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How to Give a Great Presentation to a Tough Room

Topics: Career Advice
Image Credit: Pexels / Jaime Fernandez

Palms sweating, head blurring, notes lost — standing up in front of a room of your colleagues can be one of the most stressful parts of your job. When public speaking gives you the shakes, keep in mind a few tips to keep your presentation in the “famous” category, not the “infamous” one.

1. Don’t Try Too Hard

Acting wacky or putting on some elaborate song and dance for a basic boardroom speech is going to backfire, big time. Why? Your coworkers aren’t kids. They can see through your shenanigans, and their eyes will start rolling higher than their hairlines. And those hairlines can be high. (Did I mentioned they’re not kids?)

  • You can be yourself and still make a great impression on a group.
  • Speak with genuine enthusiasm, don’t ham it up.
  • Keep your ideas easy to digest, not overly complicated with too much bells and whistles for the group to follow.

2. Be Prepared to Make Small Adjustments to Grab the Spotlight

You should practice your presentation enough that you can speed up, slow down, or repeat sections if it seems like you’ve lost the audience’s attention. Maybe there’s a question in the middle of your speech. You can use the quick break to backtrack a bit and get everyone on board with your train of thought. If the room just won’t quiet down, have a few questions to lob out there to engage and get folks to listen to you. If everyone’s on their phones while you’re talking, have a quick request speech ready to get their attention and ask them to kindly put the devices down.

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3. Don’t Take it Personally

Your boss is distracted, your coworkers are scowling, and nobody wants to be there. Welcome to the modern work day! It’s not you. It’s Thursday. If you get too much in your head about “why did she look at me like that” during your presentation, you’ll definitely lose your train of thought and get muddled. Instead, try to look at foreheads or shoulders, not eyes. When you can imagine your audience as impersonal, you won’t risk taking their actions too directly.

4. Keep it All Inside

You just can’t shake your nerves? It’s OK, but don’t let them see you sweat. Practice ways you can work out your nervous energy either before your speech or during it. Pacing is a good technique to burn off some shakes and keep yourself engaging the corners of the room. Find something you can hold like note cards, a remote control, or even the sides of a podium to keep your hands from shaking. Take deep breaths when you need to slow your heart rate down and don’t forget to hydrate and eat something so you don’t feel faint!

5. Know When to Fold ‘Em

You have to give a speech right after something earth-shaking happens at the company or in the news. Instead of droning on about some quarterly report nobody cares about now that a merger is looming or some epic event has taken place, take a few moments to give in to the group’s outside focus. Acknowledge any and all elephants in the room to give the audience time to work any big emotions and distractions out of their system. Talk about the issue that’s just come up, but then turn focus to why the presentation is still important. After your speech, you can all deal with the invasion of monsters from Pluto happening outside. But first, the quarterly report.


What do you do to make a great presentation at work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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