Presentation Tips: How to nail a public speaking gig

Presenting at Red Ventures Half Time event, May 2019
Photo Credit: Red Ventures Corporate Communications

“I’m going to pass out. Or vomit. Or both.”

Ten years into my career, and this is still exactly what I’m thinking as I begin a presentation. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been at the front of the board room or center stage at a companywide event; I still get nervous.

I had two presentations just this week. The first, to a room of about 50 colleagues. The second? A companywide event with 1,500 people in the crowd and streaming online.

If the thought of presenting has your heart rate racing – take a deep breath (or pour a glass of rose). Read my tried and true presentation tips and get ready to make your ladyboss debut.

Start with the punch line.

Girl, back away from the PowerPoint. Before you create the first slide, know your story. Ask yourself, “What do I want people to know at the end of my presentation?” and “What do I want them to do?” Start with the questions and let your presentation build the answer.

Here’s an example from a recent presentation I gave:

What do I want people to know? Content is critical to grow our business. Our team is small, lacks experts and needs freelance support.

What do I want them to do? Approve a new organizational structure.

Be brief in setting context.

Unless you are 100% sure that you are speaking to a novice audience – keep your set up brief. I try to stick to a one slide introduction or a 30-second summary. Why? I’d rather skimp on the basics to get to the hard-hitting topics – especially if I anticipate debate or questions.

Have a lot of material to share? Send a pre-read ahead of time with a few slides of background information.

Know your shit.

A presentation is a great way to find out who is on their A-game and who is not. Ladybosses of the world: Know. your. shit. Validate data. Verify facts. Make a list. Check it twice! Keep a cheat sheet of data and talking points handy just in case.

Be yourself (yes, really).

It’s cheesy, whatevs. But, I’m a big fan of the “bring your whole self to work” mentality. Be yourself – even on presentation day – even if you’re kind of weird. For me, that means opening each presentation with a joke because 1. Laughter eases my anxiety 2. Work should be fun. For you, being yourself may mean something different. Remember, you were chosen to present because you’re you. So make sure you are leading the discussion and not a corporate fembot.

Practice out loud.

This seems obvious, but I’m always surprised by how many colleagues say they don’t practice before a presentation (and it shows). I practice a presentation a minimum of ten times, every time. My practice tips? First, time yourself. Make sure you can stay at least one to two minutes under time to allow for questions. Practice with slides AND practice without slides – tech fails but you don’t have to.

Don’t just practice talking points, though. Prepare for questions. Write a list of 5-10 questions that may come up and prep answers. You’ll be glad you did.

Read the room.

We’ve all seen it before. Time is running out and the presenter knows it. But, instead of hitting the high notes she plunders on through her 50 slide deck determined to make every. damn. point.

Read the room – and the clock. A presentation is intended to spark discussion. If discussion happens, pivot. Sacrifice your remaining points for group participation.

Wear lipstick, expensive shoes, or both.

Lastly, fly your lady flag high. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. But on presentation days, I bust out the feminine artillery. Wear lipstick, high heels, a great blazer – or all three. Whatever makes you feel confident. When you look good, you feel confident.


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