How To Deliver A Winning Presentation

Public speaking is an inevitable, and much dreaded, part of student and graduate life. Like it or not your early twenties are going to be filled with presentations - as part of your course, during internships and at assessment centres.

We’ve chosen some of the best public speakers, of past and present, to illustrate some important points about how to deliver a winning presentation!

Keep it simple

Steve Jobs, Apple’s former CEO, was a renowned presenter. When he first introduced the iPod to the world, he could have said something like:

‘Here is a new, portable music player which weighs just 6.5 ounces and has both long battery life and lightening fast speeds.’

Instead he simply said ‘iPod. One thousand songs in your pocket.’

Jobs avoided complicated jargon, stats or buzzwords and you should too.

Watch yourself back

Hitler, while one of history’s most evil men, was undoubtedly a gifted, and very persuasive, public speaker.

Like all the best public speakers, Hitler practised diligently. He would even ask his photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, to take photos of him doing particular gestures and poses which he wanted to use during his speeches. He’d examine them, saying, “No, that looks silly” or “I’m never going to do that again.”

While you might not have a personal photographer on hand like Adolf, practice your presentation in front of the mirror; that way you’ll see what your audience will see!

Follow Oprah’s ‘what’s in it for me?’ mantra

Your presentation isn’t about you - it’s about your audience. America’s sweetheart, Oprah Winfrey, knows this and is great at tailoring what she is saying to who is listening.

When writing a presentation, see it from the audience’s perspective. Find out what they might not understand, what they might find boring, then adjust accordingly.

Keep it short

When planning a presentation, it’s always a case of less is more. After all, nobody ever complains that a presentation is too short!

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettisburg’s Address, regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history, was short and sweet. Edward Everett (who spoke before Lincoln that day) gave a speech that was two hours long. Lincoln’s lasted three minutes.

Choose three or four points that you want to make to your audience, and elaborate on them. If you’ve been given a guideline of how long your presentation should be, always make sure you’re a couple of minutes under your limit, to give some wiggle room.

Change your tone, pace and volume

The slickest man in politics (and perhaps just in general?), uses his voice to great effect. He slows it down, lowers his volume, and pauses for impact. At other times he speeds up his pace and raises the volume of his voice to underscore a key sentence.

Varying the way in which you speak is a sure-fire way to keep your audience interested.

Be yourself, and don’t be too scripted

So what presentation lessons can be learnt from everyone’s favourite affable buffoon, Boris Johnson?  Surely we shouldn’t be emulating his bumbling manner, his stuttering and his famous faux pas? These aside, he is honest, relaxed and personable on stage and this illustrates an important point.

Don’t feel you need to be too professional when presenting. You can make mistakes and you can pause to think about what you need to say next. It’s much more comfortable to watch someone who is being themselves, than it is to watch someone who is too rehearsed.

Repetition, repetition, repetition

Public speakers often use anaphora (or repetition to you and me) to get their points across. Think Martin Luther King with ‘I have a dream’, Winston Churchill’s ‘We’ll fight them on the beaches’ or Tony Blair’s ‘Education, education, education.’

At the beginning of your presentation state what you are going to talk about, in the middle talk about it, and then at the end repeat what you’ve talked about. This way, the audience have heard your key points three times and will come away with a very clear idea of what you’ve said.

Presenting is a skill, not a talent.


Some of history’s most memorable speakers had pretty shaky starts.

Winston Churchill, for instance, was described as a poor public speaker in his early years. He had lisp, a stammer and his voice was referred to as ‘grating’ and ‘unattractive’. Similarly, Gandhi was anything but a natural presenter. When young Gandhi was a law student in London, he was due to give a speech on the benefits of vegetarianism to a dinner party. He’d prepared, but when it was his turn to speak in public he panicked, could only mutter a line and someone else had to continue.

The moral of these stories? Don’t worry if you feel you aren’t a ‘natural’ presenter; presenting is a skill like any other - it can be improved on over time.

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