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Tips and Best Practices for Being an Effective Presenter

Notable lecturer and writer Dale Carnegie once said, “There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” Public speaking can be challenging and intimidating for even the most experienced speakers. It’s flattering to be asked to share your insights, but there is pressure to deliver quality content in an interesting and compelling way that will have a lasting impact on the audience. You’ve accepted a speaking opportunity, now what?
Preparation and forethought are critical in delivering a presentation that will be remembered. Here are some suggestions to help speakers feel prepared and confident so they can deliver an effective presentation.

Know Your Audience
Your message and presentation style should change based on the people to whom you will be presenting, so be sure to know your audience. Are they experts in the field or are they unfamiliar with the topic? What is their level of expertise? Why are they here for your presentation? Think about why a particular speaker is the most qualified person to address this topic and what information and value she can add that is unique to her. Think about how the topic affects the audience and build the presentation from there.

Deliver What Is Promised
Make sure the delivery of the presentation matches the marketing materials. This is what the audience is expecting to hear so by sticking to the topic, a speaker will meet the audience’s minimum expectations. Do not veer too far from the topic title and description that has been advertised or it will feel like a bait and switch to the audience. Program content may be compelling, but if the speakers are not up to accepted standards and delivering a compelling presentation, the session will fall flat.

Provide Real-World Examples
People like hearing about other people. By using real-life experiences, an audience will be better able to relate the situation presented to its own situation. Knowing that the best practices and solutions have been proven to work is more reliable than hearing theories about what might work. It can also be helpful to talk about what hasn’t worked. Many times the most valuable information is sharing what has been tried that didn’t work and understanding the lesson.
Audiences are getting savvier and they expect the presenters to be experts on the topic.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice makes perfect. Be sure to practice before the conference, as well as on-site. Rehearse in front of a few of your colleagues and gets tips for improvement. The more practice, the more comfortable a presenter will become with his speech which will make him more confident. In turn, that confidence will give the speaker more credibility with his audience.

Be the Expert
Know the material. Never read a presentation or the Microsoft PowerPoint slides. If the speaker doesn’t feel comfortable addressing the topic, and doesn’t think he will be able to effectively deliver a top-notch presentation, he shouldn’t agree to speak on this topic. There is nothing worse than taking on a speaking opportunity and not being able to deliver. It doesn’t make the speaker or his organization look good. Audiences are getting savvier and they expect the presenters to be experts on the topic, so speakers should make sure to prepare and know the material. Think about a past speaker that was enjoyable and reflect on why she had that impact. Try to emulate that.
Slides should present overall themes and messages, but your insights, experiences and best practices should be the real driving force of your presentation.

Engage Your Audience
Don’t be a talking head that just stands at the podium and reads notes word for word. Instead connect with your audience. Create a rapport with them from the beginning by listening to what they have to say. Learn what they want to get out of this session. What are their challenges? Don’t be rigid and simply stick to what is on your sheet of notes or your slides; be prepared to talk off the cuff. Some of the most effective sessions are those that are a true dialogue among the speakers and the audience members. Invite questions throughout to make the session interactive and tailored to the audience’s needs. If the speakers are not presenting in a dynamic and engaging way, the audience will lose interest. Make eye contact with the audience and move away from the podium. Walk around the room to interact with your audience. Remember, it’s all about connecting with people and making them active participants.

Give Your Audience Something to Remember
Always leave your audience with a few essential points or golden nuggets that they will be able to remember and use after the conference. The International Franchise Association’s Conference Department always considers take-home value, so make sure your presentation delivers just that. A good speaker wants people to remember him and remember the tips that he left them. A handout summarizing your golden nuggets is an added resource.

Get to Know Your Co-Presenters
If a speaker is serving on a panel, she should get to know her co-presenters and work with them and not around them. This can be accomplished by holding conference calls to discuss each person’s strengths to divide the presentation into segments. Participants should also ask for their co-presenters’ bios to access background information about them. By knowing with whom speakers are working, the panel will flow more smoothly on stage. Know what fellow co-presenters are going to say. Speakers should understand who is handling which elements during the session to avoid overlap and try to assign topics in advance so if a question is asked, it can easily and quickly be answered by the designated person for that topic. Presenters should prepare a list of questions to ask fellow panelists if the occasion arises, and also prepare a list of questions they would like them to ask. Meet on-site to conduct a dry run of your program in advance. Make your fellow panelists look good. One speaker shouldn’t present information he knows a co-presenter is responsible for covering. Always respect your co-presenters point of view, even if it differs from your own.

Meet Deadlines
Deadlines are created for a variety of reasons, including for printing, production, marketing and so forth. By meeting the deadlines imposed by the organization for the speaker, he will stay on track throughout the planning process and will be forced to give some thought to his presentation. Adhering to the deadlines will help the speaker so that he doesn’t feel rushed or nervous about his presentation.

Use Visual Aids
It is always helpful to use a visual aid, such as a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Visuals are king and keep audiences interested. Slides should not compete with your speech, but rather enhance it. A good presentation will show examples, use charts and graphs, and have text that is readable from the back of the room. Slides should be succinct and presenters should never read slides, word for word. Your slides should present overall themes and messages, but your insights, experiences and best practices should be the real driving force of your presentation.
While content is certainly important, remember that it is the speakers that make or break a program. Be sure your presentation doesn’t fall flat by knowing your material and connecting with your audience. 

Megan Gatten is conference manager and Anne Poodiack is senior director of meetings for the International Franchise Association. Gatten can be reached at 202-662-0767 or and Poodiack at 202-662-0773 or If you would like more comprehensive best practices and tips for creating and delivering an effective presentation, contact Gatten for the IFA Conferences Department’s Speaker Guidelines.

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