Mastering Soft Skills to
Deliver Impactful Presentations

See also: Writing Your Presentation

Presentations are the standard for communication in today’s business and education world. Rather than writing and reading long documents, many people prefer to share and receive their information in an engaging presentation.

However, delivering a successful presentation is much harder than just writing some of your thoughts into bullet points on a slide. To stand out, presenters must develop their soft skills - how to tell a story, how to use body language, and more.

This guide provides an overview of five soft skills that will help you deliver successful presentations:

  1. Storytelling
  2. Body language
  3. Active listening
  4. Empathy
  5. Persuasion

1. Storytelling: The Heartbeat of Memorable Presentations

Storytelling is one of the most basic, yet important, skills in the world. It exists in every culture that’s ever been studied, and throughout history, humans have used stories to share experiences, knowledge, and values.

When you think about the most engaging TED Talks or speeches; they often follow the narrative style of a book or movie with an introduction, rising action, a climax, and a conclusion.

Storytelling is such an important skill that in one study of a hunter-gatherer tribe in the Philippines, storytellers were twice as valuable to the tribe as skilled hunters and foragers.

In the realm of presentations, identifying the key narrative behind your presentation can make the difference between an engaging presentation and a boring slideshow of words. But often, while working on a presentation, people will get so caught up with formatting slides and making their content pretty that they lose the most important part of the presentation - the story.

At some professional consulting firms, the general guidance for presentations is that someone should be able to read the story of a slide deck by only reading the titles of each slide. This is a good rule of thumb for anyone building a presentation.

Pro tip: Try using an AI presentation maker to handle writing the first draft of slides and formatting for you. That will free your time up to focus on what’s important - the story.

2. Body Language: Speaking Without Words

Our bodies change our minds, and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes.

Even with a great story and great supporting slides, if your non-verbal cues are misaligned, your message will get lost. Studies have consistently shown that more than 50% of communication is nonverbal - meaning things like eye contact, smiles, and hand gestures can be more impactful for telling your story than the words themselves.

Imagine a presidential debate stage. The debater with a good posture, deliberate eye contact, and purposeful hand gestures can say the same thing as someone else with a slouched posture or wandering gaze and deliver a completely different message. Being attuned to these subconscious actions can dramatically improve your presentation skills.

Politicians, executives, and celebrities often spend hours and hours practicing public speaking with coaches, and working on their body language is one of the best ways to quickly improve their public presence.

Pro tip: Record a video of yourself on your phone and play it back to yourself, paying attention to what your nonverbal cues are telling the audience.

3. Active Listening: The Dynamic Presenter's Tool

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

Contrary to popular belief, presentations are not a one-way street. The best presentations are dynamic interactions where reactions from the audience can help fine tune the delivery of the material. (This is why making a presentation on a video call where no one else has their video on is such a bizarre experience).

By being deliberate about active listening, you can gauge audience reactions and recalibrate your delivery on-the-fly. If something is boring, try to move through it quicker. If people want to dive in on a specific topic, spend more time on it. This approach where you adapt to audience interests ensures your content remains relevant and resonant.

Rather than aiming to speak as many words or jam as much information as possible during your presentation, you should try to maximize your audience’s engagement with your message. By listening to your audience, you will position your presentation for maximum impact.

Pro tip: Try recording a video meeting and watching what your viewers are doing while you present.

4. Empathy: Bridging the Gap with Diverse Audiences

Between two speakers with identical credentials, the more closely relatable one will win the audience.

Empathy is the ability to experience and understand others' emotions. Every audience consists of individuals with a range of backgrounds, beliefs, and expectations, so it's crucial to consider their perspectives - and especially their expectations - before going into a meeting.

When preparing your presentation, take the time to research your audience's goals, interests, and existing opinions. This can help you make a presentation that speaks to their needs and concerns. In addition, you can try to incorporate anecdotes or examples that your audience can relate to, as this will create a stronger connection and make your message more memorable.

Making your audience feel heard and making sure you feel connected to your audience members will be one of the easiest ways to improve the quality of your presentations.

Pro tip: Research the backgrounds of your audience and try to share a relevant story during your presentation.

5. Rhetorical Techniques: The Ancient Art of Persuasion

Your audience needs to know (or to believe, which in rhetoric adds up to the same thing) that you are trustworthy.

Persuasion is an age-old art, with roots in Ancient Greece. The classic rhetorical strategy of using ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic) is a tried-and-tested framework for crafting compelling arguments.

  • Ethos is establishing credibility and trust with your audience;

  • Pathos is appealing to your audience’s emotions, and

  • Logos relies on logical reasoning and evidence to make an argument.

You don’t need your presentation to hit each of these items in order, but if you can incorporate elements of ethos, pathos, and logos throughout a presentation, you'll have a much more persuasive presentation.

Pro tip: Next time you watch a presentation that is not persuasive, ask yourself which of these strategies is missing and how it could be better.


Great presentations are much more than a sleek slide deck or eye-catching chart. They are rooted in soft skills like great storytelling, nonverbal communication, active listening, empathy, and persuasion. By practicing and refining these soft skills, you can deliver presentations that are engaging, impactful, and memorable.

About the Author

Daniel Li is the founder and CEO of Plus, an AI tool that helps customers design, create, and automate presentations.