An effective presentation is like an animated conversation. It’s clear, honest and direct. It seeks to accomplish one goal. And it’s filled with lively detail.

Think of the most effective speeches and presentations you’ve attended. See if they share these qualities:

1. Clear, Honest, and Direct

  • If you’re just starting out as a presenter or feeling insecure or speaking in an academic setting, your biggest temptation will be to say everything you know about your subject. Resist that temptation.
  • Just because you’ve sprinted through your material, touching all the bases, doesn’t mean you’ve communicated anything. More likely than not, you’ve merely mowed over your audience.
  • You’ve only succeeded in making an effective presentation when your audience has understood and absorbed what you wanted to communicate.
  • It’s your job as a presenter to know your material so well that you can focus on what’s important. Of all that you can say, what needs to be said? And how can you say it clearly? Albert Einstein said that the trick of a great mind is to make things as simple as possible — but no simpler. It’s also the trick of a great presenter.
  • As best you can, speak without using big words, jargon, or hype. Talk like you’re speaking to a good friend — an intelligent, but uninformed friend.
  • Get personal. Say “I” and “you” and “we.”
  • Let your enthusiasm show. If you don’t care about your subject, why should anyone else?
  • Never read your speech word for word.

2. One Goal

An effective presentation has one goal. Choose one goal, only one, and stick with it. Do you want your audience to…

  • Adopt your plan?
  • Support your proposal?
  • Fund your project?
  • Use your procedure?
  • Acquit your client?
  • Vote for your candidate?
  • Hire you?
  • Give you a promotion?
  • Laugh?

(Remember: People do things for their reasons, not yours. Be sure to figure out why your audience would want to do what you want them to.)

3. Lively Detail — Animated Conversation

Details — the right ones, at least — give substance and depth to your presentation. They substantiate your claims. They ground what you’re saying in the concrete world of the senses, allowing your audience to see and hear and feel what you’re talking about. Details piled one on top of another are boring and deadly. So be selective.

  • You can communicate a lot of information, using lively detail, by telling a story.
  • And always remember that you’re talking with your audience, not at them.
  • You may be saying all the words, but if you pay attention you’ll realize that your audience is always talking back to you. They’re communicating with the way they look at you, sit, nod their heads, or knit their brows. They’re letting you know if they’re with you or against you, if they understand and agree, if they need to hear more or want you to finish.

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Check out “Projecting a Commanding Presence” or “How to Build Rapport with Any Audience.”

Chris Witt, a speech coach based in San Diego, works with executives and with technical experts who want to give more effective presentations. If you’re serious about learning more about how you could benefit from his coaching, contact him for a complimentary call.