it. You can start with a question, take your audience on a journey and then conclude by returning to the same question, this time providing an answer.

If you want to end strong, plan your presentation with the conclusion in mind. The conclusion is not just the last chronological piece of the topics you covered during a presentation—it is the main theme. Starting with the end in mind means that your conclusion—what the audience has to remember—comes first.

If you'd like to learn more about how to make better presentations, download my report Top 7 Mistakes People Make When Creating Business Presentations.