Ten rules to make an entertaining and effective presentation


“Let us prepare to do our duties, and conduct ourselves in such a way that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last a thousand years, men will still say: This was their finest hour.”

Thus ended Winston Churchill his third and last speech, proclaimed during the Battle of France. On May 10, 1940, the Germans began their invasion of France. On June 14 Paris fell and in a matter of days, with France surrendered, England was the only bulwark in Europe against two putrid evils, fascism and Nazism.

At that critical moment, on June 18, Churchill delivered a devastating speech , from beginning to end, loaded with words designed to bring hope in that dark hour. Of course, Churchill knew perfectly the audience to which he was addressing his speech, and he controlled, to his fingertips, the message he wanted to convey.

Organized and clear ideas, effective presentations

Clear and logical delivery of ideas is a critical component of a good speech or effective oral presentation, because using the wrong skills bores your audience and, worse still, impairs your ability to convey an important message.

Giving an oral presentation is a frequent task in the educational field, but it is also essential in the professional field. Preparation and practice are key elements to increase quality and achieve success.

Academics, professionals, and students from all fields want to disseminate the knowledge they produce, and this is often accomplished through class oral presentations, lectures, public lectures, or business meetings. Therefore, learning how to give effective presentations is a necessary skill .

Some simple rules for devising good presentations are as follows:

Rule 1: Know our public

It is useful to know in advance the type of audience we will have and the level of knowledge expected. In this way we can adapt the talk and the language. It is also effective to interact with the audience and make eye contact with as many people as possible. Take care of appearance and manners, be courteous and elegant.

Rule 2. Less is more

Let’s include only one idea per slide. Let’s be organized and concise. Let’s use slide space wisely and avoid unnecessary decorations that distract listeners. Let’s use illustrations, but let’s not abuse animations and avoid strident ones, such as figures or text that blink, fly over, etc. The transitions between slides should be smooth.

Let’s check the grammar, spelling, and layout of each slide. A structured and clear presentation leads to dialogue, and facilitates a valuable and productive question time. Let’s not answer questions vaguely.

Rule 3. One minute per slide

Ideally, spend one minute per slide and use references in the header that make it possible to follow through. This will allow us to adequately allocate the time of the presentation. Let’s avoid text-only slides, sidetracks, tangents, or side issues. An excessively long presentation invites disconnection, and conversely, a presentation that is too short is disconcerting.

Rule 4. Complement, do not repeat

Let’s interact with the presentation, but avoid reading the text directly. We can build a presentation with visual strength, but avoiding cognitive overload. Let’s not be redundant, the presentation must complement the speech. The style and graphic design must be recognizable and forceful.

Rule 5: Principle of parsimony

Let’s use the principle of parsimony in explanations: not in the sense of being slow, but in the sense of being frugal. Let’s identify the concepts that require explanation and those that don’t. Let’s emphasize critical messages. Let’s use simple explanations.

Rule 6. Questions and answers

We may have prepared supporting slides that may be helpful if a topic arises that needs further explanation. Let’s answer the questions calmly and without condescension. Let’s not argue or interrupt the questioner.

Rule 7. Training and practice

We should practice until fluent, but not memorize the speech, because it will be monotonous and boring to the audience. Let’s take care of spontaneity to use it at specific moments. You have to give the audience time, so they can think and adjust to the pace of the speaker. Let’s set the stage. There must be a logical flow, with a clear beginning, middle and end. Start strong and end with an underlying message.

Rule 8. Body language

We must avoid rigidity and listless postures. Convey energy and gesticulate if necessary. Smile. Do not ramble, or play with the pointer. Exercise the voice. Use intonation. It is good to drink water, because hydration will prevent, in many cases and after a long time talking, the appearance of hoarseness, pain, throat clearing or sudden cough.

Rule 9. Entertaining, but rigorous

You have to design an entertaining, but rigorous presentation. A small touch of humor can captivate the audience and improve attention, but we must know our limits and not exceed ourselves. Add appropriate references that provide credit and cite people who have made positive contributions to our work. A funny anecdote can be a compelling and useful tool to emotionally engage and connect the speaker with the audience. It is important to use high-contrast colors and simple backgrounds with little or no color, because the audience may include people who are dyslexic or visually impaired. Let’s use a large font size, and think of a combination of colors and palettes that can be understood by people with different forms of color blindness.

Rule 10. Anticipation and preparation

To minimize potential technical disasters, let’s be cautious about where and how the presentation will take place. It is good to save a copy of the presentation in PDF format. Use videos only when necessary, and create a backup slide with screenshots of key images, in case the video player crashes. Let’s check in advance the compatibility of the equipment with our presentation. We must be prepared to be able to give the talk in another format.

Creating an optimal presentation is an arduous task and often requires intense dedication. There are now some fabulous resources out there to improve the process and with training, a little practice, and patience, one person can become an incredible public speaker .

That said, depending on the moment, rules are meant to be broken, but let’s remember: it may be wise not to break all of them, and certainly not all at once.

Author Bio: Raul Rivas Gonzalez is a Professor of Microbiology. Member of the Spanish Society of Microbiology at the University of Salamanca