Giving Better Presentations at Work

Posted by: Matt Nagler, Managing Partner
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Matt Nagler

So you’ve been asked to give a presentation at work. It’s rare that we get training in how to present – and that can make the thought of it intimidating. But we’ve all sat through a lot of presentations and know that the differences between a good presentation and a not-so-good one are small, but important. Beyond knowing your subject matter, what can you do to make your presentation as good as it can be?

Consider your audience. Work presentations are different than a lot of talks – they’re less about selling you and more about conveying particular information. And the best way to impart information is to tailor how you’re presenting it based on the needs of your audience. The presentation you’ll give about a new software system to the IT department should be different than the one you’d give to the front office staff. The people in those departments have significantly different areas of expertise and will be using the software differently. Remember that you’re talking to people, not above them and not below them. Try to anticipate the questions that they will have. This will help you keep their needs in mind so that you’ll be able to give them the information needed as clearly as possible.

Think about your objective. There are a few questions to think about when considering your objective. What information are you trying to convey in your presentation? What is it you are trying to achieve and what do you want your audience to take away with them? Is there a follow-up action that you want your audience to take? Have the answers to these questions be clear in your mind because they are the backbone of your presentation.

Use visuals effectively. Images increase recall and attention, so use them. The best visuals provide a complementary and alternative way for people to think about what you’re saying. Keep them simple and straightforward so that they don’t compete with your talk. But do make sure that they’re not just a word for word transcription of what you’re saying. Remember that visuals aren’t just for the audience – they make an excellent signpost if you lose your way while talking. (And if you have a lot of information that you want people to have access to after your presentation, use handouts.)

Be yourself. The most effective way to communicate is the way that’s most natural to you. If you’re funny, tell a joke; but if you’re not, there’s absolutely no need to. If you’re shy, it’s okay to write out what you want to say and read it. If you’re better at extemporizing, use bullet points. One person I know always ends her presentations with the story of how in Shakespeare’s time, people believed it was unhealthy to end the night at the theater with a tragedy, so no matter how sad the play was, the theater would always have clowns perform at the end. Then she shows her last slide, a picture of a puppy. You don’t need to end with a puppy, but do end on a high note – and don’t be afraid to be yourself.