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Conquer Your Fear of Presentations with 11 Tips for Engaging Slideshows

Conquer Your Fear of Presentations with 11 Tips for Engaging Slideshows

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

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’re 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.

License these images via Alina Rosanova and Stockbusters.

2. Start Pouring Ideas into Multiple Slides

Open your presentation software of choice, whether it’s Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Slides, Keynote, sites like Prezi, or an in-house editing tool like Shutterstock Create.

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

Blank presentation template option in Create editor
Presentation blank canvas options in Shutterstock Create.

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’re in a traditional conference room, deciding between a traditional 1024 x 768 px presentation or a widescreen 1920 x 1080 px 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’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.

Brazilian model pointing at beautiful images of blooming Amaryllis flowers
License these images via Luis Molinero and Nicholas Piccillo.

5. Start Deleting Slides

Screenshot of an example of a slide to delete

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, 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’ll 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

"Agile Frameworks" presentation inside Create editor with architectural image and geometric shapes layered throughout neon and dark green color scheme
Customize this presentation template in Shutterstock Create!

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 Create using the presentation template options. There you can adjust images—stock photos or personal uploads—in just a few clicks.

8. Use Video Sparingly

Videos can be incredibly engaging and captivating, but a video that is even five 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 five 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 presentations where the audience can stop and ask questions, but for presentations that leave questions and answers until the end, this is a clever way to keep your presentation engaging and on time.

10. Remember, You’re Not Funny to Everyone

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.

License these images via Mix and Match Studio and UfaBizPhoto.

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.

Raised hands in front of presentation slide
License these images via Pressmaster and Shutterstock Create’s Presentation Slide Template.

How to Make a Presentation Interactive

So, you’ve got the basics down about assembling a presentation, but how about making a presentation more interactive and, well, interesting?

If you’re presenting on a stage for a big event, luckily, folks are expecting to be talked to about various topics. If you’re presenting in a board room meeting or to a group of people who don’t know you or what you stand for, it’s extremely important to learn how to make a presentation interactive.

And, while having scarce words on presentation slides looks clean, without the right engagement tools, this style can present as underwhelming.

Here are several quick tips on learning how to make your presentation interactive:

1. Bring YOU to the Table

At the end of the day, the most important piece of the presentation is you. Bring your wit, charm, humor, sarcasm (where appropriate), and other personal traits that will help you capture your audience.

If you’re not sure what makes you unique, you might want to jot out a list of your strongest qualities before you present. This way, you can get clear about what you offer and your value.

A confident person makes for a confident presentation. Heck, you could present about the evolution of grapes and still captivate a crowd with the right energy!

2. Read the Room

Once you’ve established your strengths, that doesn’t mean you have to use them all. In other words, just because you’re funny doesn’t mean you want to crack jokes on a presentation about mental illness in the US.

Your environment and demographic can help you discern which traits to emphasize.

Once you establish the demographic, scope out the scene. Are you in a classroom, sold-out conference, or outdoor festival? Just like events dictate a dress code and etiquette, your environment can help you know whether to be fancy, casual, modest, or bold.

While presentations should remain professional, some environments are more relaxed. You wouldn’t want to be ultra-sophisticated at a casual friend and family event, would you?

Ultimately, the more relatable you are, the more engaged folks will be.

Plus, knowing your environment can help you prep and anticipate any unexpected variables, like noise, weather, tech accessibility, etc.

3. Diverse Media

While the wrong kind of video clip can derail an audience, you do want to be sure you have diverse content. Mix things up by both talking and listening. How? Throw in a video clip or two (where relevant).

You can also make space for a Q&A so as to gather some voices from the audience. You can infuse mixed media like music, educational clips, or testimonials, as well.

Think about it as if you’re teaching a course. If you were the student, would you want to be listening to a lecture the whole time? While presentations do have lecture-like components, there are different ways to make an impact.

If mixed media doesn’t feel appropriate, you can also mix up the type of talking points you include by using:

When you diversify your original thoughts with academic research, stats, quotes, images, and the like, you give yourself (and the audience) different ways to ingest information.

In a world where the average human attention span is rapidly decreasing to ~ 8 seconds, heightened engagement requires diversity.

4. Less Slides, More You

While presentation slides hold several benefits, they’re there as a supportive role, not as the thing to fixate on. In other words, certainly use the slides to draw folks in by way of color palettes, (info)graphics, images, textures, and effects. 

But, the less you write on the slides, the more reliant the audience will be on hearing the information from you.

Depending on the environment, you can use additional note cards to offer your original thoughts, or practice enough not to need them!

Either way, the presentation slide details are there for audience engagements and notes to self, but not to share your every talking point.

5. Do a Demo

Depending on how long you have to present, consider a demonstration. You can take volunteers or pre-plan someone coming up on stage.

If you’re the type of presenter who likes to fly off the cuff, this type of interaction can leave room for the authentic, real-time happenings.

Plus, some presenters thrive on audience participation and the unexpected.

If you’re seeking audience engagement and don’t want to do a demo, you can still do something experiential.

For example, you can take a poll by showing a raise of hands. Or, you can have people close their eyes while you walk them through creative visualization.

These types of collective experiences have a long-lasting impact, not only because they’re participating, but because they’re experiencing something unique collectively.

These choices not only bond the audience with you, the presenter (and vice versa), but it bonds the audience to each other.

Uncertain, shy man in front of individual screens of people
License these images via and Prostock-studio.

How to Make a Virtual Presentation Interactive

Alright, friends. We know we’re currently living in the era of Zoom burnout. At the same time, the progression of advanced technology is leading us into a chapter of 24/7 virtual presentation access. For that, we can be grateful.

Still, if you’re like, Wow, yet another virtual presentation. How do I make it count, you’re in the right place. Know that while it’s true we’re overloaded with content all day every day, your content matters.

Because of the incredible screen sharing options available, you can still make your virtual presentation spiffy with graphics, visuals, video clips, and more.

At the same time, things get a bit tricky, as you can’t feed off the audience’s energy in quite the same way. As the virtual presenter, depending on your settings, it’s possible you won’t be able to see the attendees you’re speaking to.

It’s best to have a host or moderator to make sure everyone’s mics are muted the entire time to prevent distractions.

Black and white photo of a woman interrupting a man on the phone
License this image via Everett Collection.

There are particular host permissions that can ensure your presentation goes smoothly. While some may feel virtual presentations are easier, there are just as many variables to juggle as in-person events.

Be sure you have clear communication with the host of your event about how to moderate or do your research on Zoom permissions (or whatever platform you use) before you’re on!

The above tips remain true for virtual presentations and in-person ones. Still diversify content, use mixed media, have a cohesive design, and involve the audience in whatever way you see fit.

Since you’ll be online where it’s harder to gauge a hand-raising poll, perhaps stick to guiding them in a meditative journey or something that’s easily manageable online.

Plus, for those who miss your virtual events, you’ll have a recording option to keep attracting folks beyond the event date and time.

Marketing Strategies

For both online and in-person presentations, marketing efforts remain supremely important. While we’ve already covered how to make a presentation more interesting once they’re there, you can also do some footwork beforehand.

Marketing instills value. Whether that looks like flyers, social media posts, emails, brochures, or all of the above, it helps to include a summary of what will be covered. That way, prospective attendees have some idea of what they’re going to experience.

Yet, for those who do show up, you don’t want to assume they know where you’re going, so you’ll want to reiterate value on the actual day, too.

Marketing requires you have your presentation down pat long in advance, so you provide your demographic with ample information.

You can’t market something you can’t promise, so you’ll want to think ahead.

Photo of a man thinking with a tiny image of himself above him meditating
License this image via – Yuri A.

Final (Inner) Prep Work

Ultimately, if you cover all these steps, there’s no way your audience won’t be engaged. Be sure to practice often so as to combat any stage fright or nerves that come up.

Make a ritual for yourself before you present so you have some tools in the event of unexpected emotions or forgetfulness.

At the end of the day, you’re human and your audience just wants to see that. Set realistic expectations. If you’re a first-timer, expecting “perfection” is a fast track to self-criticism.

Spend your evenings meditating and creatively visualizing positive outcomes. Your presentation, no matter how mathematic or scientific, is innately creative.

When manifesting any internal vision, it’s important to tend to all parts of the creative process—and that includes your mindset and emotions.

You got this. Now go crush it!

Seeking more presentation-crushing guides? Be sure to check these out:

License these cover images via CarlosDavid and Shutterstock Create’s Presentation Slide Template.

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