Six presentation tips to look more polished and smooth

Austin Govella
6 min readApr 21, 2022

These six tips help you look polished and smooth, regardless of any mistakes you might make during your conference presentation.

Photo of the gorgeous, smooth rocks by Wil Stewart on Unsplash.

These six tactics help smooth the rough edges of your presentation and polish the most valuable parts, so they stay shiny in your audience’s memory.

  1. Focus on transitions
  2. Know what’s next
  3. Ignore your errors
  4. Slow down, breathe, and smile
  5. Nail the landing
  6. Never end on questions

Focus on transitions

When we prepare presentations, we focus on the content. Imagine your presentation as a series of train cars. We tend to focus on what’s in each car, so when our presentation gets to that train car, we know what to say.

Yet, we don’t stumble in the train cars. The train cars have the meaty bits. The parts you know. Most speakers stumble when they move from one section to another, on the transitions. When it comes time to move to the next train car, it’s easy to forget what’s next.

To look polished and smooth, pay extra attention to the transitions from one section to the other. Smooth transitions make your presentation look polished. Once you’ve moved into a section, you’re more likely to remember what you wanted to say. It’s the transitions where you trip.

To smooth your transitions, think about how you can conclude a section, so it leads into the next section. Do that for each transition, and then practice those.

To cheat, I will add an unobtrusive line of text on the last slide of a section to remind me about the transition. The hint helps me remember the transtion.

Know what’s next

I hate when I flip to the next slide, and I have to take the slide in before I remember what I wanted to say. It’s okay to use the slide as a reminder. But you want to look like you already knew.

This is why presentation software offers presentation mode where you see your current slide side-by side with the next slide while only the current slide displays to the audience. That way, you can remind yourself about what’s next before you flip to the next slide.

Sometimes, though, presentation mode won’t work. You want a hardcopy of your presentation. You don’t need to print the entire presentation. Keynote and PowerPoint print out a version that with multiple slides on each page.

If you have notes on each slide that detail what you want to say, print out each slide with its notes.

You don’t need to print the presentation to have a hard copy. Print an outline of your presntation. If you don’t have a printer, write your outline down. For a lot of virtual meetings during the pandemic, I didn’t have presenter mode, so I wrote high-level outlines of my presentations in my notebook and referred to them while I spoke.

I’ve also written outlines on note cards, and used the notecards to remind me what’s next.

Ignore your errors

You’ll forget something. You’ll have typos. Whatever. Ignore the errors.

Your audience doesn’t know you forgot anything. They don’t know the order you put your points in. Pretend nothing happened. Focus on communicating the important bits and the important takeaways.

Don’t point out typos. Most of the crowd won’t notice. Those that do won’t remember when the presentation ends. They came to hear your viewpoint and takeaways.

Slow down, breathe, and smile

I’ve stood in front of people and presented for the last 34 years. I still get nervous. Every single time.

Sometimes, that nervousness follows me into the room. A pressure fills my chest, there’s a wind tunnel in my head, and I start to speak fast, and faster, and faster.

When you feel tension creep into your shoulders, hear whooshing in your head, feel a tremor in your voice…

STOP.

Take a deep, lung-filling breath, and smile like you’re really friendly. Three things will happen:

  1. The audience thinks you paused on purpose.
  2. The deep breath helps you relax.
  3. The smile makes you speak slower.

And with a smile like that, you look happy to be speaking.

Nail the landing

Lots of speakers pack more slides into a presentation than they can cover. Lots of speakers will spend too long on early slides, stealing time from their conclusions. Expect you’ll make the same mistakes. It just happens.

How do you make sure you look polished and smooth when you run out of time?

First, never say you’re gonna “blow through some slides”. Your audience doesn’t know what slides you planned to show, and they don’t know why you skip a slide. This echoes your goal to ignore any errors. You made a timing error. Just ignore it.

Second, plan to run out of time. Identify what slides you must cover and what slides you can abridge or skip. Add an unobtrusive mark to the must-cover slides that you can look for while you skip through slides. This makes sure you won’t blow past an important slide and have to page back while you pretend to not frantically skip through your deck.

Lastly, always get to the conclusion slide. The conclusion slide should wrap everything up into one nice package, the final takeaway, the one thing you want the audience to remember. That’s the slide you want on the screen when everybody leaves the room.

Get to the conclusion slide smoothly, and you’ll nail the landing.

Never end on questions

In traditional presentations, speakers take questions at the end of their talk. Don’t do this. The Q&A session destroys the flow you created while speaking. It muddles your conclusion. Your conclusion recedes from the audience’s memory while you answer questions, and you rarely receive impactful questions.

You have two options.

The first-and my preference-speak for the entire time. Don’t leave time for questions. Your audience can download your slides. You asked them to follow you on LinkedIn and Twitter, told them you’d love to continue the conversation, and you can speak with people after the presentation, one on one or in small groups.

You don’t need to take questions.

The second option needs more finesse. Take questions in the middle. Here’s how it works. Plan your presentation, so you end on your conclusion slide. Take questions for a few minutes. Then, before your time ends, say you want to leave the audience with one more thing, and present one more takeaway.

I’ve done this a few times. I like how it allows time for questions, yet it allows you to recapture your presentation’s flow and end on a second conclusion slide.

I prefer to speak the entire time and leave no room for questions. I routinely pack more slides into presentations than I should, so I need the time. Second, you need more preparation to take questions in the middle, and you need some facilitation finesses to manage the transition from questions back to the presentation.

If you do take questions, ditch the “Questions” slide. You want to nail the landing. That means you want the conclusion slide on the screen, commanding attention all the way until after your audience has left for their next session.

When you end with a conclusion slide on the screen, you end on a powerful note. Together with these other tips, you presentation comes across polished and smooth:

  1. Focus on transitions
  2. Know what’s next
  3. Ignore your errors
  4. Slow down, breathe, and smile
  5. Nail the landing
  6. Never end on questions

Be ready to smooth the bumps, and never let them see you sweat. You’ll present like a pro.

Originally published at https://www.agux.co on April 21, 2022.

Austin Govella

PKM tips to help you work better. Join my email list for updates: https://medium.com/subscribe/@austingovella | PKM, Obsidian, Reflect, consulting, speaking