“Speakers who need to use PowerPoint should maximise images, minimise text, never read what's on a slide and aim for less than one slide every three minutes”

It’s worth finding out what makes a presentation unforgettable.

Last year when former US secretary of state Hilary Clinton joined the public speaking circuit she was reportedly offered up to six figures per session. Lucrative contracts aside, public speaking is an important skill to master.

Mark Armstrong, managing director of FirstClick Consulting, can immediately recall the best presentations he’s ever heard. With 12 years under his belt in the search marketing industry (he helped set up Google’s Melbourne office), he believes the most powerful presentations are those which tell a compelling story and avoid jargon.

For a dose of inspiration, he’ll often stream live TEDx talks from the likes of Bill Gates or recent Nobel Prize winners.

“I was at the iMedia Summit in the Hunter Valley and Shiv Singh, global head of brand and marketing for Visa, was due to present the keynote in person but couldn't attend, so presented via video hook-up from Singapore. Despite the technology barriers his talk was really powerful, because he told great stories and had a simple central theme.”

Armstrong and FirstClick founder Grace Chu give their staff – who are experts in niche areas such as training or technology, but not necessarily trained as speakers – rigorous public speaking coaching before getting them to speak at conferences.

Chu believes training her employees in public speaking is paying off. Staff had bolstered their skills in crafting a story, had a better understanding of audiences and were “having bit of fun”, she said.

Last year Meetings & Events Australia group said they’d like to see more confidence in public speakers, banning the use of PowerPoint slide presentations at its yearly conference to deter reliance on “pre-built, bullet point-style” manufactured presentations.

Armstrong argues a fantastic speaker will use a personal experience or a case study to pique audience interest.

“The best presentations are based on telling stories the audience can relate to, that interest them and tell them something new,” Armstrong said, emphasising tools such as PowerPoint should be used as a supplement or crutch, if at all.

“Used sparingly and in the right situation it [PowerPoint] can enhance and complement the other elements of an effective presentation, but overuse can kill. Speakers who need to use PowerPoint should maximise images, minimise text, never read what's on a slide and aim for less than one slide every three minutes.”

On the other hand, embracing technology and gadgets can give an enthralling presentation an extra edge – such as using Twitter hashtags to encourage audience participation and to communicate with a wider audience outside the room.

Armstrong’s four rules to giving a brilliant presentation are:

1. Speak about what you know

2. Frame your story – have a beginning, middle and an end

3. Know your audience

4. Practice beforehand, five to 10 times if possible

Ditching the script, injecting some humour and adopting a natural, confident posture strengthens a speech, while ending a presentation on a powerful, potent note could often be the clincher. As Armstrong recalls:

“When I worked at Google one of the product engineers and I jointly presented at a technology conference to 400 people and ran a live demo of the new Android phone – the network connection failed and we had to complete the demo via interpretive dance, but we pulled it off.”

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