How to create a presentation worth listening to!

It doesn’t take rocket scientists to realise that the way we communicate, and absorb information is changing based on time available, personal preference, and innovative technologies. In a world of noise, we must do everything to be heard.

This post will look at some techniques and tools that can be used to spice up your next academic presentation or to present complex topics in an understandable way.

But first, here is a light-hearted look at presentations…..

Why are you presenting

Before you start preparing the presentation, work out exactly why you are presenting the material. What is the purpose of the presentation and who are your audience?

Although you may have an academic audience, it never hurts to try something new and to present with some flair.

Once you know your why, start to plan out the key messages and information that you will need to convey to the audience and order it to make sense. Now you can start to map out what your presentation might look like. Try to think a little differently about your presentation, instead of starting with the dry stats and facts present this in an informative and interesting way using some of the suggestions below. Importantly, make sure the audience is clear on why you are the information they are seeing, what is remarkable, interesting, or important about what you have to say?

How to present

The thought of presenting to a room of peers can cause a heightened level of anxiety leading to trembling of the legs, redness of the face, hands shaking like leaves, and lots of sweating! The good news is that presenting is a skill that can be learned through practice and participation. If you need some tips on building your confidence, I highly recommend the Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy, “Your body language shapes who you are”.

Unfortunately, there are too many conference presentations, keynotes in particular, that although informative in content, lack the technical and aesthetic elements that could make them really stand out and help emphasise the message being delivered to make it stick.

Presentation style

Consider the following aspects of your presentation and how you may be able to alter your style to increase interest and sell your point.

  1. Interact with the audience in some way throughout the presentation, ask them a question, get them to raise their hands in response to a question, keep them awake and on their toes.
  2. Be excited about the content and the topic of your presentation. Speak with enthusiasm and passion.
  3. Make sure to look at the audience, glance at your notes if you need to. Don’t talk into your notes, check them, look up and continue to speak. Never look at the powerpoint and speak or even worse read it line for line, it’s not a manuscript!
  4. If possible, use the stage, particularly if you have a wireless microphone, get out from behind the podium.
  5. Make good use of changes in tone of voice, hand gestures, speaking speed, and pauses. Yes pauses, sometimes a pause can feel like an eternity, particularly with all the sweating and shaking that may be happening from the nerves, but believe me the pause is never as long as you think it is and can be a powerful way to emphasise a point (big statistical change perhaps), you can even reiterate the point for emphasis.


  1. Let your slides compliment your presentation so the audience listens to you.
  2. Less is more when it comes to the number of words on a slide – one key message per slide.
  3. Use headlines, not paragraphs, to prompt your thinking.
  4. Use a software program that will compliment your presentation but also allow you to be savvy with the way in which you present the material.
  5. Use visuals on your slides, as a rule of thumb a good visual should convey a message in 3 seconds.
  6. Use images to inspire emotion and action, images make content 55% more memorable than words. Make the image the hero and support with keywords (picture superiority effect)
  7. Use high-quality images and ensure you credit the source. See more on this below.
  8. Use animation software to draw graphs and charts that will appear as you speak. You can embed the video into the presentation software.

What tools/methods to use

Presentation software other than powerpoint

Prezi – is sometimes known as the zooming presentation tool, some people have actually complained that Prezi gave them motion sickness. It can be a bit much with all the flying objects and movements, but it’s the best tool for those who need to constantly jump from one part of their presentation to another. Prezi can be a very powerful tool to use when presenting a flowing method, or to zoom in on small elements in a larger figure or table. I find it particularly useful to step people through a model of KT whilst explaining each of the elements. (Tip: if you are at a university you can get the educational version for free which allows you to keep your work private)

Haiku Deck – Haiku Deck is an easy, free download that allows you to create great presentations in minutes. Images can be easily accessed from your own photo albums, the supplied stock photos, or through a quick internet search, all from the same menu. This software does all the work so you don’t have to stress. This is definitely a software that will limit the words on the slide and may not always be appropriate but is worth considering. Here is an example of a recent deck I made.

Zeetings – This is a great option that delivers interactive presentations that combine PowerPoints and PDFs with video, web content, images and polls. Everyone participates from their own device via WiFi, in person or remote, in real-time or in their own time. No need to download or install a thing. I highly recommend trying this one out.

Animation software

Along with the innovations in presentation software there are also a raft of programs available to produce animations that can be used either in live presentations as part of your PowerPoint or other presentation, or can be uploaded to a website as an instructional video of your work.

Animation programs include PowToon, goanimate, and VideoScribe. In addition, there are some other helpful programs for video (not in person presentations) including RawShorts and Sparkol Video Scribe.


Now that I have convinced you to use images and jazz up your slides a bit I guess I should help you to find some images. Well, the good news is that there are a number of sites where you can access free stock photos to use in your presentations. In addition, you can use photos from google and other social media sites.

There are of course some rules surrounding how you can use the images and the way you need to attribute the use of them. The lovely people at Harvard have put together this great guide to help you understand how to use and attribute photos in your work as well as a range of places to source them.

Here are a few places where you can source free stock photos:


Creative commons




Finally, I would like to leave you with an example of presentation, that has been created using many of the elements that I have been through. This is now a video but was originally used for a live presentation and provides some techniques that may be of use.

Check out our Membership options for more tips, how to use the tools and ongoing support for your presentations.



photo credit: Avinash Kaushik of Google giving the opening keynote at SES Chicago via photopin (license)