10 Tips for Presenting at Work

So you have to do a presentation at work? Presenting in meetings or to your boss is always a bit nerve-wracking and yet it’s a critical part of project communications. Here are 10 tips for giving a fantastic work presentation.

1. Know your audience

First, know your audience. Who are you presenting to? And where are they in the organizational hierarchy?

The presentation you give to a team of technical system developers is going to be very different to the presentation you give to the CEO, even if you are talking about the same project.

You should plan to tailor your presentation and shape it for the audience, and for that you have to know a bit about them.

The good news is that you probably know your work colleagues quite well, even if they are clients. Think about what they want to know and how much knowledge they already have about your work.

Pro Tip: Know the setting too. Are you giving a presentation in a meeting room? Are you on a big stage in front of 300 employees? Are four of you going to be squashed into a director’s office without a screen to present on? Is it virtual?

Knowing where you are going to do the presentation will help you decide on an appropriate format, and whether you need to produce print outs (and how many).

2. Prepare

When you are thinking about how to give a presentation at work, consider:

  • What are the objectives of the presentation?
  • How can you illustrate your points with data or facts?
  • What will people be most interested in hearing (instead of what you are most interested in telling them)?
  • What do you want them to do after the presentation (make a decision etc)?

You have to know your material, so that you can be prepared for questions. But more than that, you have to know how to shape it to tell the story you want them to take away.

Do they need to know the numbers? Focus on sharing the figures that have the most impact and explain your points most accurately. Share graphs, charts or other visual information to help get the point across, and be prepared to dive into the detail if requested.

Do they want to see progress? Share a Gantt chart or status update as a one-pager. Use a roadmap or timeline to illustrate the bigger picture.

Get your data together

Next, get the data together that you will need for your presentation. Plan the flow of your presentation so that you hit the key points and make the takeaways clear.

Once you have your key objectives in mind, you can start putting any slides or other materials together, bringing together your data, your objectives and the format you are going to use for presenting, whether that is Google Slides, Prezi, PowerPoint, a live demo of software or something else.

It’s also worth physically preparing by speaking your presentation out loud – a rehearsal (or several). You can rehearse your presentation with a mentor if you are worried. This can help you deal with anxiety about presenting.

Need a mentor? Elizabeth can help with that.

3. Keep it short

You’re presenting in a meeting, or other work setting. This isn’t an evening seminar where you’ve got to deliver an hour-long speech, or an after-dinner-style humorous lecture. Keep it short.

People appreciate short. Go for 20 minutes, that’s often long enough. If you have a lot of material you will have to decide what to leave in, but remember you can always have extra data to hand to show if there are questions on something you didn’t cover in detail in your presentation.

Or you can print it out and hand it around if you are meeting in person, or follow up the presentation with an email with further information if people are interested.

I like to have a short version of my meeting ‘talk’ and then an even shorter version. Especially if you are presenting to Execs. They are short on time (and attention) and you are likely to be cut off before the end if they are running late. Have a back up version of your presentation that you can deliver in 5 minutes.

Keep your slides short too. Not too many words on a slide. Remember the rule of 16:

  • No more than 16 words on a slide
  • No less than 16 point font on a slide.

And frankly, I’d go for much bigger font. However, most of the guidance on font size for presentations is aimed at people giving presentations in conference rooms, not meeting-sized rooms with a dozen people who have the presentation on their tablets or their PA printed it out for them. Go as big as you can, while still getting your message across.

4. Avoid jargon

This is a rule for all workplace communication. Avoid jargon and acronyms in your presentation, even if you are presenting to colleagues who know what they mean. Make it easy to understand at a glance. Give context. Help people understand by not making it difficult for them.

You’ll know what language is appropriate for your colleagues and customers. If you don’t, put some material together and ask someone who does not know about your project whether they can understand what you are on about.

If they don’t quickly and easily get the message, go back to basics and remove some of the terminology until you have a version that hits the right level.

Tip: Typically, the higher up the organization you go, the less project-specific jargon is relevant (or appreciated). But you know your colleagues, so factor in their prior level of knowledge as you choose your words.

5. Present successes as well as challenges

When you are presenting your work to your boss, remember to talk about the things you have managed to do well.

I know when I get ‘boss time’ I want to get her advice on the difficult situations, talk about the challenges I need her to unblock for me and work together to sort out the sticky things. But you should also make time for talking about what went well.

When you present your work to your manager, try to get a balance between getting decisions and support and also sharing some of your successes (either personally, or on behalf of your team).

6. Make eye contact

Whether you are meeting one or two people, or presenting to a room full of work colleagues at an internal Town Hall style event, make eye contact.

Focus on a few people around the room and share your gaze broadly. It helps make people feel like the talk is aimed at them and that you are interested in their responses. It also helps you spot who isn’t interested in what you are saying!

If you feel weird looking people in the eye, look at the middle of their forehead. They won’t be able to tell you aren’t making ‘true’ eye contact and will still feel included in the discussion.

7. Use body language effectively

If you don’t know what effective body language is, it will be hard to emanate it. Watch the powerful people at work, or your manager when she gives a presentation, and see how they move when presenting to groups.

In a meeting, you will be giving a presentation sitting down most likely, to your peers or colleagues.

In a larger setting, you might be behind a podium or in front of a meeting room full of people, some of whom will find it difficult to see you if they are at the back.

Think about your body language consciously. There are some easy things to do to make your body language more powerful.

  • Do not read from a script
  • Stand up if you think people can’t see you
  • Smile
  • Ask questions – perhaps that’s not truly body language, but it’s another way to engage the audience.

The video below is quite old, but it shows Body Talk expert Richard Newman talking about the palms up/palms down gesture – so subtle, but so powerful, and so easy to incorporate into your work presentation.

8. Get creative: work presentation ideas

PowerPoint slides, anyone?

Slides are the classic way to put information into a presentation but you don’t need to be limited to that. See if you can include more creative ways to show your project or status updates. How about:

  • A short video from a colleague or customer, telling a story
  • A product demo, or something that can be passed around
  • A leaflet
  • A set of wireframes or clickable demo
  • A mock up graphic on a slide instead of a flat screenshot.

Even using full-screen images with an overlay for your text will help you make your slides more interesting.

This next tip will also help your meeting be more interactive and interesting…

9. Present with a colleague

If you are nervous about presenting at work, see if you can present with a colleague. This could even be your boss.

Here’s how to present with a colleague:

  • Work out the content of your presentation
  • Decide who is going to present each part
  • Practice the handoffs so you can transition smoothly between each speaker. It’s less disruptive if you change speaker once or twice, not after every slide
  • Agree who is going to field questions. Someone should invite and make the initial response to a question, even if that is simply handing it off to the other person to answer.

Presenting with a colleague is more work. You have to work together on the talk to make it look effortless, and that means planning in prep time. However, it’s worth it for lots of reasons, not least because it can help with anxiety to have someone with you on the day, and you can back each other up.

Switching between presenters means the audience isn’t constantly listening to just one voice, which makes the session more interactive and interesting.

Your colleague can also give you feedback about your presentation style (if you want it). You could both give each other feedback on how you come across during your rehearsals. It can be really valuable to have friendly, constructive feedback.

How do you start a presentation with your boss?

Follow the steps above to prepare the content. Personally, I would expect my boss take the lead in the presentation, unless she specifically asked me to. Therefore, I’d expect her to start the presentation, stating our names and who we were, and perhaps handing over to me so I could give a brief introduction off myself.

Then the content of the presentation starts, and we’d switch between presenters as planned.

I would let her field the questions, and provide expert input to the answers as required.

10. Prepare for questions

Sometimes there won’t be time for questions. Other times you need to expect to be grilled.

If you are presenting to management or to your boss, you should expect and welcome questions. It means they were (probably) listening!

If you know your topic, and you can get access to any extra information, then you’ll be fine. Don’t be put under pressure to answer on the spot if you don’t know the numbers or the details. Your work meeting is not Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank: just say you don’t have those details to hand and you’ll get back to them later that day.

Pro Tip: Don’t rely on internet access being available to you wherever you are presenting. If you think you might need access to different documents or back up sources for data, then have them all stored in a folder on your laptop desktop. Your meeting presentation is not a good time for cloud-based storage to fail!

Think about when you are going to invite questions. At a work based presentation given in a meeting setting, you should be prepared to answer questions at any point. Be ready to be interrupted. You aren’t giving a conference paper, so expect there to be someone in the room who wants to know more about everything. Be ready!

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10 tips for presenting at work