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how to be a better presenter, colin stone speaks to a webcam

How to be a better presenter

Understanding how to be a better presenter is for more than just business.

It’s a life skill.

Clear communication builds stronger relationships.

Knowing that you can present well helps to grow your own self-belief.

You can become so skilled that people look forward to hearing you speak.

Both inside and outside of work. 

Since 1989, we’ve been running public speaking courses across the world to build people’s confidence.

And here are five key steps we regularly share on how to be a better presenter.

1. Say more by slowing down

how to be a better presenter, michelle obama sundar pichai sir david attenborough

Michelle Obama, Sundar Pichai and Sir David Attenborough.

Three figures from vastly different worlds. 

One thing unites them.

A slow pace of speech. 

Audiences hang on their every word.

And when they’re forced to answer a difficult question, their deliberately slow pace is a big benefit. 

It allows them to legitimately choose each word they use in the sentence.

It’s why it’s free of filler.

Often, though, when we answer questions in business, our brains work overtime to give a full response.

But what’s the first casualty of this super-charged brain activity?

A faster speed of speech, full of filler.

We talk for two minutes when 60 seconds would’ve been enough.

The first key to improving your communication is to work exceptionally hard to slow down.

If you can do so, you’ll say more.

Because you’ll give yourself the time to choose the right words.

2. Engage audiences with 7-year-old language

assertiveness training online, zoom notes, pink elephant

I believe the majority of industry jargon is a modern-day emperor’s new clothes.

We’ll use buzzwords like collaborating with stakeholders and partnerships with integrated partners.

But it’s all meaningless.

What are you actually doing?

Why are you doing it?

What’s the benefit?

And how would you explain all that to a 7-year-old?

A paraphrased quote often attributed to Albert Einstein is:

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

That’s your challenge.

To make the complex simple.

Some of the best modern-day communicators can be found giving TED Talks.

Speakers who turn data or concepts into simple stories and examples.

Borrow the best of their techniques to improve your presenting.

Here’s three to get you started.

1) Using personal stories in a presentation: Bevy Smith on being a late-bloomer

2) Being enthusiastic about dry subjects: Toon Verlinden on why water is amazing

3) Turning weighty data into impactful slides: Rob Reid on the darker side of gene editing

3. Give better answers by using pauses

It can be so tempting to rush between slides or insert mindless chatter as you wait for screens to load.

Ignore the urge to fill the silence.

And pause instead.

Below is one of my favourite clips to show on our presentation skills courses.

It’s Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being asked a tough question in the summer of 2020.

See for yourself how he handles it.

It’s a remarkable 21-second pause.

The only giveaway that he’s uncomfortable is the grinding of his jaw.

Politics aside, it’s a demonstration of a confident communicator.

Rather than rush into an answer which could’ve started a diplomatic incident, he’s considered his response.

He’s thought it through thoroughly.

And only then does he speak.

So when you’re in a similar situation, take your time.

Rather than filibuster with:

“That’s a really good question, thank you so much for asking it.

“It’s a question I get asked all the time…”

Audiences know this is a stalling technique.

And ironically, talking out loud robs you of any thinking-time anyway. 

So make the most of even a couple of seconds of silence.

4. Build trust by admitting what you don’t know

how to be a better presenter, andrew presents to a table, say i don't know

Too often, in both business and in life, we want to be seen as having the answers.

But research finds that we’ll follow and trust leaders who admit they’re far from know-it-alls.

In fact, the more we’re honest and tell audiences that we don’t know things, the more they appreciate it.

We’re demonstrating our integrity and honesty.

Rather than bluffing our way through topics or difficult questions, be comfortable saying I don’t know. 

As Bill McFarlan says in his book Drop the Pink Elephant:

What I know is a drop in the ocean of my ignorance.

Build trust and respect with audiences by admitting where your knowledge ends.

And demonstrate your attitude to finding out.

5. Save time by starting with your main point

how to be a better presenter, pyramid of communication

The image here is our Pyramid of Communication.

It forces you to start all your communication with the most important point.

What do you need to tell this audience?

Start there.

This should be the opening line of your email or the first sentence of your presentation.

Build your argument after that.

Add complexity as you continue down points 2, 3 and 4.

And if you decide that’s enough, save the rest of the detail.

The problem in communication is we often deliver an upside-down Pyramid.

We start with the background, the history, the context and the research.

We bore people for hours at a time with death by detail.

And we share absolutely everything before we finally conclude with the relevant takeaway for the audience.

Flip this on its head.

Like a news story does, start with the headline: the most important point for the audience.

Save everybody (including yourself) time.

And share the detail and the data only if you’re asked.

How to be a better presenter

how to be a better presenter, colin stone talks to camera

There’s one final step in learning how to be a better presenter that I’m yet to share.


Apply these rules every time you’re asked to contribute in a meeting.

Turn these techniques into daily habits so they become second-nature.

And even if it fills you with dread, volunteer to present when the opportunity arises.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Better still, book a training session with us. 

From our Glasgow studios, at your offices or online, we’ll analyse how you present. 

We’ll share new techniques to build your confidence.

And you’ll leave with a USB of your own performances, a workbook and links for further learning.

Time to invest in you.


Colin Stone is Communications Lead at Pink Elephant.

You can read more about his presenting background here.


Photos in How to be a better presenter by Pink Elephant Communications.
Images in Headline 1 courtesy of BBC News and Washington Post.

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