5 Powerful Hacks to Immediately Improve Your Presentations

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.”

- Wayne Burgraff

Improve your presentationsNote: This guest post was written by personal development blogger Scott Young. You can check out his website here.

Communication is a skill. That means if you want to blow the interviewer away, knock them out with your slide show or have them cheering after your speech you need to practice. Unfortunately since formal presentations, interviews and speeches are often an infrequent occurrence, you can’t become a master overnight.

But even in my own limited speaking I’ve discovered a couple hacks that can be used to improve your communication right away. They can work immediately to give you an edge in an upcoming event.

Hack #1: Rephrase Questions

When you get asked a question, spend a few seconds to rephrase the question. If you are giving a speech to an audience this has the first benefit of clearly stating the audience members question for everyone to hear. But the hidden benefit of doing this is that it gives you a few extra seconds to prepare a response.

Polished professional speakers and interview veterans can prepare for common questions in advance with a great reply. But if you don’t have the experience or a question throws you off balance, you can maintain composure by rephrasing the question. To everyone it looks as if you immediately knew an eloquent response, but in reality you were given a few seconds to process a response.

Hack #2: Pause, Don’t Trip

When you are nervous, everything gets magnified. During an interview, speech or presentation forgetting what you intended to say or losing your flow of speech can be terrifying. When this happens remember to stop and take a deep breath. This pause feels incredibly unnatural for the speaker, but it is usually barely noticed by the audience.

Pausing is far better than tripping over your words and making incoherent sentences. Most people end up speaking too fast when they feel nervous, so intentionally slowing down and taking time to pause can prevent tripping over your words which is a lot more noticeable.

Hack #3: Write Out the Tricky Parts

If you have to talk for over five or ten minutes, it can be difficult and incredibly time-consuming to prepare every single word of your speech and memorize it. Many professional speakers instead choose to just write major topic headings so they understand the structure but can deliver the speech naturally.

When you get a chance to practice your presentation, notice points where you trip up. These are usually the same points you will have trouble with when presenting. Write out those few sentences word for word before presenting. The easy parts of your speech will continue to flow and you can be thoroughly prepared to handle the harder parts.

Hack #4: Watch Your Apologies

Never apologize when the goal of that apology is to soften the criticism of the audience. Some speakers apologize for appearing nervous when giving a speech. The truth is most the people in the audience wouldn’t have realized the speaker was nervous until he apologized for it. Apologizing from where you lack confidence only draws more attention to your weaknesses and detracts from your performance.

Apologies for legitimate errors are acceptable, but apologies designed to elicit sympathy won’t help your performance.

Hack #5: Don’t Distract With Powerpoint

Powerpoint presentations are very popular among presenters. But remember that as a speaker you want the focus to be on you. Slides should enhance your presentation, not form a backup. If I can get all the information I need out of your slides, why should I pay attention to you?

If you watch any presentations done by hugely successful speaker and marketer Seth Godin, you quickly notice how many of his slides are nothing more than a single image or word. These slides enhance the message he is trying to convey but they don’t steal the spotlight since they don’t contain enough information to distract.

If you are going to be doing a lot of presentations, interviews or formal communications in your work or life, I’d suggest joining Toastmasters. A non-profit organization dedicated to improving communication skills they can give you practice. But if you are concerned about an approaching presentation you’ll just have to hack it.

About Scott Young:
Scott Young is a productivity and improvement blogger. You can check out his blog here, and you can subscribe to his feed (updated 5-7x per week with posts similar to this one). Some of his most popular articles include Habitual Mastery, Double Your Reading Rate and How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying.

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  • viji says:

    Good Post with valuable points to follow. Viji

  • Chris White says:

    Good post, having just done a fairly long presentation some of those points sound really good, particularly #2. Thanks!

  • Brombomb says:

    To go with point #2 If you think you are saying “uh” or “um” a lot then use these as pauses. Go ahead and say it in your head, but not aloud. It will really clean yup your presentation, and the audience won’t even notice. Before long, you’ll find the pauses to be more natural and you won’t be using “fillers” :)

  • eBusiness says:

    #4 is a novel tip. “Watch Your Apologies,” I’ve seen many presenters lose their credibility for doing just the opposite nice.

  • Trent says:

    One of the best ways to improve your presentations is to improve your public speaking skills in general. I highly recommend Toastmasters for that.

  • Brian says:

    Disappointing for this usually new perspective on things website. This is presentations 101 stuff.

  • Mel says:

    I would second the Toastmasters recommendation. I was a member for years, and it helped me immensely. Go to http://www.toastmasters.org/find/ , look for a club near you, and attend a meeting. They love guests, and you can get a feel for that particular club.

  • Nice to see the post take off like this.

    Checking out the social networking site comments it’s interesting to see the difference in attitude. Digg seems to be mostly negative (despite over 600 diggs) and delicious seems to be all positive. Although if you have time to flame the article I’m guessing you have a little too much time on your hands… Some people disliked my use of the word, “hack,” as it is apparently becoming too much of a buzz word and felt I should have called them tips instead. I went with hacks (to me hack implies something that can be immediately implemented as opposed to general advice which takes time to utilize).

    The “hacks” are pretty basic — basic is what people need. As for my public speaking experience to give presentation tips, I don’t claim to be a professional speaker, but I have placed in speaking contests, I have completed my Competent Toastmasters award and I am the president of my local Toastmaster club. I let the content speak for itself though, if you didn’t like the content writing an extra paragraph explaining my credentials isn’t going to persuade you so I don’t waste the space.

  • Joe says:

    Agree with #5, I hate nothing more than a meeting or presentation where the speaker reads powerpoint slides word for word. Not only is it dull, it also makes the speaker irrelevant, since I can read his slides faster than he can speak them, so I get annoyed that I have to slow down to wait for him. And that’s assuming the presentation is interesting enough to be worth it, which is rare to begin with.

  • Lee says:

    I’m confused as why the title includes “Hacks”…. All of these are very common knowledge and if you have any experience at all, they are lessons already learned.

    Maybe a better title would be, “5 Areas Constantly Worth Improving With Presentations.”

  • Anil says:

    This is amazing, Thanks for the great post.

  • Alex says:

    Absolutely delighted to have found your blog, we share a common passion … personal development. I have left a reference to your blog but couldn’t find the trackback functionality on your blog.

    Check it out whenever you have a chance !


  • IUK says:

    Great valuable artical.

  • Tweny5 says:

    Some good stuff over here….


  • BobFox says:

    These tips are top notch.

    If you are presenting a lot, do yourself a favor and take a class where you are videotaped and reviewed by your classmates. This most humbling experience will show you how you appear to others.

  • David says:

    Mind your apostrophes.

    “When you are nervous, everything get’s magnified.”

    When I see this sort of thing in a presentation, I immediately deduce that the speaker is either ignorant or can’t be bothered, or both. In either case it devalues everything else he says.

  • tv online says:

    I’ve seen really horrible powerpoint/keynote presentations that have made a great presentation (speech) bad solely because they decided to includes lots of bloated text on their powerpoint slide or came up with the idea that it would be cool to have a video or sounds within their powerpoint that were completely unnecessary (music, sound effect, etc)

  • Rob says:

    I totally agree with the powerpoint tip. Some people could leave the room with the powerpoint running and we would still get all the information. Keeping the slides down to simple illustrations that back up your points will keep the audience focused on you.

  • brian says:

    These are useful tips! Thanks!

  • Very good tips, not the first I have heard them but very good to be reminded of them and how important they are. The small things make such a difference….

    With powerpoint slides, I prefer the ones that just use keywords, quotes etc instead of whole paras etc

  • I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well.

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