8 crucial elements of a world-class presentation


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There will be times in your career when you need to nail a presentation.

These are the moments of truth, the relatively few opportunities that have a disproportionate impact on your career. You may be pitching a major account, trying to win internal approval for a proposal, or interviewing for your dream job.

These presentations matter, and it’s important that you prepare effectively for them. Often, they are winner-take-all situations in which you either achieve your desired outcome or you don’t. There are no prizes for second place.

Here are eight of the most important things to remember when preparing for a big presentation. I share more practical strategies for success and detail how to become a world-class consultant in my book Consulting Essentials: The Art and Science of People, Facts, and Frameworks.

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1. Drill Down Your Goals With Exceptional Clarity

Before you even start to create your presentation, it helps to get really clear about your priorities.

Why are you giving this presentation?

What are you trying to accomplish?

What is it worth to you?

Those questions may sound simple, but they help to provide an extra layer of clarity to make your presentation as successful as possible.

Once you’ve answered those foundational questions, it often helps to imagine and pay attention to specific outcomes:

What would the best-case scenario of this presentation?

What would be the best possible thing an attendee could say after the presentation?

What would the worst-case scenario of this presentation?

What would be the worst possible thing an attendee could say after the presentation?

From there, you can reverse engineer your preparation based on the desired and undesired outcomes, whatever those may be.

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2. Develop your thesis

What’s your presentation’s thesis? What’s the main point you’re trying to get across?

This does not have to be complicated — your thesis should usually be no more than two or three sentences.

By default we sometimes give more importance to physically giving the presentation instead of intentionally crafting a compelling message that will resonate with the audience.

While the delivery of your presentation matters, your message should be your top priority.

Even the most excellent performance of a lacking message is still a lacking presentation.

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3. Focus on the story

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact it’s the other way around.”

— Terry Pratchett

Storytelling is one of the most powerful, persuasive, and effective ways to connect with an audience.

Lectures are boring because they’re purely informational. They’re a top-down approach to presenting anything — one person has the information, and everyone else is receiving it. There’s often no emotional connection or resonance, and the audience often loses interest.

Storytelling, on the other hand, is interactive. The right stories, and the successful delivery of those stories, engage both sides emotionally — even if only one person is doing the talking.

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4. Limit your slides (and words onscreen)

The more you put on your slides, the less your audience will connect with you.

If the audience is looking at the slides, they’re not engaging with you or your message. If they’re reading the text, they’re not listening to you.

There are some instances where many slides and lots of text are necessary, but for as much as possible, you’ll want limit the number of slides, and the amount of content on each one.

The most effective slides are simply backdrops. They’re important and can help set the tone, but they’re not the main feature.

If you do use slides, definitely don’t turn your back to the audience and read off the screen — that’s the kiss of death.

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5. Be intentional with your delivery

Voltaire once said, “The way to become boring is to say everything.”

One of the most common presentation mistakes is talking too quickly and giving too much information. Your message is your presentation’s foundation, but how you deliver that message is also hugely important.

Most people aren’t intentional about the rhythm of their presentation — how fast they plan to talk, how much information they plan to share in each section, where they’ll intentionally pause after a key point to let the audience process their most important points — until they actually give it.

Your delivery will likely vary on your audience and the context of your presentation, but it pays to be intentional about how to deliver your message based on the overlap of your presentation skills and your target outcomes.

One way to determine your target delivery is to watch clips of renowned public speakers and successful experts in your industry.

Pay attention to how they deliver their message: what works, and what doesn’t?

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6. Present a unique viewpoint

Do more than simply lecture to your audience — offer a distinct point of view.

What are you saying that they haven’t heard before?

What’s actually true that they might not expect to hear today?

What have they thought but never spoken?

A conversation is often more engaging than a lecture. If you give the audience an opportunity to interact your ideas, they’ll be more likely to engage with them.

It also helps to carefully write and memorize a handful of high-impact phrases that clearly represent your unique viewpoint.

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7. The presentation is not about you

You might be giving the presentation, but the presentation isn’t about you — it’s about the audience.

It sounds brash, but most people don’t care about you as much as they care about how your presentation can impact their business and their lives.

Therefore, to fully engage your audience, pay close attention to how often you’re self-referential versus how frequently you engage the audience to think about their own lives, needs, and experiences.

It’s okay to talk about yourself, but that shouldn’t be just to talk about yourself — anything self-referential should help provide the audience with relevant context, value, connection, or a lens through which to better understand the core of your message.

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8. What do you want the audience to walk away with?

This might be the most important aspect of your presentation — if each person only remembered one thing from the entire presentation, what would you hope they remembered?

Certain parts will inevitably resonate more deeply with each person, but it helps to be intentional about the main point you want your audience to walk away with.

After you’ve identified that main takeaway, make sure your presentation covers how to practically incorporate that takeaway into their lives moving forward.

You likely don’t just want to entertain, but to profoundly impact or persuade your audience, and accomplish your desired outcomes.

Identifying your presentation’s goals, developing a thesis, presenting a unique perspective, and focusing on the audience’s needs are some of the most valuable ways to connect with your audience and give a world-class presentation.

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