Every now and then I see a presentation or a presenter that makes me cringe. I don't fault people for making baby steps towards refinement, but it does hurt when I see someone keynote a presentation while still making rookie mistakes.

Whether you're just getting started or are a seasoned veteran presenter, here's some advice to help you continue to improve your craft:[ref]Keep in mind, this advice is intended for both rookie presenters and experienced speakers. It's also a set of tips that I try to keep in mind every time I prepare and deliver a presentation.[/ref]


The surest sign of a weak presentation is not being familiar enough with your own content to deliver it quickly. I've seen quite a few presenters apparently surprised by the content of the next slide merely because they never ran through their slides before the big day.

I've also seen presenters talk at length on one slide, only to advance and realize they'd already covered subsequent material. If you find yourself saying "oh, I already covered that," then you probably haven't practiced enough.

Practice with People

Running through your slides a few times before giving the presentation is usually enough to polish most of the rough edges. Sometimes, though, the experience of just reciting content verses doing so with an audience is so different that a smooth in-front-of-the-mirror presentation can go horribly wrong once you're at the podium.

Practicing in front of an audience will help you keep a tighter reign on your pace, understand timing, identify content that might move too quickly for others to understand, and most importantly get rid of "ums" in your content. When you're speaking in private, you don't pause too much with filler words.

When you're demanding someone else's attention, the number of times you say "um" or "uh" or "and" to fill the void between one thought and the next skyrockets. Have someone throw a penny at you every time you slip up during practice and you'll be keenly aware of how often you fill the silence with distracting noises that detract from your material.

Don't Read your Slides

I'm often criticized for having too-spartan of slides when I get up to speak. I might have a graphic, a quick animation, or a few bullet points. I also usually try to talk for at least a minute or two at each slide, even if there's only a few seconds of material on the slide.

This is a downside for anyone trying to grok material from my presentation through just reading my slides after the fact, but it's far more respectful of anyone in attendance on the day of. If your presentation consists of you merely turning around to read your slides, what value is there having you present at all?

Your audience can read your slides. Often, they'll read your slide once you put it up and have moved on before you've finished reading it out loud. Your slides should accent your presentation, not be the sole content of it.