We could all improve our presentation skills. And yet it’s one of those to-dos most of us tend to leave sitting unchecked on the list for far too long. Luckily, everyone has the potential to get great at it given enough time and practice. And you don’t have to wait until you find yourself in front of a room full of sleeping meeting attendees to start learning. While it might take years to truly hone your skill, here are a few simple tips you can use now to make your presentations better instantly.

On slides: Write less and in big font

Great slide-building is an art form. But while you work on developing your inner artist, you can make a more effective presentation right now by sticking to the principle of brevity. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki has this rule-of-thumb: “In giving presentations, use the 10/20/30 rule....use only 10 slides, take 20 minutes maximum, and use at least 30-point fonts.”

Why it works is that it forces you to focus on the core of your point. We all know we shouldn’t make our slide decks a complete narrative of everything we’ll say in the presentation. But it’s tempting to write too much down anyway. Prevent turning your slide deck into a read-along book by keeping the page numbers down and the font scaled up.

Another great way to keep interest levels up is to put the “so what?” right into your slide title. Ditch the unenlightening summary that essentially states “Here are last quarter’s numbers.” Instead, say something that imparts real knowledge up front: “Increased social media investments resulted in a 10% increase in quarterly sales.”

On the message: Make it something to remember

Every good presentation contains important information rolled up in a message that captivates the audience. Of course, not every presentation will be the next TED talk. But you still want to impart knowledge in a way that will stick in people’s heads long after they leave the meeting room. Professional speaker Lilly Walters tells us: “The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.”

This isn’t to say you need to stuff your presentation with jokes and anecdotes just to make it more appealing - unless that’s how you speak naturally. But a great way to make the presentation memorable is to make it sound more like it’s coming from you directly. It could be as simple as imparting an uncommon fact you find interesting. Or sharing the right inside joke from work. When you add your own voice and story, you give the audience something more they can attach to. As Sally Hogshead says, “You don't have to change who you are, you have to become more of who you are.”

On the delivery: Practice does make perfect

Okay, you have a strong message to present and a beautiful slide deck to boot. But the most nerve-racking part can be in delivering that presentation to a crowded field of eyeballs. This is where practicing in front of real people ahead of time can make a huge difference. Some tricks you should consider:

  • Repeat yourself. Don’t get frustrated if audience members haven’t digested something you only said once. If you want them to internalise a point, repeat it once more. Maybe twice more for stubborn minds.
  • Fill a void with silence rather than a filler like ‘umm’. Novice speakers tend to be uncomfortable with silence. But silent pauses aren’t as awkward to the audience as you’d think and can even make your presentation better by adding emphasis to your points.
  • Slow down! Another temptation of novice speakers is to speak too quickly. Think about the pace you’d use in a one-to-one conversation.
  • Project your voice and keep it dynamic. The best slide deck in the world can’t save a monotone speaker.
  • Keep people awake by having them participate. Take polls or ask the audience to guess answers. Depending on the size of the group, you could even have them pair up or get into small groups to make it a team effort.
  • Don’t forget to compliment your audience when they show engagement. Start your answers to questions with “That’s a great question” or “I’m so glad you asked”. Small validations like these will perk up everyone’s ears in an instant.

It’s a life-long pursuit to improve our presentation skills when speaking in front of an audience. But in that pursuit, keeping some simple tips in mind will go a long way toward getting your point across and keeping everyone's heads up. Here’s to your next great presentation.

About the author

Kelly Paik is a freelance writer covering science and technology. She hails from San Francisco where she spent some time in the trenches of Silicon Valley, from where she brings that inside perspective as she serves the latest on innovations and updates in the tech industry.