Smart Presentation and Public Speaking Tips

Ned Poulter

Mar 17, 20159 min read
Smart Presentation and Public Speaking Tips

Are you ready to improve your presentation and public speaking skills? Pole Star Digital’s CEO & Founder Ned Poulter has some valuable tips for you. Ned’s tips are also featured in Semrush’s ‘How to Cook Up an Awesome Deck’ Slideshare.

Ned answered some frequently asked questions to help you succeed at public speaking and presentations:

1. How do you create a presentation from start to finish? Please describe the steps you normally take to put together all your slides.

Creating a great, show-stopping presentation is no easy task. There are many things you should consider to set yourself up for as successful a presentation as possible, and this is something that is quite unique from individual to individual. The process that I follow is largely outlined below; you’ll notice that this process is cyclical: demonstrating that at any one point in the process it doesn’t mean that you have completed the subsequent steps. 

2. Approximately how much time do you need to prepare your presentation?

I find that this is very much dependent on a number of variables, such as: the length of the talk and the subject of the presentation (analytical and data-based presentations may involve an amount of time spent analyzing data prior to creating the actual presentation), amongst others.

I’ve identified above the rough process that I go through when creating a presentation, however something that I didn’t mention is that I’m a stickler for finer details. This means that I often can take the most time finalizing smaller details and ensuring that everything looks perfect, at least in my eyes (and I’m pretty self critical!). Therefore, I think it’s hard to say exactly how long I need as this is more often better defined by how long I’ve got to prepare a presentation. 

3. What techniques and special tricks do you use in your speech to capture an audience’s attention?

I stated in a similar interview recently that in my opinion there are 4 subtle, but equally very powerful methods that can help you engage with your audience:

  • Movement and ‘Owning the Stage’ — If you watch a number of great public speakers you’ll notice that they make good use of the space around them. A speaker who is standing awkwardly (such as on one leg, or hiding behind the lectern) only creates an uncomfortable experience for the audience. Your use of the space provided for you helps to reinforce points and engage with your audience in a more physical sense.
  • Using your Body/Hands — Although similar to the first point, I’d consider this a very separate skill. Great presenters/communicators use their body to portray a message and emphasise their point, in fact with many speakers who use this tactic I believe that it can often be more important than the content of what they’re saying (crazy, I know!).
  • Breathing & Using ‘Pauses’ — Controlling your breathing and effective use of pauses can help several issues with delivering an effective presentation. Pauses at appropriate times can really help to emphasise a point, and if done properly it can also enable you to calm distracting nerves caused by stage fright. Comedians use breathing and pauses for fantastic effect; study them to see how they emphasise a point/punch line using silence and pauses — then mimic that!
  • Passion, Enthusiasm & Relating to Your Audience — No matter what the subject of your presentation, if you can’t deliver it with a level of enthusiasm and passion, then why should your audience care about what you’re saying? Humans relate to humans, so ensure that you invoke an emotional response from your audience and you will resonate with more people than you’d expect. Always ask yourself, “What is it you would want to hear about if you were in their position?”.

4. Give a short list of what presenters should avoid when giving a speech.

Things to avoid when actually delivering a presentation are often fairly obvious; if in doubt then simply think of the worst presentation you’ve ever seen, and think why it was so bad. Typically I find that the culprits of poor presentations include:

  • Over use of repetitive words or phrases — It’s uncomfortable and difficult to follow a presenter that is constantly saying “err,” “umm,” “like,” “obviously” and similar words. Also, consider the way that you are setting up introductions to sentences. Without knowing it you may find that you’re starting every point with “something else really interesting…” however, if everything you’re talking about is really interesting then this will start to lose its appeal.
  • Last minute cramming and poor preparation — Respect your audience enough to not try and throw together a presentation at 3 a.m. the morning before the conference. I can’t describe how obvious this is (for multiple reasons) and if anything you’re directly offending your audience and wasting their time. This doesn’t mean that the content of your talk has to be life-changing, simply ensure that you give yourself more than enough time for preparation.
  • “If in doubt, opt for simplicity” — It’s a very common trend that through trying to make the best presentation in the world, the presenter forgets how this will resonate with the audience and end up alienating them five minutes in. The best advice I can give here is to test your talk on a number of individuals and listen to their feedback; if one of them seems confused as you’re working on things then opt for simplicity. You’re better to talk at a slightly lower-than-expected level than to alienate 90% of your audience.

5. What criteria do you use to evaluate the success of your speech?

Gathering the honest opinions of individuals can help to evaluate whether your presentation was a success. I look to the following sources:

  • Audience reaction — Perhaps there will be the opportunity to network with some of the attendees after your talk. Use this situation to ask individuals after the talk for honest reactions, however depending on the country/audience beware of flattery — often people will say that a presentation was great even if they deep down didn’t think it was.
  • Friends’/colleagues’ reactions — More so than asking general audience members, also be wary of those that you know already — many won’t want to risk offending you by giving honest feedback. So make sure you ask them to be as constructively critical as possible.
  • Reaction on social media — We work in digital marketing, so hopefully you’ve planned to distribute your work amongst your social networks. If you have (and I sincerely hope that you have), gauge the reaction by looking at the number of shares on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn, and also the total views on Slideshare. Pleasantly surprised with the figures that you’re seeing? Then good job!
  • Organizer reaction — Often overlooked by some people, but asking the organizer of the event that you spoke at for an honest reaction can often uncover some interesting responses. They will most probably be thankful, however they may also outline aspects that others have missed out on.

The speech that I consider my most successful was is actually not at a digital marketing conference. It was speaking on behalf of the Diana Award (a UK based charity that I support) about my experiences being a volunteer teacher in the slums of Mombasa, Kenya. I delivered it purely spoken word (with no supporting assets like a presentation, images or video) and it was taken directly from my personal diary that I kept while in Kenya. I think that other than reaction of the crowd afterwards (who included charity workers, charitable individuals or donors and politicians) I believe that I made use of a number of the tips and tricks that I mentioned above, including: Good use of pauses, clear diction, use of hands and body and above all speaking with passion and emotion such that my audience truly resonated with what it was that I was saying.

Ned Poulter

7. Please provide the speakers’ names and their topics. Which speakers in the digital marketing industry have impressed you the most? Which speakers in other industries have impressed you the most? Please provide the speakers’ names and their topics.

This is probably the most difficult of the questions asked, as I attend a number of conferences and have seen many, many people speak. However the three individuals listed below (and their presentations) definitely stand out at least of those I’ve seen over the last year:

Alex Schultz, VP, Growth at Facebook. Alex is a fantastically smart guy that speaks an awful lot of sense when it comes to understanding some of the most generation defining companies like Facebook (whom he works for) but also Airbnb, LinkedIn and many others. This presentation covers various aspects involved in decision making by these major companies and gives some real actionable insight.

Marcus Tandler, Co-Founder of Marcus is a fantastically friendly and smart guy, who I was lucky enough to meet properly at this year’s SEOktoberfest (an event that he created). He speaks fantastic English (so well that he presents in it) and did this very impressive and interesting talk at TED in Munich, Germany on the ‘future of search.’ I strongly suggest that you check it out for yourself.

Aleyda Solis, Owner of Orainti SEO consulting. Aleyda is a good friend of mine and also a tireless industry speaker — who speaks at events all over the world. Although originally from Nicaragua, Aleyda more often than not will present in her second language (English), something that I am always immensely impressed with. In addition to bringing great passion and energy to her talks, she also creates some of the best-structured and beautiful slidedecks that I’ve seen making her presentations certainly not ones to miss out on.

Other Industries:

  • Winston Churchill — Perhaps controversial to some, but Winston Churchill is a true hero of mine for many reasons. Churchill was rigorously dedicated to constructing his speeches and would spend hours preparing them. Sometimes criticized for being too descriptive and over embellishing his appreciation of literature, I think he was a master presenter and hugely intelligent man. This speech still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I listen to.
  • Carl Sagan — Purely for my fascination in space and space travel, as well as having a certain philosophical appeal, Carl Sagan is both a fantastically inspiring writer and narrator. I’d highly recommend that you watch the Sagan Series for a lesson in storytelling in speeches, but also for a well needed boost of motivation.

Unfortunately that’s a very broad question and fairly difficult to answer, as it depends largely on the event that you’re attending and the focus of that specific event. In terms of my predictions for 2015, I wouldn’t be surprised to see:

  • Data taking a more central role in decision making (and therefore talks that explore how to do this).
  • A continuing trend of focus on development (both personal and on a business level).
  • And finally talks delving more into future-proofing your digital strategies. Whether this is advice on using tools to streamline your business activities, following the best processes or avoiding tactical nuances that can lead to future investment to clean up detrimental activity.

“There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” — Mark Twain.

Author Photo
Ned Poulter is CEO & Founder of Pole Star Digital, a specialist digital marketing consultancy. Their mission is to help businesses grow online.