Don’t let your fear of public speaking derail your ability to give a great presentation. These 11 tips will help you build an engaging slideshow that will captivate any audience.

Cover image by Syda Productions.

I’ve only met a handful of people who actually enjoy giving presentations, and even they dread the process of building a slideshow. Whether it’s a business update, major company initiative, fundraising campaign, or a presentation you’ll be giving to a large audience, the time that goes into making an engaging presentation is massive.

I’m no stranger to giving large presentations. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years, as well as some tips I’ve picked up from professional speakers and even Ted Talk presenters.

1. Know Your Audience

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Image by Matej Kastelic.

The key to a successful presentation is knowing your audience. A numbers-heavy presentation given to a creative industry audience will probably fall flat. Using business acronyms — which, by the way are just the worst — can be incredibly confusing for any industry outsiders.

You might be an expert on a certain topic, but that doesn’t mean your audience knows what you are talking about. Teach them as if you are speaking to a group of beginners. Note I said beginners, and not children. It’s important to never speak down to an audience, but rather treat them as peers who are learning about a topic.

2. Start Pouring Ideas into Multiple Slides

Open your presentation software of choice, whether it’s Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Slides, Keynote, or sites like Prezi. Add a slide for every topic you want to cover, and make notes on each page of what you’d like to talk about. The goal here is to make far too many slides – it’s your first draft.

This is actually the same technique I use to write articles (like this very one). I think about every little thing I want to cover and make notes within each subsection. This allows me to go back and restructure my thoughts, all while building a better narrative.

3. Know Your Presentation Size

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Presentation template in Shutterstock Editor.

If you are presenting in a venue you’ve never been to before, reach out to the building or technology team to determine screen sizes or best settings for a specific venue. Large LED screens will require different dimensions.

If you are just in a traditional conference room, deciding between a traditional 1024 x 768 presentation or a widescreen 1920 x 1080 isn’t that big of a difference. Slideshows have historically been 1024 x 768 pixels, but most modern “widescreen” presentations are set to 1920 x 1080 pixels. This relates to the change in television sizes. Most conference rooms are now equipped with widescreen LED TVs so you have more space to work with.

That said, make sure the venue you’re presenting in doesn’t still use old 4:3 projector screens (like in a school). If so, you’ll want to use a smaller presentation size.

Choosing the proper presentation size will ensure that your text is always legible to your entire audience. Know how far the screen will be from the seating to determine if you need larger text for audience members in the back of a lecture hall.

4. Build a Narrative

As you are building out your first draft, you’ll realize that you’re also starting to build a narrative — or a story that ties everything together. Even things that you didn’t originally think would relate to each other will start to make more sense if you present them together or as topics one right after the other.

The audience will engage with and understand your presentation better if it has a logical flow, meaning subjects build on each other and develop into a larger meaning, or lesson.

5. Start Deleting Slides

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As you build a narrative, you’ll notice that certain things just don’t fit anymore. It may even be the slides that you originally thought were the most important. Don’t be too precious about any of the content – if a slide, bullet point, or image doesn’t work with the overall presentation, then you risk losing your audience’s attention.

As difficult as it may be, you need to delete distractions and tie everything into one connected thread of topics.

6. Practice Your Presentation

During trial runs you may find that the order of your slides doesn’t make sense. While you want to present ideas in a specific order, you also want to make sure you comfortably transition through your presentation.

Before you even click through your slides, practice an introduction. You should be able to say everything you’re going to cover in under 15 words. Think of this as the tagline  — would you click to read more on a topic based on the 15-word summary?

Practicing your presentation until you have it memorized is the best way to overcome any fears you may have. If you know everything you are presenting, you will have the confidence to speak with authority. Don’t memorize a fixed script, just the topics and data. You still want the information to flow organically, and having a solid understanding of the information – not the script – will leave you better equipped to answer questions and talk to the audience candidly.

7. Pay Special Attention to Format and Images

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Shutterstock Add-in for Microsoft PowerPoint.

Whether it’s your background theme or photos within slides, using creative assets is crucial to a successful presentation. When was the last time you watched a presentation and thought to yourself, “Gee, I sure am glad there are so many bullet points and text?”

Text-heavy slides can actually hurt your presentations. Your audience will start reading ahead of you, and then start tuning you out.

To keep your audience’s attention, limit the amount of text and add some images or illustrations to your presentation. Using photos will break up the text and keep people engaged. Make sure you have permission or the proper licenses for any presentations. If images require credits, you can easily add them to the photos.

If you’re on the hunt for photos while building a presentation, try using the Shutterstock Add-in for Microsoft PowerPoint or our Google Slides plugin. Both offer easy drag-and-drop use of Shutterstock images so you can add them directly into your presentation. You can also edit photos in Shutterstock Editor using the presentation preset. There you can adjust images with effects and filters.

8. Use Video Sparingly

Videos can be incredibly engaging and captivating, but a video that is even 5 seconds too long can lose your audience. Be very careful when you decide to put videos into your presentation, and make sure they are top notch. As a rule of thumb, you should never go over 5 minutes, and it’s best to keep it under 60-seconds.

During your practice runs, make sure videos won’t derail your overall presentation. Videos can require sound and Internet connection, which you’ll need to check beforehand in the venue.

9. Try Automated Transitions

Having slides automatically advance may seem risky, but it can also help you move through your presentation quickly. Even if your presentation consists of mostly images, letting the images display on the screen while you continue your talk can help you weave through your slides.

This won’t necessarily work for smaller presentation where the audience can stop and ask questions, but for presentations that leave questions and answers until the end, this is a great way to keep your presentation engaging and on time.

10. Remember, You’re Not Funny to Everyone

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Image by Syda Productions.

Every person has a different sense of humor, so don’t expect all of your jokes to land. If you’re waiting around for laughter, and all you hear is silence, you’re likely going to derail your concentration and feel a bit bad about yourself.

Remember, people are looking for the presentation, not the jokes. Keep the presentation moving, and if the opportunity arises for a quip, go for it. But don’t wait around expecting laughter – just keep moving forward.

11. Don’t Be Afraid to Delete Everything and Start Over

After enough trial runs, you’ll either have the confidence to present, or you will find all the faults within your slides. Once again, focus on the overall narrative and adjust the order of your slides.

If that still doesn’t make your presentation work, don’t be afraid to start all over. Try another theme, use different photos, try different fonts and weights, or reorder things for a new narrative.


Have some tips you want to share? Let us know in the comments.