Skip to Content

10 Tips for Successful Presentations

Posted on September 01, 2016 by Mark Stanton

Outstanding presentations hinge on more than just showcasing great work. How a message is sent and who is sending it can be as important as what the message actually is.

Consider the effort required to craft an optimal user experience. Attention to detail is at the core. Few choices are default; the presence of each element is intentional. Presentations are experiences too, and creating a great one requires a similar degree of care.  

Ensure your ideas get the consideration they deserve, and lead to your desired outcomes, by employing the tips below.


1. Avoid "On Demand" Presentations

You just put the finishing touches on your project when your client pings you asking for a progress update. Perfect timing! You're ready to show it... right? 

Instead of responding that you're ready to show your work now, offer a potential time in the future to connect for a presentation, even if it's just later that day. This builds anticipation, communicates the value of your time, and subtly informs your client that you dictate your schedule.


2. Present in Person

By default, presentations should be face-to-face if possible. This allows you to convey your passion while adapting your delivery based on visual cues. The Internet proves anonymity can breed negativity, so use the human element to your advantage.

When an in-person presentation is impractical, a video conference via Skype or Facetime can be a convenient alternative. If your only option is to present over the phone, be sure to at least use a screen sharing tool so that you can walk through the presentation at your own pace. Unless the client needs to spend significant time with the project before offering feedback (such as for long-form written content), avoid sending the work ahead of your presentation.


3. Present Yourself 

Convey a sense of confidence and preparedness when in front of your audience. During the presentation, make sure you're looking and feeling your best.

Arrive early to the meeting space to take care of any technical set up so you're ready to go when your audience arrives.


4. Set the Stage

Before unveiling the work itself, explain the context and discuss the lines of thought that brought you to your conclusions. Make clear to your audience the time and energy you've spent on the project. Preface the unveiling by showing or explaining what exists currently and recapping the problems your work is intended to solve.

Don't assume your audience already understands the background information. Even if they do, it's a good idea to remind them of where they're coming from before showing where they're going.

Unveil the final product. You've talked a lot so far; now is the time to be silent. Let your work speak for itself and gauge the natural reaction of your audience.


5. Only Show Your Best Work

Avoid the temptation to show iterations that led to the final work. If you've created a few possible solutions, be honest with yourself and determine which is the best. Unless multiple versions are explicitly requested, show only a single, final version.

By showing only your best work, you avoid the possibility of the audience latching on to an alternate solution that you've already deemed lesser than what you're presenting. If your work is not accepted, you can always fall back on previous iterations, so don't let these alternatives detract from the main idea during the initial presentation.


6. Don't "Talk Beyond the Sale"

Your audience loves the work and thinks you're a modern day Di Vinci. All is going according to plan, but you still have work to do.

Once it's clear the work has been accepted, steer the conversation away from feedback gathering and towards next steps. Don't belabor the presentation and give your audience an opportunity to modify or revoke their approval. After a successful unveiling, your job is to shut up and get out.


7. Repeat and Summarize Feedback

Constructive criticism should be encouraged. It's a great indication that your audience is as invested in the work as you are. While your goal is to move the project forward, take the time to truly listen to any valid feedback your client provides.

Encourage useful feedback by prefacing with questions that imply what you're looking for ("What do you think of the color palette?" or "Do you have any thoughts about this headline?").

Quickly note any comments that you expect will lead to changes. Then, repeat the key pieces of feedback and summarize the revisions you intend to implement.

Conclude with a question: "Did I miss anything?" This implicit verbal contract can reduce the likelihood of future unsolicited changes.


8. Don't Modify on the Fly

It's tempting to make simple changes or layout adjustments with your stakeholders in front of you so you can get an instant response. Avoid this temptation. Successful presentations are about control, and stream-of-consciousness modifications sacrifice the advantages offered by preparation.

Don't allow yourself to chair a design by committee.


9. "Show Your Work" is for Math Class

Conveying how much work, time, and revisions went in to the final product won't gain you any bonus points. Stakeholders care about the product, not the process. Even if they did care, these metrics aren't particularly relevant.

Sometimes your first idea actually is the best idea, but the fact that the solution was obvious to you does not need to be obvious to them.


10. Don't be Afraid to Fail

More can be learned through a single failure than a dozen successes. If a presentation doesn't turn out as you had hoped, you're still left with an opportunity. You can't control your audience's response, but you can focus on the things you can control and do better next time.

Did you spend too much time on introductions and preambles, forcing you to rush through the important part? Did a technical hiccup detract from an optimal experience? These are things that can be anticipated and accounted for in the future.

"The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried." - Stephen McCranie