Seven Secrets for Giving a Presentation that “Knocks Their Socks Off”

by Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed

You know the feeling. It’s that sense of dread that settles in the pit of your stomach. It’s a clammy feeling that envelops your hands. It’s that sense that somehow your designer shoes have been turned into a heavy pair of leaden boots.

You’ve just agreed to give a big presentation and you’re asking, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Even experienced speakers sometimes feel a flurry of nerves before a big presentation, so you’re not alone. But the pros also know a few secrets for giving a dynamic, memorable presentation that quickly dispels mild “stage fright” once they begin speaking.

Their overall strategy is to deliver a dynamic presentation that galvanizes an audience and leaves them “standing in the aisles?” Following are the seven secrets used by speaking pros that can make that strategy a reality.

Secret 1:  “Profile” Your Audience
You can’t wow your listeners if you don’t understand their needs. To begin, what are the overall goals of the speaking event? What outcomes does the sponsor hope for from your presentation? You need to understand who will be in the audience, what they may already know about your subject, what they want to learn from your presentation. Also try to find out as much as possible about the speaking environment itself. Will it be a large auditorium or a more intimate meeting room? Will you be able to use a sound system and PowerPoint equipment? Will the dress be casual or business? The more you know about your speaking environment the more comfortable – and confident – you’ll feel.

Secret 2: “Grab” the Audience’s Attention
The first 30 seconds are critical. You need to begin the speech by making a
personal connection with your listeners, which demonstrates that you understand their needs.  An anecdote or personal example may prove effective. Some speakers like to use attention-grabbing stories and facts. When you start strong you signal the audience that a strong presentation is coming.

Secret 3:  Sell It, Don’t tell It
Strictly informational speeches tend to be boring. The persuasive format presents the content as a way of solving a problem or achieving a goal. It transforms your speech content from a subject that is “nice to know” (maybe) to a subject that the audience “needs” to know.

Secret 4:  Make It Colorful
Don’t go overboard with the“facts and figures.” That’s the sure sign of a potentially drab presentation. In addition to personal anecdotes and stories, pepper your presentation with famous quotes, “fun facts” and props to help hold their interest.

Secret 5:  Animate Yourself!
Professional speakers know that small gestures and monotone deliveries tend to get lost, particularly with larger audiences. Learn to use vocal variety — volume or tone of voice — and body language to add interest to your presentation. You should try a variety of delivery techniques and rehearse frequently, possibly using video. The camera adds a powerful learning dimension to rehearsals and we all know that practice makes perfect.

Secret 6:  Engage Your Audience
Try to avoid talking “at” your audience or speaking over their heads. You can use rhetorical questions to keep listeners thinking about how your topic relates to them. Another professional technique is to take audience polls and use interactive activities to keep listeners involved throughout your presentation.

Secret 7:  Close with a Bang
Audiences tend to remember presentations that end on a powerful note. Start by giving them a succinct summary of what you told them – tied to your presentation introduction – and make a strong call for audience action. Remember … this isn’t just a passive information session. You should always try to compel your audience to put your information into action.

Also, professionals know that most audiences are on the speaker’s side from the very beginning. No one wants to be bored listening to a dull, seemingly endless presentation. And you don’t want your audience feedback forms coming back with mediocre comments on the value of the presentation.

When you approach a speaking opportunity with the goal of “Knocking their socks off” and you work hard to relate your content to the audience’s needs, you’ll not only gain a round of enthusiastic applause, you’ll be providing timely and important content delivered with enthusiasm, style and impact. That’s a win-win for everybody!

Jan-Ferri-ReedDr. Jan Ferri-Reed, is President of KEYGroup and provides businesses with insightful information to create engaged, productive and profitable multi-generational organizations. She is the co-author of the best-selling book, “Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies Are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation and What to Do About It.” To hire Jan, visit: or call 724-942-7900.

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