How to Design a Kick-Ass Presentation for All Ages, Industries, and Contexts

600 400 Ellen Ensher
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microphone How to Design a Kick-Ass Presentation for All Ages, Industries, and Contexts For the rest of our life, most of us will have to do presentations of one kind or another. In fact, one night I was home with son and husband and I looked around the kitchen table and I realized that all three of us were preparing presentations. Mark is in 6th grade and was preparing his presentation on Utopia for English class, Steve is an executive in the water industry and was preparing a technical presentation and I was preparing to teach my class on Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior the next day. I realized that no matter the topic, industry or our age we all are called upon to do presentations our whole professional, personal, academic life. So, in honor of spring which is officially “student presentation time” I wanted to share my tips for putting together a kick-ass presentation based on my years as a trainer and professor.  Happy presenting!

First, I always, always use these four steps when designing a class, a keynote, a Tedx talk. Here are the steps I share with my business students. Ta da!

4- step process of training design

  • Prepare
  • Present
  • Practice
  • Conclude/Evaluate

Before you design, begin with 1-3 learning objectives. A simple way to write these is to answer this question: By the end of this presentation, what do I want participants to know, think about or do differently? In other words, when they walk out this door how are they changed or a little better because I presented?

Before your present:

-Consider your professional dress and grooming. See . What do you want to communicate with your clothing and style?

-Arrive early and cue up your media

-Consider having handouts as a back-up as sometimes the most sophisticated media fails.

-Consider what can go wrong and plan for it (then accept some things can NOT be planned for and plan to respond with grace)

-Watch and analyze your favorite Ted talks to get your head into the game of presenting

-Consider your favorite ways you have been engaged or had interaction in a class or workshop. Adults spend far too much time working- they like to be playful too. How can you incorporate the spirit of serious play into your corporate presentations so people are seriously engaged?



The prepare step includes your introduction, express gratitude, agenda, objectives, ground rules. It may  also include an icebreaker. Here are three tips:

  • Always being with the WIFM (address what is in it for me?)  and why topic is important
  • If time, do icebreaker for rapport and to lead into topic
  • Establish rapport and communicate your enthusiasm for the topic

Opening Guidelines

  • Start on Time
  • Should be strong and well rehearsed
  • State objective and agenda
  • Establish ground rules (i.e. no cell-phones)
  • Avoid jokes or apologies

Gain attention by using:

  • Attention getting statement
  • Vivid example or personal story
  • Important statistics
  • Strong quotation or poem



The present step is often a lecture format. Think about including Socratic questions, media, guided note-taking, or dyadic brainstorming.

  • Use of audiovisuals effectively
    • Can it be seen? Heard? Is it working?
    • Arrive early and queue up your media
    • Is the media working and do you have a back-up plan if media fails?
    • Does the media fit the point? Never talk to the media
    • Less is more!
  • Body Language
    • Stand up straight with hips evenly centered over feet. No shifting nervously! Keep your knees slightly bent (yep, same for pilates, yoga, tennis … good posture is good posture)
    • Eye Contact- if you do nothing else, do this
    • Speech habits- avoid the ums, awesomes, or other nervous fillers
    • Pace/volume- breathe, drink water and put your timing on every slide so you can stay on track.
  • Stage Fright
    • Know your material well
    • Find a “friend” in the audience or someone who has the opposite of “resting bitch face” ..maybe resting kind face?”
    • Practice way more than you think you should. For something really important, I aim for 25 times
    • Smile to audience
    • Have notes- use the Notes view on PPT.
    • Record yourself on your phone and watch yourself before you present



Think about including a variety of training methods including case studies, simulations, small group discussion, skill practices, games, and simulations.  Think about using behavioral modeling (a) Introduce someone to a skill by showing a positive model, b) have them practice, c) give feedback, This section is about getting participants to apply the material you presented in the previous step.

What can you do to invite interaction?

Be flexible in your design- always have something to add and something to take away

  • Ask open questions
  • Invite people to participate and tell them why
  • The power of silence- ask a question and then wait 10 seconds to see if someone will respond.
  • Use positive reinforcement- say something nice when someone responds.
  • Pay attention and walk around when you give your audience a task. Stay with them mentally and physically



  • Ask what they learned and go round robin.
  • End on positive note with summary and/or final inspirational idea or phrase
  • Ask for questions and say thank you

Evaluate your favorite Ted talk using the following criteria
1) Interesting description and example of core topic??
2) Clear and well organized presentation?
3) Demonstrated ability to communicate relevance and importance of topic
4) Generated interest, involvement and participation
5) Professional presentation style and executive presence demonstrated?

Assess: What else was highly effective?/ could have been improved?