Best presentation tips for different presentations

blank audience Every type of presentation has its own challenges. I’ve put together my best presentation tips for each different type of presentation.

Best presentation tip for a training session

Running long (sometimes all-day) training sessions is probably the worst possible method of learning. So, as trainers we have to compensate for the terrible format. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, delivers 50 minute lectures. His experience, backed up by peer-reviewed studies, was that after about 10 minutes of the lecturer talking, most students had checked out. So he applies the 10 minute rule:

“I decided that every lecture I’d ever give would come in discrete modules. Since the 10 minute rule had been known for many years, I decided the modules would last only 10 minutes.”

And then every 10 minutes – between the modules – he has an “emotionally competent stimuli”, otherwise known as a hook, such as a relevant story or anecdote. It’s like resetting the audience’s attention meter to zero.

For longer training sessions here’s my extended version of the 10 minute rule:

  • 10 minutes trainer talk
  • 10 minutes exercise
  • 10 minutes discussion

How do your training programs measure up to that 10 minute rule?

Best presentation tip for a conference presentation

There’s a shift happening in conference presentations. Nowhere is this shift more eloquently described than in Cliff Atkinson’s The Backchannel Book. It’s a shift from a one-way presentation to a two-way dialog between you and the audience. The catalyst has been the technology that allows a backchannel at mainstream conferences, but the shift is much bigger than the technology. It’s a ‘new’ perspective on conference presenting. I put ‘new’ in quote marks because to a lot of people it’s not new. People have been experimenting with alternatives to conferences for years, for example, the Open Space (PDF download) movement and the Unconference movement. Now the principles of Open Space and unconferences are infiltrating more formal conference situations. Nick Morgan has written about this in his series on the future of conferences. See this post on involving the audience in particular.

If all this is new to you, here’s a small practical  step you can make in your next conference presentation. Build in breaks for questions throughout your presentation. About every 10 minutes. If it’s a small group this can be in the front channel i.e. out loud, but in a large group make use of backchannel technology which makes Q&A almost friction-free. Here are two posts which will help you make this transition:

8 tips for encouraging questions in your presentation

Why most attempts at audience participation fail and what to do about it

Best presentation tip for a sales presentation

Sales trainers all sing from the same song sheet – make your sales pitch about the client, their needs and how you can solve them. Ditch the company background and credentials until the client asks. Joey Asher encapsulates this point in his post In a pitch, nobody cares about your resume (love that title).

This is nothing new. But just about every client we work with needs to be reminded of it.

For more from Joey Asher check out his book How to Win a Pitch (here’s my review of the book where I highlight some of his best pitch presentation tips).

Best presentation tip for internal company presentations

Many years ago, a senior manager commissioned us to run a presentation skills course for his team. His request to us was simple – but tinged with desperation “I just want to know what their message is.” Clarity is the no 1 requirement for internal company presentations. Clarity is achieved by thinking. My favourite line from Scott’s Berkun new book Confessions of a Public Speaker is this “Good public speaking is based on good private thinking”.

The first thinking step is to decide and develop your key message. For more tips on this see my post How to craft a memorable key message in 10 minutes.

Best presentation tip for Toastmasters

I haven’t been a member of Toastmasters for many years, but I can spot a Toastmaster on one of our courses almost instantaneously (people who’ve done debating are even more obvious!) The Toastmaster program and culture tends to encourage people to develop a certain rather “stagey” style. When I made the transition from Toastmasters to real-world presenting I had to make the transition from my Toastmaster style to a more conversational style. If you’re in Toastmasters break out of the Toastmaster mould this year – start talking in a conversational style to individual members of your audience (see this post for more on How to get the most out of Toastmasters.)

What’s your best presentation tip for these presentation types (and any others)?

Note: This post was written as part of a  blog carnival organized by Angela DeFinis, “Public Speaking and the New Year” .

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  1. Hi Olivia
    Great tips, as always, yours is definitely one of the best blogs on presenting. I totally agree with the 10 min rule and always follow it in my training sessions.
    Currently reading Joey Asher’book and would echo the point that so many presentations that I see open with lengthy credentials that do not engage the audience.


    • Thanks Mary :-). Yes, it’s just amazing how many sales presentations open with the company credentials.


  2. Hi Olivia

    Gee! Your blog is so darn useful!

    I give a lot of training workshops that are at least one day long, sometimes two days. I’m always looking to improve my participants’ satisfaction,but I wonder if having a full day (i.e. 6 hours) broken down in 10-minutes blocks is the best approach. I do notice some attention problems between 2 and 4 PM (well, digestion, you know), which always makes a good third of participants “happy this is finally over” (my perception).

    • Hi Jacques
      For a full-day session, don’t think of it so much as 10 minute blocks, but as a “rule of thumb” that each activity doesn’t last more than 10 minutes. And of course, “rule of thumb” means that it’s guidance to get you started – but ditch the rule if it doesn’t work for your particular circumstances.

      Also 10 minutes is about right for a passive, sitting activity such as listening to someone talking. But if it’s a facilitated discussion session, or a group exercise where participants are actively involved, they can be considerably longer.

      The after-lunch period is a challenge. If you have influence over the lunch ensure that it’s light and protein-based rather than lots of heavy carbohydrate. And deliberately plan more activity over that period.


  3. I totally see what you’re saying about Toastmasters. That’s been my biggest frustration since becoming a member. Personally, I’m finding the program overly structured and it boxes you into exactly what you described as “stagey.” My personal style is one that is conversational and where I engage the audience. My word choice is less formal because of that and that’s where I get criticized.

    Never do I hear criticism of someone planting themselves behind the lectern, but I always hear criticism of “aimless movement.”

    • Hi Mike
      Agree with all you say about Toastmasters… and it’s the most wonderful place for beginner speakers to gain confidence, and for more experienced speakers to practice and experiment. Just be judicious about the feedback you take on board. You may be able to identify a person in the club whose speaking judgment you respect. Ask them to be your private evaluator.

  4. Great summary of different presentation styles with practical and simple tips for each.
    I liked the tips you gave for conferences, quoting Cliff Atkinson and also the excellent series on the future of conferences by Nick Morgan.
    My experience in Training sessions is that the more you break up the content in easy to digest chunks, the most effective it is.
    Breaking up the content every 10 minutes is a great idea, as long as it doesn’t become “automatic”.
    Haven’t you ever listened to a longer talk, maybe 20 minutes, with the greatest interest, even in a training course?
    Rules are also there to be broken…

    3 tips I use during my training sessions:
    1) Using a mix of media: visuals, audio, videos
    2) Simply asking open questions and encouraging audience interaction, every 10 minutes (I have an inner alarm which rings when I speak too long, I know I have to stop monologue and switch back to the participants!)
    3) Introduce games, involving all the senses and triggering physical activities.

    Excellent post, Olivia. I agree with Mary and Jacques, one of the best blog on presentings, and “Gee, so darn useful! ”


    • Thanks Marion :-).
      I agree that the 10 minute rule shouldn’t become automatic – it’s just guidance.

      And yes, I have been transfixed by a speaker for several hours. It was a personal development workshop on Life, Death and Purpose that I did about 20 years ago.

      Thank you for your additional tips.


  5. I think your sales presentation tip is excellent and should be pinned to the walls of businesses around the globe. Last week we delivered a two-day workshop in Athens for one of Greece’s leading executive coaching companies. When we started working on an upcoming sales pitch with them we were amazed to discover that they always began with a detailed history of their company. In line with your advice, we suggested they jettison the company bio in favour of concentrating on the needs of the prospective client. It’s simple really: when it comes to sales and marketing, clients main interest is themselves, not you!

    • Hi Martin
      Hope you had time for a few days off in Athens as well!

  6. Great post – It’s nice to see specified advice for different types of presentations. It can often be difficult to know how to adapt certain tips for certain situations!

    I like the idea of splitting a presentation or speech up into different ‘modules’ – it gives a whole new meaning to structure. Marion’s advice to alternate between talking and interacting with the audience would work well here. At our training courses, we include a few ‘audience challenges’, which work well at getting everyone involved and interested.

    I think Martin’s parting words sum up the general idea – presentations should be about the audience, and there are no hard and fast rules. What will work for one audience will not necessarily work for another, and this should always be taken into consideration!

    • Thanks Jessica, great points, Olivia

    • Hi Doug

      Thanks for posting those links. Alexei Kapterev’s slideshare presentation (second link) is a great resource.

      Guy Kawasaki developed his 10-20-30 rule (10 slides, 20 minutes, no font smaller than 30 pt)specifically for presentations to venture capitalists. It may make sense within that niche, but is less helpful outside of it. In particular, his “10 slides” guideline is based on 10 issues relevant to a pitch to venture capitalists. This is based on the assumption that “One issue=One slide”, in turn based on the assumption that you need a slide for every issue. I don’t agree with these assumptions, and so I find the rule unnecessarily restrictive.


  7. Hi Olivia,

    I’m the guy who Nick Morgan interviewed in the involving the audience article you mention above. I just discovered your blog, and am really enjoying finding great nuggets in your clear and comprehensive posts. I’m being asked to speak more and more about Conferences That Work my approach to participant-driven conferences, and your articles are going into my Evernote for frequent review.

    I want to let you and your readers know that it’s quite possible to create a conference environment where attendees (who have expertise or experience that others want to hear about) are comfortable giving a small informal presentation/panel contribution/facilitated discussion/tour/short workshop etc. Obviously these impromptu sessions won’t be as polished as a prepared presentation, but it turns out that attendees don’t mind when these sessions are the rule rather than the exception.

    The great thing about participant-driven conferences, particularly the more structured formats like Conferences That Work, is that they emphasize and support meaningful connection and engagement around relevant content. Attendees love this, and rarely view traditional pre-programmed events in the same light afterwards.

    There will always be an important place for presenters who can illuminate and educate well about important matters. My experience is that many attendees a) don’t realize that they have valuable ideas and experience to contribute, and b) don’t have an opportunity to contribute at an event even if they do. The good news is that if participant-driven formats become more common, more people are going to be able to benefit from the wisdom you offer at your site. Thanks!

    • Hi Adrian, Thanks for letting us know about Conferences that Work. Olivia

  8. Catering your presentation to time is crucial. Especially for the all day seminars. You’ve given some excellent advice. Thanks!

  9. Hi Olivia !
    i’m due for an online video presentation on fFriday, when parcticing i get really nervous as i have never done a presentation i thought it was going to be easier since it’s not in front of an audience.

    pls gve me some tips on how to handle this !!1

  10. BORING change the topic please because it is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo BORINIG like all of u stupids adluts

  11. Wow, superb blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

    you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is great, as well as the content!


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