I am an avid believer in growing 1% everyday, and feedback is a huge part of this. After overcoming my fear of networking in university, I decided to tackle my next fear of presenting. I rehearsed adamantly for class presentations, raised my hand to facilitate workshops across Canada, and tried hosting webinars around the world. The goal was—and continues to be—to get in front of an audience and get as much feedback as possible.
After collecting 110+ comments through my kkarenism.com/feedback form over the past few years, I have found 10 common themes to share with you today. These themes include what I did well and what I needed to improve on. I’m sure you’ll find some of these relevant to you, so good luck!
1. Be informative, clear, and concise
Feedback: While people told me that I shared useful information, I still needed to be more thorough and go further in depth about the tools, advice, and recommendations that I was sharing.
Your presentation needs to contain useful information that is relevant to your audience (and their skill level in whatever topic you’re talking about). Provide details, context, and relatable examples to help your audience understand why or how your presentation can help them. While being thorough, you also need to focus on the key topics and keep your tips and details to the point. This means avoiding superfluous language that may be hard to understand. Keep your bullet points on your slides to 1 line (remember that they are bullet points, not full sentences).
2. Stay organized and manage your time
Feedback: A lot of people commended how I presented my information in a structured and organized way. However, I needed to work on time management since we always seemed to be rushed.
You should always have an agenda at the beginning of your presentation to help you stay organized. An agenda is also great for setting expectations with your audience. Make sure to highlight the key topics, how much time you expect each topic to take, and who will be presenting that topic (if there are multiple speakers). Instead of jam packing your agenda, include a 5-10 minute time buffer in the beginning (for people who may join a few minutes late) as well as breaks if your presentation is longer than 30-60 mins. Also, remember to slow down and give people enough time to take notes (they’re attending your presentation to learn something new, which is tough to do if you’re speeding through everything).
3. Engage and interact with your audience
Feedback: Many people enjoyed interactive activities in my workshops or webinars. However, I needed to interact more personally with the audience as per the comment “maybe less screen time and more Karen” .
Oftentimes, presentations can get dull when it’s just the presenter talking all the time. When presenting on stage, try to walk around instead of standing behind your screen. It is also easier for people to lose their focus when they aren’t actively participating. To start off, try to engage personally with your audience at least once throughout your presentation. If you’re short on time, quickly check in with them at the end of each topic to see if there are any questions or comments. If you have more time to work with, you can plan an interactive session with an activity (e.g. poll) or group discussion (people tend to enjoy hearing the perspectives of others). Also, make sure that you speak loud enough so that your audience can still hear you from the back of the room. If you’re presenting virtually, try to use a microphone or headset (instead of relying on your computer) since the sound quality will be better.
4. Personalize with humour and interesting stories
Feedback: I will always remember being vulnerable at a “Power of Yet” session that I hosted back in 2016 which made my audience cry, yet inspired them to be vulnerable in return. People liked it when I had a storyline and shared personal experiences that were relatable or inspiring to them. At a Junior Achievement workshop that I presented to high school students, one of the pieces of feedback was “please make this more funny” (LOL).
Another way that you can keep your audience engaged is to inject humour and stories into your presentations. People love a good joke or two (that is appropriate and relevant to the topic), so consider this if you want to break the ice and lighten up the mood. If you’re sharing tips or best practices, it is worthwhile to explain how these have personally helped you (and others) in the past. Use interesting personal stories and real world examples to support your key points and convince your audience that you know what you’re talking about. Also, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Although sharing your successes can build up your credibility, talking about your failures or difficult moments can make you more human and relatable to your audience.
5. Add visuals and animations
Feedback: Everyone seemed to love any presentations that had aesthetic visuals, gifs, animations, and transitions. When I didn’t have enough visuals, I would get comments like “your presentation could have used a bit more animations”.
People love beautiful presentations, and a bonus would be that it also keeps their attention. Don’t be afraid to add in some smooth transitions (check out my 10 PowerPoint Tips & Tricks), gifs, bitmojis, and animations. Instead of big blocks of text, try using visual aids or smart art to make your slides easier to follow along with. Obviously, you don’t want to overkill this, so only use visuals when appropriate. For example, to emphasize certain parts that your audience should pay attention to or to make it easier for them to understand what you’re talking about. Embedding videos can be appropriate, but keep it to about 1-2 minutes or else people may zone out. You should also make your presentations accessibility friendly (e.g. including closed captions for videos or audio).
6. Don’t let others derail you
Feedback: There have definitely been times where people talked over me as I was presenting or facilitating a workshop. The feedback I got was “be more strict and shut [them] up so that the people who want to listen can do so”.
Sometimes, you may get caught off guard when someone asks a question that you hadn’t thought of or voices an opposing opinion. These situations can be nerve-racking, but try to remind yourself that you are the expert in the room and that your audience is there to listen and learn from you. If you come across a question that you don’t immediately know the answer to, respond with “Thank you for your question, let me look into this after the presentation and follow up with you so that I can give you the right details”. Sometimes, debates and discussions might be complementary to your presentation. However, if you feel that the agenda is getting off track, you can say “Alright, it looks like we’re straying from the topic, so let’s get back on track. I am happy to follow up on this topic after the presentation if you want to discuss it further.”
7. Avoid using crutch words and stuttering
Feedback: Although people said that I use little to no “ums”, I still stuttered in my speech because I was speaking way too fast (because I was nervous).
If you’re new to or nervous about presenting, you may find yourself speaking faster than usual because you just want to get out of the spotlight as soon as possible. This is still something that I need to work on, but I have found that counting to 3 in your head is a great way to pause in between your points or slides. Although it can be challenging when you’re up on stage, remember to take a breath here and there to calm your nerves. When it comes to crutch words, ask a friend or family member to point out whenever you say “um, uh, like, so” when you’re rehearsing or delivering your presentation. Another tip is to try and notice when other people use crutch words in their presentations because it makes you more conscious about it. Since we tend to use crutch words when we feel unsure or nervous, having a script and practicing your presentation a few times can help you be more confident with what you need to say.
8. Beware the script
Feedback: Despite practicing before my presentations, I still got feedback that I should be less shy, be more casual, and try to sound less scripted or like I was performing a speech.
You already know not to read off your slides, but you should also avoid reading off your script. Although having a script can make you feel more confident, don’t be shy to go off script! A lot of the times, it sounds really good in our heads, but may seem unnatural to our audience upon delivery. People also prefer when you speak more conversationally because it makes you more personable and genuine. To avoid sounding scripted or like you’re reading off the screen, write down key points for each slide, but don’t put what you have to say word-for-word. This will create more fluidity when you speak and sound more natural to your audience. Also practice your presentation without the script to build up that confidence.
9. Generate energy, excitement, and enthusiasm
Feedback: Although my speech was clear, there were times when people told me that I was a little monotone and should add some more vocal variety and attitude to make my presentations more mesmerizing.
Energy and enthusiasm are key. If you’re not excited about your topic, why should your audience be? Although you may be internally excited, you need to let that enthusiasm shine through in your delivery. First, make sure you’re smiling because this will lift up your tone and voice (as well as convey positivity and confidence). Second, stand up when you’re speaking because it will help you project your voice better and command the attention of your audience through body language. Third, slow down when you’re trying to emphasize an important point. When it comes to delivering your presentation with energy, it really comes down to finding a topic that you’re passionate about or interested in.
10. Summarize your key points and takeaways
Feedback: Since I shared a lot of information and spoke quite quickly, people usually appreciated when I took the time to summarize key points at the end of each topic or at the end of the presentation.
Whether you went through your presentation too fast or your audience got distracted for a few minutes, it is always helpful to do a recap of the key takeaways. Set aside 5 minutes in your agenda to summarize the different topics you discussed and then open it up for Q&A. Many people will ask you to share your presentation afterwards, so be proactive and state if and where they can find the recording or presentation slides for review. You should also consider adding a call-to-action or next steps for your audience to take after listening to your presentation. To add some interactivity, you can also consider quizzing your audience (e.g. poll or trivia) to test their knowledge about the key topics.
- Be informative, clear, and concise
- Stay organized and manage your time
- Engage and interact with your audience
- Personalize with humour and interesting stories
- Add visuals and animations
- Don’t let others derail you
- Avoid using crutch words and stuttering
- Beware the script
- Generate energy, excitement, and enthusiasm
- Summarize your key points and takeaways
Remember to keep these tips and best practices in mind. Best of luck in your future presentations!