Category Archives: 5 Things: Presentation Tips from a Pro

5 Things is a monthly post by our CEO, Tim Ferguson. Posts will feature topics around meeting and event communication strategies. It is our hope that those who are involved in planning or presenting at meetings and events will find Tim’s tips helpful.

5 Helpful Analogies

5 Helpful Analogies for Presenters

Presenting is a skill like any other: to be good takes practice. The notion of the “natural presenter” is almost 100% false (there are those naturally gifted, but this is extremely rare). Here are five ways to think about improving your presentation skills:

1. Cooking
Those who love to cook understand the importance of preparation. The right recipe, best ingredients, and proper equipment are all essential. And after all that careful preparation, the moment of truth comes once the heat is on and it all goes into the pan.

2. Golf
What worked beautifully on the last hole won’t necessarily work on the next. Club selection is important, but nothing is as important as technique. Controlling stress is crucial. Every hour on the driving range is a small step to mastery. Lose your focus, lose the game.

3. Travel
Preparation is, on the one hand, the secret to success, and on the other hand, going with the flow is where the magic happens. When travelling, keeping your eyes and ears open will allow you to adjust to the surroundings and demonstrate you are more than just another tourist. Every journey is a lesson if you are open to learning new things. Local customs must be honoured and respected. Show your gratitude, and you will be a welcomed guest.

4. Running
To prepare for a 10K race, you don’t run 10k over and over as fast as you can. You build up over time, doing drills, short runs, long runs, and rest days. Conditioning is everything. A week before the race your physical training is done. The mental and emotional game of preparing to be in the zone on race day is a science and an art. Adjusting your mood before the gun goes off is essential.

5. Entertaining
The house is clean. The food is ready, and so are the drinks. You’ve showered and changed, taking the time to look your best. You’ve kissed your spouse; the children are in bed. A final look in the mirror. The doorbell rings – you are ready to embrace and enjoy your guests thoroughly.

Happy presenting!

5 PowerPoint Goals

5 PowerPoint Goals for Presenters

My friend Simon Morton, the author of The Presentation Lab, puts it beautifully: “no other software has become synonymous with an activity like PowerPoint has become with presenting.”  Presenting is, of course, an ancient form of communication that was around long before Bill Gates started Microsoft (can you imagine Gandhi, King, or Churchill presenting with slides?). To break the mold, here are five goals for your next presentation:

  1. No Slides

A sure-fire way to stand out from the crowd. If you are well prepared, the feeling is liberating and energizing. Tell your story, engage your audience, create an experience—they won’t ask for their money back because you didn’t bring slides.

  1. Few Slides

Corporate presentations average one slide per minute. Two slides per minute are considered a minimum. This is crazy. Try one slide per five minutes, because each one is so important—experience the difference.

  1. No Template

Edward Tufte, the author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, says of templates: “At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus, PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play—very loud, very slow, and very simple.”* So, drop the meeting logo and banner to give yourself a blank page, and fill it with something content rich.  *Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, p. 22.

  1. No Bullets

Slides don’t kill audiences, the bullets do! Bullets are almost always speaker notes for the presenter, not helpful information for the audience. Other forms of visual information do a much better job and should be used as inspiration: movie posters, print ads, billboards, album covers, and book covers. Create bullet-free slides, and spare your audience death by PPT!

  1. No Looking

Even a slide-heavy presentation can be saved by knowing it so well you don’t need to look back at the screen to know which slide you are on. Set up your laptop so that it is in FRONT of you, and use it as a comfort monitor. The best software lets you see the current and next slides, to make transitions seamless. If you turn your back to the audience to read your slides, game over!

Happy presenting!

5 Simple Enhancements

5 Simple Enhancements for Presenters


Assuming you have done your audience needs assessment, tailored your content and rehearsed your presentation, you can now spice it up. Sprinkle these 5 enhancements into your next presentation and make it an experience:

1. Walk-in / Walk-out Music
Pick songs that give you and your audience energy. Last year’s Top 40 is usually a safe bet, or, calculate the average age of your audience and select the top hit from the summer they were 18 years old. Or ask the sound tech to choose a playlist. Start the music before the doors open, right up until you take the stage, and have them play the walk out music as soon as your presentation is done.

2. Treats
Chocolate. Candies. Healthy snacks. Fancy sparkling water. It is amazing how far the small things go.

3. Icebreaker
You want to know your audience, and your audience wants to know each other. Take 5 to 10 minutes from your presentation time for interactivity by simply having everyone introduce themselves to the people beside them, or by asking them to work in pairs to create questions for you. A favourite at Audience is a two-minute interview on a question relevant to your topic, such as “who was the best presenter you have seen in the past year and what made them so good?”

4. Handouts
Something to write on, something to read. Gadgets, mind teasers, arts and crafts materials, or even just coloured markers and sticky notes. Link them to your message, create engagement, and give the audience something they can carry home.

5. Gratitude
For investing their time in you, listening with an open mind, and asking you pertinent questions, don’t forget to show your audience your appreciation. Take time for a thoughtful, sincere thank you.

Happy presenting!

5 Ways to Bomb for Presenters

5 Ways to Bomb for Presenters

Anyone who has given enough talks (and is honest) will tell you: they’ve bombed. It is the worst feeling in the world. But even worse are those who have bombed but don’t realize it. If you want to bomb, here are 5 Things that are sure-fire ways to do it:

1.       Talk Down

Just because you are the expert on one thing doesn’t make you the expert on all things. And even in your area of expertise, it is likely that your audience is more of a peer group than freshmen students. Speak like you are speaking to your inner circle.

2.       Don’t Listen

Nothing is quite so irritating as a speaker who takes questions from the floor but treats them as objections to handle rather than information to absorb. If you aren’t ready to learn from your audience, you are ready to bomb.

3.       Depend on Technology

All technology at some point fails. This includes LCD projectors, laptops, laser pointers, and clickers. If you can’t deliver your presentation without slides, videos or other enhancements, you are ready to bomb.

4.       Don’t Rehearse

Maybe a better way to say it is, “rehearse in front of your audience.” Learn from the pros, and rehearse like hell.

5.       Ignore Advice to Cut Some Slides

If you are like 95% of the non-professional speakers out there, you have too many slides. And people around you are politely imploring you to use the delete button. But you say, “this slide is important” or “this slide will only take 15 seconds” or “this slide will only take a minute.” Sorry, but you have all but chosen to bomb.

Happy Presenting!

If you need help to avoid bombing your next presentation, contact us.  Our experts are here to help you.

5 Healthy Habits

5 Healthy Habits for Presenters

Ah, January, the month for making new resolutions. Maybe you’ve decided to eat more healthily, get more sleep, or start an exercise routine?  When you made your resolutions, you probably weren’t thinking about how developing healthy habits would also affect your presentation skills.  Here’s how.

A presentation is a performance, and a performance requires energy. Particularly if you are running a workshop, you will need BUCKETS of energy. Learn your own unique performance needs, but until then, here are 5 Things you can do to be ready on game day:

1. Sleep

If you are speaking at a conference, the night before your talk, pass on invitations to see the city or meet at the bar. And don’t stay up all night finishing your slides. Get to bed at your usual time or earlier. Your audience will thank you for it.

2. Exercise

Whatever your routine is, keep it. Arriving on stage feeling pumped up and good about yourself will bring that extra level of energy and confidence needed to make an impression. If you exercise just before your presentation, ensure you have enough time to cool down!

3. Eat

Again, keeping your routine is key. If you are speaking at a hotel and they offer a huge buffet breakfast, better to go for what you would normally have at home. Even better, bring your usual breakfast along and eat in your room, reducing distractions or wasted time hoping the waiter will bring the bill. If you are giving a longer presentation, you will need extra energy, so consider some extra protein.

4. Drink

One routine to reconsider is caffeine. Caffeine plus the adrenaline and cortisol that comes with nervousness can be a deadly combination. Cut your regular coffee intake by half and replace with water or herbal tea.

5. Breathe

Before you go on, find a quiet corner, close your eyes, and take few good deep slow breathes. Focus your mind, lower your heart rate, bring a smile to your face: you are in a fantastic mood and ready to go.

Happy presenting!


5 Gift Ideas for the Presenter in Your Life

The King's Speech

1 – Movie: The King’s Speech

Not only is this a thoroughly enjoyable film with terrific acting, but it also does an uncanny job of capturing the essence of presenter coaching, the rehearsal process, and the coach-presenter relationship. It is a lovely reminder, as well, that there was a time before PowerPoint! (Find out more on IMDb or rent/buy on Amazon)

Talk Like TED

2 – Book: Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo

A bestseller and an instant classic for good reason: fact-based, practical and inspirational. It outlines a clear path for presenting the best of the TED talkers but doesn’t pretend that achieving such outcomes is easy. Rooted in the reality that rehearsal is essential to success, it is the Joy of Cooking of presentation skills books. Worth repeat reading. (Get it on Amazon)

It Worked For Me

3 – Book: It Worked for Me, by Colin Powell

Whatever your politics or views on his use of a private email account, one cannot deny the accomplished career or depth of character of General Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State. Primarily a book on leadership, it has, at the end, a splendid chapter on his third career as a highly sought guest speaker. He approached this task as a soldier might, and his insights, tips, and tricks are refreshingly clear and compelling. (Get it on Amazon)


4 – Book: Confessions of a Public Speaker, by Scott Berkun

Part comedy, part manual, this is a hilarious and practical guide for ordinary people, like you and me. Scott’s trials and tribulations as a professional presenter reveal the various routines, disciplines, and hacks required for consistent success in a wide range of circumstances. He does a fantastic job of showing the gravity of “obvious” advice, such as be early. (Get it on Amazon)


Sleep to Go

5 – Sleep to Go, by thisworks

I often recommend to clients that if they have a choice between polishing their slides or even rehearsing the night before and getting a good night’s sleep, they should go for the sleep every time. Your mood when you are presenting is more important than your content. As the great Maya Angelou said, “people won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.” (Get it at


5 Things to Bring for Presenters

Hardcore presenters always arrive with their bag of tricks, and you should do the same. Like the Scouts, your motto should be “always come prepared.” Here are 5 Things to keep in your kit:

1. Countdown Clock

Going overtime is a sin, full stop. Ending just before your allotted time is over leaves them wanting more. Because you have rehearsed, you know how long each slide takes, but onstage it is easy to lose track. Bring a device with a countdown clock and set it for the REAL time left for your presentation (reducing time if the previous speaker went long). Set it up where you can see it (floor, front row table or podium all work well) and keep yourself on track.

2. Wireless slide advancer

Don’t count on them providing a clicker. Bring your own and arrive in time to make sure it works with their laptop if you are not using your own. If you have no slides and therefore don’t need a clicker, top prize goes to you!!!

3. Black Magic Marker

The extra thick kind. Combine with a flipchart, and you have the most versatile form of “speaker support” known to humankind. Try this great opening: ask your audience, “what are your key questions or concerns about my topic?” and make a list as they call them out. You now have an audience needs assessment and content checklist to connect with their interests.

4. Index cards

For last minute notes, like the names of the people you wish to thank or the audience’s products or services; for distributing as question cards to your audience; for listing the start and stop times you need to manage (agenda at a glance); for capturing quotes from the previous speakers; for folding into squares to raise the broken leg on the projector. The possibilities are endless.

5. Toothbrush

Most of us get nervous before we present, which can cause dry mouth and bad breath. Just before you go on stage, sneak away to wash your hands and face and brush your teeth. You will feel like a million bucks.

5 Wardrobe Tips

5 Wardrobe Tips

Like a job interview, what you wear when you present says a lot about you. It’s about more than dressing up, however; it’s about wearing clothing suitable to the presentation environment, your personal comfort, and the message you wish to send. Here are 5 Things that will help you dress for presentation success: 

1. No Small Stripes or Checks

If the session is being videotaped or has live video projection (IMAG), you will look like you are vibrating.

2. Know Where the Mic Goes

For lapel mics, a firm anchor point in the centre of your chest about 12 inches from your mouth is ideal (a man’s necktie is the single greatest device for mounting a clip mic). The battery pack also needs something to attach to, even if it is a headset mic. Dresses without belt or pocket usually mean one thing: attaching to your bra strap!

3. It’s Hot Up There

Between the lights and adrenaline, the stage area is often considerably hotter than the seating area. Wear something that breathes, and is forgiving of sweat stains. If wearing a suit jacket, the fateful choice is to remove it before starting to sweat, or leaving it on after reaching the point of no return!

4. Know the Code

In addition to knowing the overall dress code (is the event business, business casual, or casual?), you want to know what the other speakers will be wearing, which is often a very different question. As a general rule, you should dress one level more formal than the audience.

5. Shoeshine Time

You are exposed up there, so you want to look good. Particularly in a workshop setting, people are going to spend a lot of time looking you over. A little polish goes a long way in the self-confidence direction.

Happy presenting!


5 Tech Tips for Presenters

5 Tech Tips

You know your content cold, your slides are beautiful. You even did a rehearsal in your hotel room. But the environment you will present in is unfamiliar, even if it is a “typical” setup (every stage and AV package is different). You want to get to know it. Request a technical rehearsal, and do these 5 Things:

1. Meet the Crew
The people dressed in black at the back of the room are there to make you look and sound good. Of particular importance is the “show caller” or “stage manager” who controls the cues that determine if your video will play or your microphone is turned on at the right time. Be polite, respectful and engaging, and you will benefit from their untold experience and expertise.

2. Get a Sound Check
On a bigger show, you have two audio engineers: the “A1” who controls the audio board and the “A2” who puts your microphone on. If you let them do their jobs, they will ensure your mic is placed in the right place, match the sound levels based on your voice, and ensure you are speaking loudly enough for the mic to work. Note: dangly earrings are a nightmare for headset mics, and scarves are brutal for lapel mics. Handhelds must stay near your mouth, and podium mics are “directional” so you need to point your mouth toward them as you speak. If you get a proper sound check, all of this will be sorted out.

3. Find the Light
Are you finding the light a little blinding? That’s good – it means your audience can see you. Do you prefer to step out of the light, so it isn’t so uncomfortable on your retinas? That’s bad – it means you have moved to the unlit part of the stage and look rather grey. Ask the stage manager to mark the “sweet spot” with a piece of tape, and whatever you do, don’t stand in the way of the projector!

4. Try the Clicker
Each one is slightly different. What is the response time? How firmly do you need to press? Does the backward button actually work? Does it have seven other buttons that can cause confusion? Are you plugged directly into the laptop, or is a technician advancing the slides? Don’t figure it out in front of your audience!

5. Ask for Water
And, drink it! A great technique is to take a sip before saying anything when you arrive on stage. If you play a video, it is another opportune time to have a drink (in fact, if you are prone to a dry mouth, it is a great reason to have a video in the first place!). Another natural moment is when you ask for questions: cover the awkward silence of waiting for the first question by strolling over to the podium and taking your glass in hand.

If you take the extra time to do these five things, I guarantee you will feel even more prepared and confident when it comes time to present! And remember: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin


5 Tips for Great Visuals

Recently at The Meeting Show in London, we shared some useful tips on how to create better slides.  Want to to be a rock star at your next presentation? Follow these 5 tips for making great visuals:

1. See the Specs

Ask the meeting organizer for any all information they can provide about the room in which you will present, including room layout, stage drawings, and technical set up, particularly the size and quality of the screens or monitors. Will your slides be projected in 16:9 or 4:3? Will the screen be as big as a movie theatre or as small as a TV? Create your slides accordingly.

2. Learn about the Audience

How do they like to see visual information? Are they super detailed types who love a lot of data or people so sick of PowerPoint they would love for you to just tell a story? Ask for examples of the types of slides this particular audience prefers to see.

3. Make each Slide Matter

The vast majority of presentations have too many slides, and the slides are really for the presenter, not the audience. Every single slide in your deck should be well worth the brainpower required to decode them. For each slide ask, “What is this slide saying?” “What value is it adding?” “Is it essential to my story?” Be ruthless.

4. Share and Compare

If you are presenting in a larger program, ask to see everyone else’s slides, and make sure they see yours. In corporate events, repetition can be a problem with all presenters sharing the same information. Encourage everyone to follow your lead in being creative about the slides; you will collectively benefit from the added effort.

5. Get a Rehearsal

Great slides do not equal a great presentation. Know your story cold, especially the transitions from one slide to the next, your open and your close. Each “clicker” has its quirks, and using the comfort monitor instead of looking back at the screen takes practice.

Happy presenting!

Still need help with your presentation?  Contact us!