Presentation Skills Secrets – 13 top tips for success

Your average presenter with average presentation skills, when using slides in front of a group, will stand at the front of the room half facing the audience, half looking at the screen, narrating slides as they come up.

They are not quite standing with their back to the room nor are they speaking directly to the audience. And when they speak they will be talking abstractly, talking about the presentation as if it were a separate entity.

“In my presentation today I will show how the business performed last month, how each division has delivered against budget and how targets have been updated for the next quarter.”

This does not work. You look as if you are not taking responsibility for what you are saying.

For example, imagine if you used this approach in real life. Picture yourself walking down the street and you meet a friend. You will certainly stand out (in the wrong way) if you said:

“In my conversation with you today I will ask about your health and your family, then I will catch up on what you have been doing and possibly arrange to meet up for a drink at the weekend.”

Instead let’s explore ways of re-creating a natural connection between you and your audience.

Great presentation skills means speaking directly to them, becoming useful to your audience rather than a narrator, and using language that talks directly to them.

This direct approach to presentations will require a mindset change. This change makes your audience feel more involved in your talk and in that way more receptive to what you say.

For those of you who feel nervous when presenting, it also helps you feel more comfortable, because you are using a more natural way of speaking.

Presentation Skills Secret # 1 – Do you have a powerful title?

Summary – A good title for your presentation is a great way to set expectations.

Typical bad presentation titles

  • “Quarterly update”
  • “Strategy analysis”
  • “Monthly report – June”
  • “Presentation to the SLT”
  • “Project Genesis”

All of these titles tell the audience nothing. They are topic descriptions, not headlines.

Why does this matter?  Many presenters fail to realise the critical important of first impressions and making it easier for their audience.

So, to demonstrate top presentation skills you should create a title that helps your audience get in the right mood, anticipate what’s coming and most importantly, make it easy for them to understand what you are saying. Think of it as a newspaper headline – interesting and informative.

For example, better options for each of the above could be:

  • “Quarterly performance exceeds targets again”
  • “Our strategy needs a review – discussion paper”
  • “June figures are 3% below expectations, but future orders are strong”
  • “Decision required to buy new software to improve security monitoring”
  • “Project Genesis is on track to launch 1st December”

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”

– David Ogilvy, Advertising genius

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. Create an active headline for your talk title
  2. Make sure your title makes it easier for your audience.
  3. Put your audience in the right mood.

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

Presentation Skills Secret # 2 – Are you better than average?

Summary – Too many talks sound like every other presentation. If you want to be above average, you need to do something different.

Typical mistakes that average presenters make include:

  1. Boring start: “Good morning. Thank you for inviting me here today. My name is Ben. I am here today to talk to you about……”
  2. Boring Structure: “First I’ll talk about, then I’ll talk about. , finally I’ll talk about….”
  3. Boring approach: Turning to the second page…. As you can see here….”
  4. Boring end: “That’s all. Any questions?”

Why does this matter?  None of these approaches respects the audience nor do they help the audience feel good about the talk.

Instead, compose your words to involve your audience, make them feel good and keep them interested. A good rule of thumb is to talk about them where possible.

For example:

  1. Start: “For any of us in the room today, we have to admit, we are lucky…”. TED lecture opening words by Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook
  2. Structure: “During the next 15 minutes you will learn why we tried to launch the product, how the launch failed, and why we will never try such a stupid thing again”
  3. Approach: “When we look at our performance across the country, I am sure you will agree, we have been doing better in the west than in the east. This chart here illustrates the huge difference in sales.”
  4. End: “And if you use this advice, you can be sure of creating an effective, memorable and stand out talk”.

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jurist

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. For every element of your talk, find a way to say it that will grab attention
  2. Talking about the audience is a powerful technique
  3. Be brave. Try something different and interesting

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

Presentation Skills Secret # 3 – Do you involve your audience at the start?

Summary – Your audience will be more receptive if you connect with them early. Your one goal in the first thirty second of any talk is to create a connection.

What typically goes wrong?  Too many presentation start like this:

“Today I am presenting the quarterly IT updates. I’ll review the team performance first, then I’ll hand over to Jill for the department report and Jack will finish with the Presentation Skills Secrets review”

While this is logical, it does not involve the audience.

Why does this matter?  For example, if you bumped into a friend at the airport, it would be very strange of your first words were:

“Won’t you and Bill come to dinner on Friday?”

Instead, you need to connect first.

“Hi Jane – how are you – fancy meeting you here – how’s the family? Off to anywhere interesting?”

Without making this connection, any other communication feels unnatural.

What this means is that you should always start your presentation by connecting. E.g.

“As we all know, this has been a tough month. Because of the flu outbreak, the IT department has been understaffed. That means we’ve not been delivering you the quality of service you might expect. For that I am sorry. Nevertheless, we have done our best to maintain levels of service and I am pleased to announce that we are now fully back to strength and have cleared most of the backlog. “

This approach is more human, it understands the audience, their feelings and it gives your audience what they want to hear up front.

The trick is to talk about a common area of interest early on. The phrase ‘As we all know…’ is one simple way of achieving this.

“Leaders lead when they take positions, when they connect with their tribes, and when they help the tribe connect to itself.”

― Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. Dedicate the first 30 seconds of your presentation to connecting with your audience.
  2. Find common ground to speak about, and get them nodding.
  3. Use plenty of personal pronouns, especially ‘we’
  4. Avoid starting with a table of contents

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

Presentation Skills Secret #4 – How do you want your audience to feel?

Summary – When you put your audience in the right mood you help them pay attention.

What typically goes wrong?  Many presenters ignore mood. They present facts, give a logical argument and even challenge their audience without planning how to get their audience receptive.  For example:

“This month profits were up 16% to 32m. Sales increased in the north by 16% and in the south by 14%. Costs were at 97m, which was down by 3% per unit compared to last quarter.”

Why does this matter?  None of us will listen unless we are in the mood for listening.

So, to get your audience listening, plan how to generate the right mood before you say anything substantial. For example, you might try flattery, you might referring to a common goal or you might mention their frustrations.

In this 2010 speech at the Royal Society of Arts, Sam Laidlaw, CEO of Centrica, the energy company used the setting to flatter the society and its members and to make them feel special about being in that room. He also associated his talk about a ‘revolution’ with previous technological revolutions.

“Thank you James and good evening everyone. It is a great privilege to give a speech in such a beautiful and historic room.

“I am told this is where Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone, and Marconi, the radio. I can’t promise such a technological revolution today. But I do want to talk about a revolution in our industry.

“The energy sector has been through some exhilarating – and challenging – times. From the discovery of North Sea Oil and Gas to the liberalisation of our energy markets, we have seen remarkable change in recent decades.“

– Sam Laidlaw, CEO Centrica, Speech, Transforming the Energy Sector, 2010, Royal Society of Arts

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”

Carl Buechner

Effective Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. Plan your opening to control your audience’s feelings
  2. Use the tools above to get them in the right mindset
  3. Establish common ground early

Secret #5 – Do you use logos, pathos & ethos?

Summary – Two thousand years ago, Aristotle outlined three modes of persuasion: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. You should use all three in your presentations.

What typically goes wrong?  This is an example of an average presentation:

“Rating Agencies assess capital based on both quantitative and qualitative factors, including forward-looking capital projections, regulatory requirements, published stress tests, peer analysis and other external considerations. Credit profiles can also be enhanced through the presence of bail-in-able debt and other forms of support.

“Given the key role that capital plays in determining ratings, it is important for us to understand the potential rating implications of capital decisions, and factor these into our thinking.

Dan Hodge, Group Treasurer, Barclays – Barclays European Financials Capital Summit 2017

Why does this matter?  It is easier to prepare an all logical presentation (Logos) than include your authority for being the presenter (Ethos) or to use emotional appeals (Pathos).

To avoid the pure logic trap, Use all three modes of persuasion in your presentations.

  • Ethos means showing why you are the right person to speak on the subject. It also means that you are not doing this for selfish reasons.
  • Logos means you have a clear logical argument (or what looks like a clear logical argument) and
  • Pathos means you are appealing to emotions.

See how this talk uses all three modes of persuasion:

“Well good morning. You know when you listen to that video you see shock, you see stress, you see fear, uncertainty, you hear it in all those calls. You hear people when they’re at their most vulnerable, when the world can get about as bleak as it can be. Now I guess we’ve all had these moments, or at least we know others close to us who have. You know, just times when bad stuff happens, when things outside our control happen, you know floods, or fires, or as Alexa said, maybe an act of god, when people really don’t know where to turn.

And then there it is, there’s that voice on the end of the voice saying, good afternoon you’re speaking to David at Aviva, asking – how can I help? Maybe he’s saying, I’ll stay on the phone with you. Now it’s each and every one of those moments we just heard on that video that is special, it sparks of humanity, it’s connections forged between strangers who probably have never met.

– Mark Wilson, Group CEO, Aviva – AGM 2017

Sam Leith uses the following example to show how they each work:

Ethos: ‘Buy my old car because I’m Tom Magliozzi.’

Logos: ‘Buy my old car because yours is broken and mine is the only one on sale.’

Pathos: ‘Buy my old car or this cute little kitten, afflicted with a rare degenerative disease, will expire in agony, for my car is the last asset I have in the world, and I am selling it to pay for kitty’s medical treatment.’

– Sam Leith – You Talkin’ to Me?, 2017

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. Include equal proportions of the three persuasive appeals in your talks and presentations.

Secret #6 – Have you included some theatre?

Summary – Using something other than slides will grab attention, help your audience and help you stand out.

What typically goes wrong? A typical presentation involves speaking and PowerPoint. It’s one slide after another and someone narrating those slides. It seems low-effort (for the presenter) but is high effort for the audience.

Why does this matter?  Just because other people do this, it is no justification for making this mistake.

So, instead, Bring your story to life. For example: use props, videos, storytelling, white boards, post it notes, use your physical space.

Some examples of good presentation skills training techniques.  (all true stories based on our clients):

  1. A Security scientist advising a major oil company about data security at a Town Hall event. After three minutes, on the words. “And what is the biggest threat we all face?” He took his mobile phone out of his pocket and waved it in the air. “It’s your mobile phone.”
  2. A PR executive speaking at a mining conference about best practice shareholder communications. She started her talk by standing there for 20 seconds saying nothing at all. Then she said: “Silence. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it. Imagine how your shareholders feel when you don’t talk to them.”
  3. A Norwegian food company, meeting investors in London, wanted to show them the new products that were their best seller that year. They flew in chefs and hired ovens to serve freshly cooked frozen pizza for lunch.
  4. A holiday company looking for a buyer for the business. They kitted out a room with pictures of their holiday destinations, happy customers, maps and charts and then walked potential buyers around the room, telling their story as they moved.

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” –

William Shakespeare, As You Like It.

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. For your next talk, go beyond PowerPoint.
  2. For example,use props, videos, stunts, whiteboards or physical movement to add something extra.
  3. The more novel you are, the better.


Secret #7 – Are you talking with your audience, not at them?

Summary – Small changes in the way you speak can transform your presentation

What typically goes wrong?  I am sure you have heard many presentations like this: 

“Hello, thank you for listening to me. My name is Ben, I am here to today to present to you on the subject of computer generated animation. Now computer generated animation started over 50 years ago. The first animators using computers were…..”

In this talk, Ben is speaking at the audience, not with them. Everything he says is about “me” talking to you. The effect is rather alienating.

Why does this matter?  The speaker is thinking more about what he wants to say than how to involve the audience.

Instead, change how you speak so that your audience feels involved from the very start.

Perhaps this version of the same talk might work better:

“In 1960, in Sweden, the Royal Institute of Technology created the first computer animated film. This was a short clip – a wireframe – of a car driving down a road. It was filmed by putting a 35mm film camera in front of an oscilloscope. It was such a major event, they broadcast it on prime time TV. Today, we see computer animation every day – from computer games, to movies to TV shows. And computer animation is so realistic you can’t distinguish reality from fiction. Over the next fifteen minutes let’s explore how computer animation has developed and why it’s important for us all.“

The difference here is that Ben is sharing, he is bringing it to life with vivid examples and he is involving the audience by using inclusive words like ‘share’ and ‘explore’ rather than ‘present’ or ‘talk’. He also uses more ‘we’ rather than ‘I’.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. Involve your audience, make them part of your story
  2. Tell stories, don’t recite facts
  3. Use plenty of personal pronouns.

Secret #8 – Have you made this easy for your audience?

Summary – Your job is to do all the hard work up front so that it’s easy for the audience to listen and understand.

What typically goes wrong?  Often the speaker is tied up in their own problems of planning and ‘presenting’. Not enough time is spent thinking about how to make life easy for the audience.

Why does this matter?  If your presentation is easy to follow it is more likely to hit home.

So, instead, use every available tool to transform your ideas into words that your audience will enjoy and absorb. For example:

  • Are you using simple words?
  • Are you using simple ideas?
  • Are the ideas vivid?
  • Have you avoided abstracts?
  • Have you used active language?
  • Will the audience feel involved?
  • Is it easy to follow?

If you are not ticking all the boxes, then go back and revise your talk until you score nearer 100%

See this example of presentation skills from Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman describing how heat works:

“Nothing is really as it seems.

Hot and cold is just the speed the atoms are jiggling at. If they jiggle more, it corresponds to hotter, and colder is jiggling less. So if you have a bunch of atoms, a cup of coffee, sitting on a table and the atoms are jiggling a great deal in the coffee, they bounce against the cup and the cup then shakes and they bounce again the saucer. The hot thing then spreads its heat into other things by mere contact because the atoms that are jiggling a lot in the hot thing shake the ones that are only jiggling a little bit in the cold thing, so the heat goes into the cold thing – it spreads . But what’s spreading is just jiggling. Which Is easy to understand. “

Richard Feynman, Fun To Imagine, BBC, (

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple — that’s creativity.”

– Charles Mingus, Jazz Musician

Improve Your Presentation Skills

  1. Unless your talk is easy for your audience, it is not ready.
  2. Keep editing your talk and check against the shortcuts
  3. Test if your audience can sit back and enjoy what you say.

Presentation Secret #9 – What stories do you share?

Summary – Strong presentations and good presenters use stories

Weak presentations are lists of facts.  For example:   “Last year sales were up 10%.  And gross margins increased to 35%. We did this by increasing overheads by just 4%. As a result EBIT increased to £12m. “

Why does this matter?  Many weaker presenters feel that stories are not serious enough. Really good presenters know that a good story, told well, can transform an average presentation into a great one. Even a very dry subject can benefit from a story.

Most good business stories have a simple four part structure:

  1. Situation – who, what, when, where
  2. Complication – a challenge that needs fixing
  3. Resolution – how that problem was fixed
  4. So what? – what does this mean?

How to use this business story structure

[situation] When we met last year we told you about our new initiatives and our big expectations.

[complication] And we said that this year was going to be a challenge with increased competition and tougher economic environment.

[resolution] I’m pleased to announce that we’ve had a great year. The new initiatives mean we pushed sales up 10%. They also allowed us to raise margins to 35% while only increasing overheads by 4%.  And as a result EBITDA is up to £12m

[So what?] What this shows is our plans are working and your company is doing well.

“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.”– Jean Luc Godard, film director

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. Use stories where you can
  2. Apply the 4-part structure

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

Presentation Skills Secret #10 – Do you have a golden thread?

 Summary – A great presentation has one big idea running through it: a golden thread. It never loses sight of the big picture.

An average presenter feels they are being more helpful if they deliver more information. They get into the detail too quickly.  For example:

“When you make the cake, you need to start with ingredients, these include flour, sugar, chocolate, eggs, milk and butter. You want to start by measuring out 200g golden caster sugar, 200g unsalted butter, 4 large eggs, 200g self-raising flour, 2 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp vanilla extract, 2 tbsp milk, 300g of self-raising flour and mixing into that 100g of sugar. You should mix the ………”

Why should you do instead?

A great presenter may use more words, but they actually say less, but in a more interesting way. So, keep your eye on the big picture. Identify the one big idea (using AIM) in your talk. Then keep using that big idea to reinforce what you are saying.

“To make Ben’s Best Chocolate Cake, you need a plan. A really delicious chocolate cake needs the right ingredients and the right care to give your friends and family that pile of perfection that they all want. To start with, let’s work on creating the cake mix – to give your cake texture and shape. For this you need a large bowl. In that bowl, beat together sugar, butter, flour, eggs, flour, and other stuff. Don’t worry about remembering this – I’ll give you the recipe later. The important thing here is to beat it all together until pale. By beat, I mean turn it with a fork until smooth and consistent. Keep at it and break up any lumps. This will probably take you 5 minutes or so – it’s a good workout for your arms. You are now well on your way to cake time.”

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.”

—E.F. Schumacher, Economist

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. Say less, but say it better
  2. Keep your eye on the prize – your golden thread.
  3. Don’t drown in detail

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

Presentation Skills Secret #11 – Have you used metaphor, simile and analogy?

Summary Use metaphor to appeal in a fresh and powerful way.

What typically goes wrong?  Ordinary talks are completely literal. They just tell it as it is.

Why does this matter?  The human brain loves connection. It likes to be clever. It enjoys puzzles and making links between ideas. Without these connections it gets bored.

What does this mean for your presentations? Metaphor is the art of connecting your new and abstract idea with something familiar and concrete.

For example, a few years ago I was helping someone give a talk about ‘Corporate Culture in Financial Services Firms’. This was a talk aimed at CEOs and compliance officers of firms in the City of London. It was a dry subject and the first draft of the talk was…..dull.

Taking the word Culture, we began to play with ideas and saw a connection with cultures used in cheese making (yes, that’s right, cheese making).

So we started the talk like this:

“When you make cheese you start with three things: great ingredients – the best milk you can find. You need the right culture. And you need the right environment. When you get those three things right – the ingredients, the culture and the environment, you create the greatest cheeses in the world –Silton, Cheddar, Camembert.

“But, if any of those ingredients is not right – you end up with a vat of rotten milk.

“It’s exactly the same with corporate culture in financial services firms…..”

By using a metaphor you grab the audience’s attention, you give them a new way of thinking and you become memorable.

“The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor”

– Aristotle

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. Practise metaphor.
  2. Start simple, and become bolder and more adventurous. Let your metaphors run.
  3. Study metaphor
  4. Build your confidence and see the positive reaction you get.

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

Presentation Skills Secret #12 – Do you repeat your important messages?

Summary – Keep reinforcing your main messages. Keep restating what you say. Say the same thing in multiple ways.

What typically goes wrong?  A weak speaker will fly though topics and facts, without leaving us time to absorb them.

Why does this matter?  In writing, there is no need to repeat. A reader can glance back and re-read. But spoken language is linear, so you need to work harder to signal what is important and what is not. Repetition helps your audience.

What to do instead

A great example of repetition is:

“Today I am going to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories”.  

– Steve Jobs, Stamford Commencement Speech. Line 3

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.” 

– Winston Churchill

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. Never underestimate the power of reinforcement.
  2. Keep repeating what’s important
  3. Say it again

Presentation Skills Secret #13 – Do you say something interesting at least every 10 words?

Summary – An old speech writing trick is to edit your work so that it is rich with interesting things. Edit, until you have eliminated padding and meandering bits.

What typically goes wrong?  In boring presentations, long passages go past when the speaker is not really saying anything.

Why does this matter?  If you are treading water rather than swimming hard out to the lighthouse, the audience will get bored. And bored audiences do not listen.

What to do instead

Pack your talk with action and excitement. Use every phrase to push your story forward so, stroke by stroke, you are nearing the lighthouse.

For example:

“For project X, we needed expert input. The only way to get expert input was to talk to the experts. Over three weeks we spoke to 26 people in 15 departments. We covered all bases. As a result, you can be confident that these plans are ready to go.”

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Presentation Skills Secrets

  1. Cut anything dull.
  2. Stuff your talk with excitement
  3. Make sure every line pushes your story forward

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

Presentation Skills Secrets – how to create a stand out talk

Build a great talk and it’s easier to make it work for you.

  1. Start with a stand out title.
  2. Connect with your audience in the first few lines.
  3. Use page two to outline your key messages.
  4. Make it easy for your audience throughout.
  5. Make it conversational, even if it’s a speech.
  6. Say something interesting every ten words.
  7. Repeat your main messages, again and again and again.
  8. Use Pathos, Logos and Ethos.
  9. Apply Stories, Metaphor and Analogy.
  10. Plan how you want your audience to feel.

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

About Benjamin Ball Associates

Benjamin Ball Associates  Presentation skills coaching team

At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help our clients to communicate better. You get presentation coaching for executives.

Over 15+ years the award-winning BBA team has coached thousands of senior executives globally to present powerfully. You get access to a transformational toolbox of presentation skills & techniques to help you become a clear, confident communicator.

We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately, and we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.

Speak to Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email to find out more and discuss transforming your speeches, pitches and presentations.

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

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Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

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