Presentation Skills

Essential Life Skills

Presenting information clearly and effectively is a key skill to get your message or opinion across and, today, presentation skills are required in almost every field.

Whether you are a student, administrator or executive, if you wish to start up your own business, apply for a grant or stand for an elected position, you may very well be asked to make a presentation. This can be a very daunting prospect. Our guide is designed to help.

If, in this position, the first thing you do is open up PowerPoint, then you should probably first spend some time developing your presentation skills.  Delivering an inspirational or captivating presentation requires a lot of preparation and work, and you may not even need PowerPoint at all!

Many people feel terrified when asked to make their first public talk, but these initial fears can be reduced by good preparation which will also lay the groundwork for making an effective presentation.

Quick Guide to Effective Presentations

If you really need to learn quickly, then a really good place to start is with our Top Tips for Effective Presentations.

This will give you some ‘quick wins’ that will help you improve your presentations, and if you’re already an experienced presenter, hopefully take them from good to great.

Our tips include general ideas about connecting with your audience, through information about the importance of voice and body language, to detailed tips about preparing slide-shows.

But the most important tip of all?

It's all about your audience.

Keep that in mind, and your presentation skills will almost instantly improve.

If you have more time to develop your presentation skills…

…then the Presentation Skills section of SkillsYouNeed is designed to help.

Our Presentation Skills section is split into two parts.

The first gives you a step-by-step guide to making a professional and effective presentation.

The second provides more detailed information about presenting and communicating in particular circumstances.

Our step-by-step guide includes the following areas:

What is a Presentation?

A presentation is a means of communication which can be adapted to various speaking situations, such as talking to a group, addressing a meeting or briefing a team. To be effective, step-by-step preparation and the method and means of presenting the information should be carefully considered.

See What is a Presentation?

Preparing a Presentation

Preparation is the most important part of making a successful presentation.  This is the crucial foundation and there should be no short-cuts.

See Preparing A Presentation.

Organising the Presentation Material

Irrespective of whether the occasion is formal or informal, you should always aim to give a clear, well-structured delivery. 

You should know exactly what you want to say and the order in which you want to say it.  Clarity of ideas and good organisation should result in a lively, logical and compelling message.

See Organising the Material.

Writing Your Presentation

This page offers advice on how to write an effective presentation. Before you write your presentation, you should already have started to prepare by developing your ideas and selecting the main points to include.

See Writing your Presentation.

Deciding the Presentation Method

Once you have decided on your key messages, and thought about organising your material, you next need to think about how you will present. Presentations range from the formal to the informal, and your choice of presentation method will depend on many factors, including the audience, the venue, the facilities, and your own preferences.

For more to help you decide, see our page on Deciding the Presentation Method.

Managing your Presentation Notes

Few people are able to give a presentation without notes. You will need to know your own abilities and decide how best to make the presentation. You might manage your talk by using full text, notes on cue cards, keywords on cue cards, or mind maps.

See Managing your Presentation Notes.

Working with Visual Aids

Most visual aids will need advance preparation and should be operated with efficiency. 

Only use visual aids if they are necessary to maintain interest and assist comprehension: do not use them just to demonstrate your technological prowess. If visual aids are used well, they will enhance a presentation by adding impact and strengthening audience involvement, but if not, they can ruin a presentation.

See Working with Visual Aids to avoid falling into the trap of the dreaded ‘Death by Powerpoint’.

Presenting Data

There are times when using data in a presentation can really help you to tell the story better. But it’s important not to blind your audience with statistics, and also to remember that many people find numbers difficult to understand.

Our page on Presenting Data gives some hints and tips about using data effectively in a presentation situation.

Managing the Event

The practicalities of how you manage your presentation can make a significant difference to its success, and to your nerves! Learn how to cope, and also about managing sound systems, audio-visual equipment and lecterns.

See Managing the Presentation Event.

Coping with Presentation Nerves

It is entirely natural to feel nervous before making a presentation.

Fortunately, there are some tried and tested strategies and techniques to manage your nerves so that you can concentrate on delivering an effective and engaging presentation.

See Coping with Presentation Nerves for some ideas that will help.

Dealing with Questions

Decide in advance how and when you wish to handle questions. Some speakers prefer questions to be raised as they arise during the presentation whilst others prefer to deal with questions at the end. At the start of your presentation, you should make clear your preferences to the audience.

See Dealing with Questions for more ideas.

Self-Presentation in Presentations

Finally, how you present yourself can affect how your audience responds to your presentation.

You need to fit with your audience's expectations if they are not going to spend quite a large chunk of your presentation dealing with the differences between expectations and reality.

For more about aspects of self-presentation, see our page on Self-Presentation in Presentations.

Presenting Under Particular Circumstances

You may find that you need to give a presentation under certain circumstances, where your previous experience is less helpful.

We have lots of pages to help you prepare for specific presentation types.

Circumstances that may be new to you include:

One particular special case is attending public consultation meetings.

Our pages on Attending Public Consultation Meetings, and Managing Public Consultation Meetings provide information to help whether you are a concerned member of the public, or responsible for organising a public meeting.

You may also find yourself required to organise or manage a press conference.

Although this may not strictly be what you would describe as a ‘presentation’, it is nonetheless an event at which you are required to present your organisation in a particular light.

Our page on Managing a Press Conference gives some ideas about how best to do that.

Finally, should you be unlucky enough to be involved in a serious crisis or disaster that affects your organisation, our page on Crisis Communications gives some ideas about how to manage press and public relations on these occasions.