5 Science-Backed Ways to Give Better Presentations (Even if You Hate Public Speaking)

You have an upcoming presentation and you want it to be amazing. Because, while you’ve always done a good job, you’re looking to level up.

But as you start to research how you can make your next talk the best yet, you’re overwhelmed by the amount of advice out there.

Good news: I’ve waded through it all to share the research that tells you how to engage your listeners, convince them of your message, and improve your use of slides.

These five tips are proven to work:

1. Tell a Story

There’s a reason storytelling is the buzzword du jour: It works!

When you tell a story, something magic happens to your audience members. Activity lights up in their brains as if they were experiencing the story for themselves.

Need more proof? In a study led by Wharton professor Deborah Small, researchers found that people were much more likely to contribute after hearing the story of a single victim they could picture and connect to, rather than one full of high-level statistics. So, if you want your presentation to inspire action, storytelling is the most powerful tool you can use in your presentation.

The Talk to Watch

Researcher Uri Hasson explains the neuroscience of storytelling.

2. Use Visual Aids

According to Albert Mehrabian, Professor of Psychology at UCLA, 55% of the information we take in is visual, whereas only 38% is vocal. Translation: Your audience wants to see something!

Don’t limit yourself to PowerPoint slides—a visual aid can be anything you show your audience to support your message. For example, Shark Tankcontestants don’t show their product on a slideshow, they’ll bring it with them and do a live demo. Slides are great, but for an important presentation where you need to make an impact, think about what other visual aids you could use to get your audience engaged.

The Talk to Watch

Engineer Raffaello D’Andrea shows his audience drones in action to bring to life his passion for engineering, mathematics, and technology.

3. Use Images Instead of Text

If you’re using slides in your presentation, don’t fall into the trap of writing out your speaking notes and then projecting them onto a screen. Even bullet points are a turn off to an audience because they need to switch their concentration between what you’re saying and what you’ve written.

Case in point: Cognitive psychologist, Chris Atherton, tested students’ recall of a presentation. One group received the presentation with slides that were text heavy, the other with slides that had very few words. The students who saw the slides with fewer words could recall more than twice as much than those who’d seen it with the text heavy-slides.

Science shows that slides covered in text hinder—rather than help—your audience’s ability to take in what you’re saying. So, next time you present, ditch the bullet points and look for simple images to support your message.

The Talk to Watch

Brené Brown is a master of storytelling, but she also uses simple visual aids to reinforce her message.

4. Make Your Presentation Interactive

Interacting with your audience when you present makes them sit up and take notice of what you’re saying. The simplest way is to ask them a question. Even a rhetorical question will make a distracted colleague look up from their iPhone and reengage in your material.

Bonus: There are lots of tools and apps available that you can use to run polls and filter audience questions.

The Talk to Watch

Amy Cuddy opens her talk by asking the audience to do an “audit of their body” and think about their posture. Watch as audience members noticeably shift in their seats!

5. Use Some Humor

If someone makes you laugh you’re more likely to be attracted to them. True, you don’t want your audience to fall in love with you, but winning them over makes them more likely to listen.

Not everyone feels comfortable using humor when they’re presenting, but even a light-hearted comment at the beginning can help break the ice and make you and your audience feel more relaxed. (Just remember these three rules for using humor at work.)

The Talk to Watch

Comedian Maysoon Zayid, is a genius in her TEDWomen Talk, I ,Got 99 problems…Palsy Is Just One.

Pulling a presentation together takes time and effort. And so, you want that hard work to pay off in the form of people remembering and caring about what you said.

Next time you’re pulling one together, don’t just do what you’ve always done. See if you can incorporate one (or more!) of these tips and make your own that much more effective.


This piece was originally published by the Muse.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.