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4 Tips for Giving a Successful Presentation

By Katherine Miller posted 01-21-2020 10:22 AM


Presentations are an important aspect of professional life. Whether it’s to win work, share results or train staff, having the confidence and skill to give a successful presentation is something every professional should strive to cultivate.

For some, giving a presentation can be a daunting task. It may be that speaking in front of people makes you nervous, or perhaps you don’t know how to begin your preparation. Regardless of your comfort level, here are a few tips that will help you give a successful presentation.

  1. Focus on Your Personal Presentation

There are, of course, general good public-speaking practices you’ll want to employ. Avoid filler words like “um” and “so.” Take note of your body language and movements and think how to project confidence. Minimize turning your back to your audience to look at your slides, maintain eye contact, and talk to your audience ─ not away from them.

Avoid fidgeting with your hair or hands. If you need to, have something to hold onto such as the slide clicker to occupy your hands and provide purpose.

Further, practice your speech several times so you are familiar with what you want to say and when you want to say it. Ask a coworker if you can briefly present to them and ask for their feedback. At the very least, talk it out to yourself over breakfast or when driving in to work. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will get and the smoother it will go on your presentation date.

You may feel you need notes. Unless there are certain facts and figures you must cover or can’t get wrong that cannot be included on a slide deck, I encourage against notes as it will look like you are reading the notes instead of talking to your audience. In the end, do what is comfortable for you, and it will result in a successful presentation. Talk slowly and clearly; you’ve got this!

  1. Supporting Material Should Support Your Presentation, Not Detract from It

Odds are you will have some sort of slide deck to accompany your presentation. Keep words on the slides to a minimum. Wordy slides will cause the audience to read the slide and stop paying attention to you, or worse, it may tempt you to read the slide aloud and stop paying attention to your audience. Furthermore, avoid including information on the slides that you don’t plan to cover in the presentation.

The slide content should be curated to guide the conversation, but unless it’s intended to be a resource later separate from your speech, it doesn’t need to contain every morsel of information. Graphs and images are helpful. Anticipate spending approximately one minute per slide. You can split information across multiple slides, if needed. When available, utilize company templates to ensure uniformity.

  1. Know Your Audience

Do your research to be familiar with those you are presenting to, as well as what they want to gain or what you want them to gain from this presentation. It may be that the client is more concerned about the public perception of a construction project and wants to know how you will mitigate impacts to public life, not the precise technical nature of the construction. Communicate what’s critical and leave out what’s unnecessary.

  1. Present Often

Get out there and do it. Give presentations as often as you can. Volunteer to take part in the upcoming proposal presentation. Present to your local high school on what it means to be an engineer. Give a presentation to your significant other or travel partner on why Machu Picchu would be the ideal destination for the annual vacation. The more you present, the more comfortable you’ll become, and you’ll ultimately discover what works for you.

For example, you may discover your boss is numbers-oriented and responds well to hard numbers showing hours saved and/or money earned. You could discover that high school students don’t respond well to being droned at for a long period of time and need questions and activities to involve them in the material.

It can also be helpful to sit in on other presentations. Take a moment to observe what’s effective versus not, and what you might like to try to emulate in your next presentation.

With the proper preparation, you’ll find that the key to giving a successful presentation is not daunting or elusive, but wholly within your grasp. Go forth! You will be great!

Katie Miller is a water resources project engineer at Dewberry in its New York City office, largely focusing on the siting and design of green infrastructure within her community. Miller graduated from University of California, Berkeley, with a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering and in political science in 2014, and received her master’s in environmental engineering from Stanford University in 2015.

She leads her office’s emerging professionals group and serves as a key organizer for the office’s participation in the New York City Exploring Program, teaching local high school students about engineering. She is passionate about sustainability and the environment and is an avid runner.

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