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10 secrets of great presenters

Audience at a business conference.

I watch Shark Tank (probably too much). Some potentially great products never get an offer, mostly because the person does not communicate either the value of the product, or the value of themselves. You may be amazing at your craft and at the top of your game, whether it’s ux design, app development, app testing, or digital strategy. If you can’t effectively communicate ideas or solutions, however, they may never come to fruition or get implemented. That can leave you feeling frustrated and unheard, like people just don’t “get it.”

Let me share with you some qualities of great presenters that can make a world of difference.

It’s no surprise that effective communications skills are a requirement for nearly every job, no matter the industry or level of experience. You may not have plans to be on Shark Tank, but great communication is something that’s applicable to everyone. It’s certainly essential to every task at WillowTree, from delivering a compelling client pitch to explaining a complex idea to a teammate.

Communication is one of WillowTree’s core values. We attempt to evaluate candidates’ communication skills during our interview process by emulating “real-world” situations tailored to the role. For example, Product Strategy and Design candidates present their work to a room of people from multiple disciplines, including our business development and executive leadership teams. While the content of their presentations will never be overlooked, I often find candidates’ delivery, presentation, and presence are just as important.

Here are 10 qualities common amongst successful presenters:


1) They own and organize the time. Be cognizant of the allotted time frame and organize your presentation to fit. Plan to include time for a brief and relevant introduction, discussion around your key points, and follow-up questions at the end.

2) They’re aware of their body language. Nonverbal communication can help you connect with your audience and promote trust and engagement. Strong presenters own the room, carrying themselves with poise and conviction. Assess the space, and if possible, stand up. Focus on the audience, moving towards them, rather than your slides on important points. Treat it like a presentation rather than a “real-estate” tour where you stand back and show them around your slideshow.

Other ways to connect with your audience:

  • Eye contact - Do you look others in the eye when talking or does your gaze wander to the floor or the walls?
  • Facial expressions - smiling not only lightens the room, but eases your nerves.
  • Posture and shoulder positioning - Keep your head high and shoulders back. Keep your body open, positioning your shoulders towards the audience. Crossed arms send subtle cues of being standoffish and defensive.
  • Hands - Remove them from your pockets and try to avoid rubbing them together and touching your neck and shoulders, which conveys anxiety and discomfort.

10 secrets of presenters blog

3) They engage in active listening.
There’s definitely an art to conversation. Listening is just as important as delivery…and I mean truly listening. When asked a question, let the other person finish before you respond — making sure you fully understand their question. It’s okay to ask clarifying questions to ensure you don’t waste time answering the wrong thing. It’s common for presenters to immediately start brainstorming a response before understanding the question at hand.

4) They know when to stop talking. Go over your presentation and identify areas that may require a more detailed explanation. Spend more time on these points as opposed to others that may be more self-explanatory or commonplace. To prevent boring your audience, start succinctly and then ask if there are any questions. If not, move on! Continue to gauge your audience’s attention level throughout your presentation. If you think you’re rambling and keep losing your train of thought, this may be a sign that you’re also losing them.

5) They don’t use tons of fillers. Um…so…like…y’know? We’re all guilty of it, but if overused, it can distract from your content. Ask your friends and family for honest feedback. Or, if you’re really daring, try a self-awareness exercise: record your presentation and count the number of filler words. This is definitely an enlightening opportunity to experience for yourself how you come across to others.

6) They bring a positive energy to the room. There’s not a specific formula for this, but those who are undeniably passionate or engaging bring a positive presence with them. If you aren’t excited about your content, why should others be? Also, don’t rely too heavily on your slide deck; it’s a supporting tool and doesn’t have to be the main focus throughout. Try humanizing your presentation through storytelling. Don’t be afraid to elaborate with interesting anecdotes.

7) They’re able to think on their feet, and pivot if necessary. Expect questions and feedback. Anticipate potential questions or edge cases beforehand, particularly around fuzzy topics. Be prepared to support your ideas without being defensive, but remain open to feedback. If you don’t know an answer, it’s okay to say, “Great question! I’m going to look into that.” If you try to be an expert on something that you’re clearly not, you’ll quickly lose credibility.

8) They think about the big picture. Great presenters bridge their presentation to real-world application. They consider overarching business goals and requirements like cost, time, and sustainability. Understand your audience and what motivates them. When editing your presentation ask yourself why it should matter to your audience.

9) They’re comfortable being uncomfortable. Being in the hot seat is tough, but it’s part of the job. They learn to go with the flow despite technical issues, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. They recover from any mishaps and remain optimistic.

10) They’re authentic. The best presentations are not always the most perfect or polished. No matter how much you practice, the presentation will inevitably be different on the big day. But that’s okay. We’re not hiring your presentation, we’re hiring you and your ability to solve problems and communicate. Finally, humor and vulnerability go a long way. Remember that your audience is on your side, rooting for you.

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