applied tips : april 2008

microsoft powerpoint : improving your presentation (part three)

The last two articles on Improving your Presentation discussed the planning and outlining stages of your slideshow and the actual content (words, images, etc). 

In this final part of the article, we discuss the delivery of the presentation and talk about the number one fear: public speaking.

Many people consider the actual delivery the hardest part of the presentation process. Whether they are scared of public speaking, worried about what people might ask or think, or have bad luck with computers when they are most crucial, the delivery is actually the easiest part if you’ve prepared properly.


The number one advice that can be given about presentation delivery (and public speaking in general) is to practice, practice, practice. The more familiar you are with your presentation (the outline, the slide timing, and the content) the smoother your delivery will be.

Ideally, you should always know where you are in a presentation and exactly how much time you need to finish your content. You should know what slide comes next (without peeking) and be able to discuss your topics without more than a quick glance at the screen.

Break Things Up

To keep the audience awake and interested, it’s helpful to find ways to break up your presentation a variety of ways. There are many ways to do this, here’s a few:

Remember that time will flow a lot slower for the audience than you, and most people will have a hard time focusing on anything for more than fifteen minutes. The more “distractions” you can weave into your presentation, the more likely you will be to keep their interest and prevent a snoozer.


There are many books and articles written on just speaking, so I’ll keep this section short by just touching on a few topics that I think are most important.

If you want your audience to buy into your pitch, or learn what you want to teach them, you’ve got to be enthusiastic about it. This doesn’t mean cartwheels and fireworks, but you should convey a sense of passion about your topic which should infect your audience.

Confidence also helps with any delivery. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, learn it quickly (and practice beforehand) before the audience rejects you as a speaker. If they cannot accept you as an expert on the topic within the first few minutes, you risk wasting everyone’s time.

Never read your slides (or notes) no matter how tempting it might be. Not only will the audience be treated to the back of your head, but they will quickly become bored and lose respect for you. There is only one exception to this rule: when you want the audience to read a statement with you, such as a mission statement or customer testimonial.

Remember that most presentations are not one-sided. You should consider your time with the audience as a dialogue, not a lecture. Pause frequently and ask your audience if they have questions as you progress through the presentation. (This also gives you a chance to catch your breath.)

Body Movement

Having good control of your body, and knowing what it’s doing while you’re speaking, is a tough trick to master. It means you have to think while you’re talking – and for some people that comes with experience.

The gestures that your hands make can help convey the passion and enthusiasm that I discussed earlier, as long as they’re not over done. Your hands can emphasize specific words and give your audience clues to accompany the tone and inflection in your voice. Not sure what to do with your hands? Watch some professionals on video (try YouTube) and mimic what they do.

At the same time, your hands can also work against you. Many people represent their nervousness through nervous hand movements. They’ll twiddle their hands, stuff their hands in their pockets, or play with a pen. The audience will pick up on this quickly so be sure not to do it.

Your posture should be comfortable and relaxed, but not slouching.

Your eyes can help improve your presentation too. Be sure to make eye contact, repeatedly, with each member of your audience. Always scan the audience to observe how they are reacting to your message. If they look confused, slow it down or ask questions. If they look bored or distracted, it’s time for a break. The feedback they silently give you can tip you off more than what they actually say.


Presentation technology has come a long way since the days of transparencies and slides. Used properly, we can engage the audience in new ways while making our lives a lot easier.

Keyspan Presentation Remote ProGet yourself a good, reliable remote control for your laptop such as the Keyspan Presentation Remote Pro. As a wireless mouse, it will free you from the laptop and let you roam around your audience while still advancing slides as needed.

If you can, face the laptop’s display towards you. When you need to see what’s on the screen behind you, you can glance at the laptop while looking towards the audience.

Learn some of PowerPoint’s keyboard commands that work while presenting. For example, pressing a number followed by Enter will jump straight to that slide. Pressing ‘B’ will black the screen. For a list of these commands, and many more, press ‘?’ while running a presentation in full-screen mode.

Finally, never let the audience watch you start your presentation. Starting off by watching you fumble through the menus is not going to win you any points. Have the slideshow on its first slide before anyone arrives. Make your first slide a “Welcome” slide to let the audience know they’re in the right place.

Questions and Interruptions

As a presenter, you should welcome questions. They show that your audience is interested in what you have to say, generally speaking. Dealing with those questions depends on how much control you want over your presentations. Based on the question and how much time you have, there are generally three ways to respond:

  1. answer the question right away, but briefly, repeating the question first
  2. write the question down and promise to answer it at the end of your presentation if there is enough time
  3. invite the person to email you the question so that you can research the answer and get back to them tonight

Dealing with interruptions can be just as easy. Whether you have a heckler, a rude cell phone user, a medical emergency, or some other distraction, they can almost all be solved by taking a break. Announce to the audience that “this would be a great time to take a break” and then deal with the situation privately. If the problem repeats, offer to meet with that person individually or suggest that you reschedule the meeting for a later time.


Giving your audience a tangible to take back with them is a great idea. Remember that your handout must reinforce the same goals that your presentation does.

If you want your audience to take notes, print for them a copy of your slides (usually three to a page) but take the time to only print those slides that are note-worthy. Be sure to offer the handouts before you start.

If you have additional information to give your audience that did not make it to your slides, be careful. It is fine to supplement the presentation with additional information, but don’t overwhelm them with their take-home materials. Generally, you should only give this information after the presentation has ended, and only to those who ask for it.

A more modern approach to handouts is to make them available via email or your website. Not only is this great for the environment, but it encourages the audience to visit your website where they might learn more about you. You can also provide information in a variety of ways and let them choose what they want to download.


It’s always good to be aware of how much time you have remaining for your presentation. Make sure there is a clock that you can occasionally glance at without making it too obvious. Adjust your speed accordingly; skipping slides that aren’t as important if you start to run short. 

Try to reserve 5-20% of your allotted time specifically for questions. There’s nothing wrong with letting your audience leave early, but if no one asks anything you should be concerned. They might be eager to leave or feel overwhelmed with information.

When You’re Done

Always ask for feedback; invite your audience to email you with comments and questions. Then, before you forget, make notes based on your feedback and experience and revise your presentation as quickly as possible.

schedule a class on powerpoint

Request an on-site PowerPoint class from Applied Office. Sessions are inexpensive and your employees will be creating amazing slideshows in no time!  Learn more here

upcoming class on powerpoint

A class on Microsoft PowerPoint is scheduled at University of the Pacific, and you can attend!  Review the Upcoming Classes for more information.

quick reference card and checklist

Get the Quick Reference Card on Microsoft PowerPoint! Download it for free and print it on your own printer. You might even want to laminate it.

And new is the PowerPoint Checklist which will help prepare you for nearly any presentation.  It contains:

Download the PowerPoint Checklist and make as many copies as you need.