You have an important meeting at work—giving a quarterly report, trying to sell a huge client or talking
to the big boss.
You start prepping by reading up on public speaking tips. Then you remember
that there’s no stage at work. No microphone. No TED logo (unless you work
Instead it’s you and the senior vice president in a small conference room
with no windows and the stench of a decaying apple core in the waste bin.
The vast majority of
public speaking advice is focused on how to give a formal speech to a huge crowd. At work, though,
you’re probably giving project status reports, budget updates, marketing
plans, a financial analysis, sales pitches to small groups, and updates to
your boss’s boss.
Work presentations are primarily intended to inform and persuade—rather than to entertain and
inspire. They are given to small groups, seated in an intimate setting (not
to crowds in an auditorium, standing up). They tend to be detail-focused
and data-intensive, with assertions proven with facts and with far less
reliance on anecdotes. Finally, they are rooted in a clear, logical
structure—as opposed to a performance.
What does all this mean? It means that a lot of the traditional public
speaking presentation tips will steer you off course. That doesn’t mean you
should ditch the PowerPoint and the eye contact; it does mean you should
cater to your small audience’s needs.
Here’s how to do that:
1. Do not lead with a joke.
“Hey, boss, did you hear the one about the priest and the rabbi?”
Remember, your discussion with your supervisor, customer or colleagues is
not your debut at The Improv. Instead of writing jokes, spend time
identifying the question the other person wants you to answer. Write out
your answer in advance in the form of slides.
Don’t wing it. If it's important enough to do, it's important enough to do
well. Write a voiceover script to accompany your slides. This script
shouldn’t be a verbatim copy of what's in the presentation; instead it
should be a translation and an elaboration.
[EVENT: 2017 Leadership and Executive Communications Conference]
Finally, map out in advance what you want your audience to do at the end of
the meeting, after you’ve answered their question(s).
2. Don’t create overly simple slides.
You’ve probably heard (over and over) that slides should be simple—the
simpler the better.
However, your manager and your clients don't want mere simplicity; they
want clarity. Your slides should be clear; that’s much more useful than
simplicity for simplicity’s sake. Most times, this will require more than
eight words and an image—maybe a graph and some data. Remember, if it's for
internal use, you can send the presentation around after the fact—all the
more reason to include more information.
Make sure the slides contain a single core message in the headline, with
evidence supporting the main idea. Use a minimalist design to focus the
audience’s attention on your answer to their question—not on how pretty
your deck is.
Display quantitative data and other evidence in simple and clean charts.
Read up on how to eliminate
chartjunk. Include enough text so the presentation can be read in advance and
3. Don’t obsess over delivery.
“Project your voice.” “Make eye contact.” “Smile!’” “Pause for at least 10
seconds for dramatic effect.” “Speak unusually slowly.” “Share a genuinely
emotional story.” “Be aware of your body language.” “Gargle.”
This isn’t bad advice; it just misses the mark in terms of relevance.
Before you enroll in voice coaching lessons to improve your diction and
projection, try following this four-step list:
1. Identify who your audience is.
2. Profile them. Understand who the decision makers are, how decisions get
made, how the audience likes to be spoken to, how they like to consume
3. Determine why you are speaking to them.
4. Identify the question for which you will develop an answer. Often this
is the presentation topic. Re-frame the topic as a question you’ll answer.
In other words, “marketing plan” will translate to: How do we increase
revenue by 25 percent next year?
Determine what your answer to their question will be.
- Do the analysis, thinking and work required to develop a complete answer.
Decide how best to communicate that answer.
Obsess about how you structure your thinking. Use concepts like the
Rule of Three;
Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive (MECE), and the
Pyramid Principle to create this structure and organize your ideas.
Those important workplace presentations—regardless of size—are a key part
of your communication skills. Work hard to excel at them, and your career
will take off.
Michael Smith is the founder of
SlideHeroes. A version of this post originally ran on