How to prepare for a presentation at work: 7 confidence-boosting tips
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Whether you work mainly with customers or colleagues, the ability to communicate with people gives employees a powerful edge in their careers. If that sounds hard to believe, consider this: Most major decisions made by business leaders start with information shared in a presentation, according to The Balance Careers.
While not every presentation has an executive audience, the point stands that a good presentation has the power to inspire real action.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are seven tips on how to prepare for a presentation at work that can help you become a more confident and persuasive speaker.
7 tips for how to prepare for a presentation at work
1. Get to know your audience and what resonates with them.
Whether you’re speaking to C-level executives, colleagues or new hires, your presentation should always be designed to resonate with the group you’re presenting to.
The way you present a topic may be exciting to one group but bore another to tears, so knowing your audience is just as important as the content itself. Find out what your audience will be interested in and what delivery style resonates with them.
You should be able to answer some basic questions about your audience, including:
- Why are they listening to your presentation?
- What are they hoping to get out of it?
- How do they prefer to receive information?
- What does their typical day look like?
- What are their pain points?
- How is your presentation useful to them?
- What do you want them to do?
- Why might they resist your call to action?
Once you get to know your audience, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions on the style of the presentation. For example, if you’re presenting to a group of interns, you may want to be more animated in your delivery and explain things at a much higher level. A good strategy could include:
- Incorporating a healthy dose of humor.
- Speaking in layman's terms, free from jargon.
- Telling a story that supports your message.
- Encouraging group interaction with an activity.
If you’re presenting to a group of executives, on the other hand, you’ll want to pass on the dramatics. A better approach would involve:
- Keeping it to the point with a data-focused approach.
- Speaking in a professional tone.
- Using industry jargon and concise language.
2. Do your research and prepare for tough questions.
If you’re taking on a topic you’re not particularly familiar with, you’ll really need to roll up your sleeves and do your research.
There's no way to predict every question you'll get from your audience, so you should have enough of a foundation of the topic that you can elaborate on and provide examples about if necessary. By becoming an expert, you get the heavy lifting out of the way so that the ideas and responses come more naturally when it’s time to present.
It can be easy to get off track when you’re digging up all this interesting information for your presentation, so try to remember why you chose this topic and how it impacts your audience. When preparing for questions from the audience, look for parts of your presentation where:
- You share information that’s questionable, controversial or upsetting.
- You make a claim that your audience might disagree with.
- You can’t go into as much detail as you would like due to time constraints.
These are areas where you’re more likely to get hard questions, so come with some additional resources to back it up.
3. Write an outline that’s to the point and leaves room for conversation.
Good presenters are people who are confident, engage with their audience and can adapt on a dime. Scripting out an entire presentation can both limit your presentation and the potential conversations that it inspires. That’s why outlines are ideal.
When creating an outline, try to follow these tips:
- Break it out into sections: Organize your thoughts by separating the body of your presentation into three parts, then use your bullet points to build each section out.
- Limit your bullets for each topic: Each bullet should be just long enough to trigger your memory and get you back on track if you're interrupted.
- Include stopping points between important topics: Open the floor to questions instead of waiting until the end allows open communication and can help keep your audience engaged as you move through your presentation.
4. Study your venue to get a feel for the layout and equipment.
Most of the time you won't have control over where you are going to give your presentation.
However, at least knowing where you will present will help you set the stage for your presentation and give you the chance to address some potential issues early on. You don’t want to walk in, ready to go, with a USB in hand, just to realize there’s no computer, monitor or projector.
Some questions you may want to consider when checking out your venue include:
- How much room will you have to move around?
- How loudly will you need to speak?
- Is there a way to present visuals?
- What does your backdrop look like?
- Is there any potential for distractions?
If you identify any possible road bumps, you need to address them before the day of the presentation. Can you request a room change? If not, what can be done to work around it?
I once presented in a room where there were glass doors behind me leading to a busy hallway. It was distracting, even to an experienced presenter, and it was also distracting to the group I was presenting to. The next time I had to present at that location, I rearranged the entire conference room so my audience was sitting with their backs to the hallway.
5. Include visuals to add interest and that support your message.
Visuals are an important part of any presentation. They can help make your presentation more interesting and easier to focus on.
PowerPoints are always a go-to, but don’t make your slides so detailed that the audience could have printed them off and read it themselves. Use each slide to hint at what’s to come without telling the whole story, and work in keywords and images that draw interest.
Videos are also a great way to help convey your message and engage your audience. If you decide to include a video or two, keep them no longer than 90 seconds each.
If you do plan to use multimedia, make sure you have the necessary equipment. Nothing is more nerve-wracking than having to learn how to work a piece of equipment on the fly when all eyes are on you.
6. Rehearse in stages focused on your speech, body language, confidence
Practicing your presentation allows you to be more focused on your audience than the content you are presenting on the actual presentation day. It gives you confidence and shows the audience you are prepared.
For many people the first readthrough is the most daunting part of preparing a presentation. I suggest easing in by breaking your practice down to four parts:
Stage 1: With a voice recorder.
Ease into your presentation rehearsal by focusing on your speech. Use the voice recorder app on your phone to record your first few run-throughs, then play it back so you can hear your tone, how fast you’re talking or if you’re using filler words, like “you know” or “umm.”
Stage 2: In front of a mirror.
Once you feel confident in your spoken delivery, you can key in on the other elements of your presentation. Try running through your presentation in front of a mirror so you can see what your body language is like.
Stand tall and work in some hand gestures where they feel natural. When you’re not using your hands, try to keep them relaxed at your sides or interlaced in front of you. Avoid swaying, crossing your arms or putting your hands on your hips or in your pockets.
Stage 3: With a friend or colleague.
Next, practice in front of a friend or co-worker. This is a great time to focus on connecting with your audience, and nothing says, “I am confident and what I’m saying is important” like eye contact does.
However, make sure you’re not being too intense – you should still blink and look around as you present. If you’re not comfortable with direct eye contact, try focusing just above the person’s eyes or over the top of their head.
Stage 4: On site.
If you can, run through the final practice round in the room you’ll be presenting in.
I’m a walker, especially if I’m presenting to a large group in a big room. If you plan on moving around while presenting, make sure you’re not just pacing back and forth continuously. If you’re in a smaller space and a podium to stand at, try standing on one side or in front of it instead of behind it.
As you work through the first three stages, your goal should be to build confidence. Remember, you’ll have the chance to polish it all off in the final round.
I typically recommend doing two or three readthroughs in each stage, but you should allow yourself to move on once you start to feel comfortable with your delivery.
If you don’t have enough time before your presentation to incorporate all the practice rounds above, I would recommend doing at least two run-throughs prior to your final presentation, and a quick review before the presentation.
7. Settle your nerves with some deep breaths and a pep talk.
It’s not uncommon to feel nervous about presenting at work. Speech anxiety is one of the biggest problems inexperienced and experienced speakers face.
According to the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, fear of public speaking is America's biggest phobia - 25.3% say they fear speaking in front of a crowd.
Taking a few deep breaths before you present can help you feel more relaxed and give you the confidence you need to start strong. As you move through your presentation, remember to stop and breathe between ideas.
No matter who you are presenting to, your audience is human. They don’t know what you know, and they sure don’t know what you don’t know. If you mess up or stumble, just shake it off and keep going. No one expects you to be perfect, and there’s a good chance your audience won’t even notice if you make a mistake.
Also, never underestimate the value of a good pep talk. You've done all the research, prepared an outline, checked out the room and practiced a ton of times. There’s no reason why you won’t nail the presentation, so just take a moment to reflect on your work and steep in some encouraging thoughts before you step up to the front.
Learn more about how to become an effective communicator at work
Explore nine tips for better workplace communication that every professional should follow, and review some advice on how to put them into practice.
Becka has been with Schneider since 2013 and has held multiple roles within Schneider Transportation Management (STM), including Broker, Senior Broker and her current role of Dallas STM Recruiter. Becka’s favorite part of her day is when she gets to connect quality candidates to positions that will allow for success both personally and professionally.