Awesome presentation tips to turn you into a better public speaker

Public speaking tips

Whether you're updating colleagues during a team meeting or delivering the keynote address at a national conference, here are some presentation tips to help you become a more effective speaker.

If you've ever endured — or slept through — a long talk while the speaker droned on and showed endless slides filled with 12-point text and undecipherable diagrams, you know how excruciating the experience can be. The goal is to knock 'em dead, not turn listeners into zombies.

Great presentations can open the door to more career opportunities. Whether you're updating colleagues during a team meeting or delivering the keynote address at a national conference, here are some presentation tips to help you become a more effective speaker.

Understand your crowd
Before you can engage listeners, you have to know them. As you prepare your talk, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is my audience — laypeople, insiders or a mixed group?
  • What do they want to know or learn?
  • What are some of their concerns related to my topic?
  • What is my overall objective, and how do I convey that to this particular group?

Keep your audience in mind through every step of your preparation, from the subject and format to the choice of images, audio and videos. Remember, this presentation is for them, not you. Even if you've given a similar talk many times, it doesn't take long to adapt it for a particular group. This could be as simple as customizing the introductory slide and adding humor that's tailored to the crowd or event.

Engage the audience
Poor presentations lecture the listeners and tell them what to think. Better presentations draw in the crowd and ask them to participate.

Say you're giving a talk on workplace ethics. You could start by giving a few scenarios of dubious behavior. Hypotheticals get the audience thinking about what they would do in a given situation. All of a sudden, they're no longer passive recipients of your message, but active participants.

Throughout the presentation, ask questions and perhaps open up the floor for responses. Engaged listeners retain more information and are more likely to act on it.

Study the greats
The Internet is an excellent place to turn not just for presentation tips but also videos of the pros in action. Watch and learn from the likes of Cokie Roberts, Malcolm Gladwell, Donna Brazile, Sheryl Sandberg and, of course, the inimitable Steve Jobs. Another great source is TED Talks, which have so captivated the world that videos have been viewed millions of times and translated into 90 languages. Carmine Gallo, communication coach and author of "Talk Like TED," offers these presentation tips:

  • Tell a story … or three. This will help the audience relate to what you're saying. Stories "reach people's hearts and minds," Gallo writes.
  • Teach them something new. Help them see themselves, their work or their world in a different light. The more unusual or unfamiliar the information, the more they'll remember it.
  • Don't exceed the time limit. No TED Talk is longer than 18 minutes, which is "long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people's attention," says TED curator Chris Anderson. Your own time limit may be longer or shorter. The key is to not give so much information that listeners suffer from cognitive overload.
  • Don't skimp on practicing. Your delivery should be as smooth and natural as possible, which comes from repetition and even memorization. Engaging public speakers don't read straight from their notes.

Don't abuse presentation software
PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi are great tools, but only if you use them properly. Here are some rules to follow:

  • Never read slides word for word.
  • Use words sparingly; images are much better at driving home a point and helping people remember a concept.
  • Keep in mind that it's not mandatory to use presentation software. In fact, if you're trying to motivate a team or forge an emotional connection, it may be best not to use visuals at all.

Being comfortable speaking in public benefits almost every worker in almost any profession. The higher you want to climb on the career ladder, the more important this soft skill becomes. For better presentations, whether you're instructing or inspiring, always keep your audience's wants, needs and limits in mind.

Robert Half is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, read our blog at blog.roberthalf.com or follow us on social media at roberthalf.com/follow-us.