Ten Rules for Effective Presentations

Ten Rules

I recently ran a series on Instagram around the rules of effective Presentations (www.instagram.com/fundamentaltraining/), which I intend to develop into an e-book. In the meantime here is a summary.

Of course, for presentations to be effective you need to have the right content and you need to know it well, but there is more to it than that and this article attempts to fill some of those gaps. After all:

“How you present is as important (if not more) than what you present”

Here are ten rules to lift any content and keep your audience paying attention till the very end of your presentation.


Rule one: Build rapport with your audience

Of course every presentation is different, but if you can greet each participant as they enter the room, find out a little about them and chat to them until they have someone else to talk to.

Focus on them as individuals, use their name and find a connection between you both. It’s easy if you try. Obviously you can’t do this if you have 300 attendees, but you can acknowledge their arrival by making eye contact and perhaps a nod.

As a participant, I arrived fifteen minutes early for a two day presentation and the facilitator was at the front of the room on his phone. He continued the call until 9:00 AM when all the participants had arrived and then started the program. It took until lunch time for the group to connect with him. He did the same on day two as well. Needless to say, we wont be hiring him!

Throughout your presentation continue to make eye contact and wherever possible use their names – with practice you can even do this without looking at their name tags!


Rule two: Build the energy in the room

The easiest way to do this is with your enthusiasm for the group and passion for the topic. For some, this means channelling their nerves into a positive energy to engage with the group.

Nothing kills the energy of the room like a monotone voice, so you’ll need to make sure you ‘sound’ as interested in the topic as you are. I get my energy from the group, so the dryness of the topic is irrelevant.

Another energy drainer is standing behind a lectern and peering over the top. You need movement, using the space in front of you (look out for a future article on Stage Presence for Presenters). A caution here though, your movement should be gentle … pacing rather than galloping about the stage. The movement gives your audience a change of scenery which in turn helps them focus and remain attentive.

This is problematic for ‘virtual’ presentations as they generally involve the facilitator sitting in front of their webcam and not quite making eye contact with the audience (we tend to make eye contact with the pictures on the screen rather than look into the camera – which equates to eye contact for the attendees). So, your animation and passion for the topic have to make up for this. It’s also one of the reasons your on-line audience has such a short attention span, it’s so easy for them to become distracted.


Rule three: Establish a reason or purpose

Most of your  attendees know why they are there, but some will have been told to attend, or may be wondering why they need to spend time learning this skill or process. Stop them from wondering and spell out the benefits to them of developing this skill or learning this process. It’s an old saying, but still relevant – everyone needs a WIIFM (What’s in it for me?), as humans, we are a bit self-centred and we need a self-centred reason to attend and to continue to listen. So, give them one. Alternatively, ask them how they believe your topic benefits their world.


Rule four: Don’t neglect the gestures

There are some that say presenters should not use their hands as they speak. Apart from being very unnatural, it’s also rubbish! Our non-verbal communication is so important as presenters, and what our hands are doing helps tell the story. We invite people into our presentation, underline important points and give weight and emphasis to our words with our gestures. Having said that, keep them natural.

There was a recent world leader who had been told to use a certain gesture every time she used her catch phrase … how do I know this? I wasn’t her advisor, but I could tell by looking. It was rehearsed and artificial and rather than underlining her point, the gesture became the focus. Channelling the age old advice … just be yourself.


Rule five: Put the learning into their context

You need to do your homework. Whatever your topic, you need to make it relevant to the world of those who are listening. I once attended a project management workshop where all the examples where engineering and construction. This seems fair, after all it’s Project Management. But the audience was made up of social workers and public sector admin staff, working on a different type of project. You could feel their eyes glazing over. Rather than embracing the skills of Project Management, they felt more and more alienated from the topic. When Fundamental Training and Development run Project Management training, we use the examples from the participants to make it relevant for them and as a side benefit, we learn so much about their world and their amazing projects.

If you are presenting to people from a particular profession, find out what it is they do before hand and try to integrate it into your presentation, never pretend to be an expert in their field, but show a genuine interest in it.


Rule six: Encourage participation

No one wants to sit through a one way ‘lecture’ for more than about 20 minutes, so we need to make sure we get interaction and participation from the group. Regardless of whether it is face to face or a virtual presentation. So how to you ensure participation? You’ve done some of the work by building rapport with your audience, but you have also got to make it safe to participate and this can be achieved by acknowledging and accepting all question and ALL answers. NEVER humiliate an audience member, no matter how strange their question or answer may be. Humiliate one and you’ve humiliated them all. Make it safe.

For quieter, more introverted individuals, using small groups is a great way to build participation as it can be intimidating speaking out in the large group.

Most importantly, “Get out of the gate quickly!” In other words, get them interacting and participating as quickly as possible. If you talk AT them for an hour and then ask, “Are there any questions?” I’m reasonably confident they will have mentally frozen up, having become “Passive Information Receivers” and will have lost the capacity and will to interact.


Rule seven: Know your content

I know I said Effective Presentation is about more than just the content, but without solid content your presentation is just hollow entertainment. Back in the 80’s they told presenters they didn’t really need to know the subject matter as long as you were “five pages ahead of the group” and I’m sure plenty of people came undone with this philosophy. It’s okay to not know everything about a subject, nobody does, but you do need to establish your credibility and your legitimate right to be leading the group.

Let me go one step further, you need to demonstrate to the group that you know your content, build your credibility and build the confidence of the group.


Rule eight: Start strong

Have an effective introduction. Don’t just introduce yourself and go through the housekeeping rules. That’s pretty boring and points to a boring presentation. Create interest. Instead you could ask a question. Questions have a way of grabbing an individual’s attention and it establishes the interactive nature of your session – even if the question is rhetorical.

Alternatively, you could start with an activity. Make it relevant to the topic to ensure you are focusing the group on the topic at hand.

Another way of grabbing their attention is to start with a story. Stories engage our imagination and keep our attention. We are also more likely to remember a story than a set of PowerPoints – no matter how well crafted they are. The story may also help establish the purpose of the session or help to build your credibility.


Rule nine: Finish stronger

The principle of Primacy and Recency suggests that we are more likely to remember the first and last things we hear, so as well as a strong introduction it is important to have a great conclusion to your session. While it is important to summarise the content you have just covered, you may like to add a call-to-action or even a challenge for the participants to use what they have learned back in the workplace.

Any good conclusion also contains an appreciation for the group’s interaction and a sincere ‘thank you’ to acknowledge the important role of the group.


Rule ten: Check your ego

Most importantly, don’t focus on yourself. This should be fundamental to any presentation you make, regardless of your status, reputation or expertise. Remember the audience honours you by their presence – not the other way around. Some speakers forget that the audience doesn’t have to be there – they’ve got other stuff to do! And so the presentation becomes focussed on them and their own sense of self importance, when it should be focussed on the needs of the attendees.

I just read a quote by Management Author Dr John C Maxwell:

“It’s one thing to communicate to people because you believe you have something of value to say, it’s another to communicate with people because you believe they have value”

If you have any other presentation rules, feel free to let me know adam@ftd.com.au.


Article by Adam Le Good, Director of Fundamental Training and Development

For training in Presentation, Training and Facilitation Skills, contact Fundamental Training and Development: adam@ftd.com.au.


© 2021 Fundamental Training and Development

Fundamental Training and Development offers a range training on this topic. All our programs can be tailored to your specific needs. If you have any questions, or comments, or if you would like discuss your learning and development needs, please contact Adam Le Good at Fundamental Training and Development on 0412 101 115 or adam@ftd.com.au.