10 Techniques to help you present better

One of the fun parts of my job here at Microsoft is being able to offer presentation skills sessions to my peers; this week getting ready for the MVP Summit next week and thought i would put down some of the best practices i often share.


  1. Know your voice/persona
  2. Engage your audience
  3. LOUDER equals better
  4. Rule of 3
  5. Share the stage
  6. Be the story
  7. Tell a story
  8. The PowerPoint’s rule 10-20-30
  9. One theme per slide
  10. Emphasize appropriately



Know your voice/persona

At Microsoft I am lucky to work with some amazing presenters, the interesting thing about most of these folks is they have thespian backgrounds or training and all of them have a stage persona they “don” when presenting.

The process of falling into character has several positive benefits but my favorite is the fact these persona’s have communication tactics that lend themselves connecting w/ the audience and conveying your message. i.e.

  • Ballmer the coach –Iteration and Energy
  • Box the rockstar  – theatrics
  • Hanselman the comedian –laughter
  • Miller the sage – trust
  • Prosise the story teller – deeper connection


Engage your audience

This goes beyond eye contact into personalizing the story/narrative to the setting.  If you watch a good comedian they will often interact with the audience, while this is not always possible realtime from a presentation stage, Rock musicians employ an easy to copy trick: “Hello <insert city name here>”.

If you arrive 15 minutes before the presentation you can often meet members of your audience, determine their “buttons” and refer to them in context.   A tactic i often employ to enable this is share the presentation duties with a co-worker/hapless audience member so I am freed from the stage and can interact (see “Share the stage”).


LOUDER equals Better

With modern technology this seems nonsensical, but the physical act of speaking louder has several positive side effects that you are actually targeting…Forces you to slow down, forces you to project, brings a ton more energy into the presentation.


Rule of 3

While not religious about the specific number, people can only remember a finite number of data points.  Keeping this number (be it 2 or 5) in mind helps me focus on the core narrative and repeat sound bites i would like to leave with the audience.


Share the stage

I mean this both figuratively and literally.  Audiences love it when you “shout out” your team but it also has positive side effects of giving you a voice of authority and putting your head into a familiar “story space”.   Additionally by co presenting it can free you up to engage with your audience and enable you to break up your session into more bite size pieces


Be the story

Often times you will see the suggestion “Do not use Bullet points”  this goes for almost any data rich visual aid.   YOU are the story, any time you disply something is adding to you presenting or becoming the presentation.

An analogue of this is Make Data Visual.


Tell a story

I am not referring to “Once upon a time….”, but rather try and connect the data points you covering to something you feel strongly about…The audience doesn’t need to know about this connection so you don’t have to walk the whole back story but this connection will cause you to improve your delivery.

When the back story does make sense to cover it can definitely help with the connection with your audience!


One theme per slide

…Pretty self explanatory


The PowerPoint’s rule 10-20-30

This rule is you shouldn’t have more than 10 slides, take more than 20 minutes and use a font smaller than 30 pt.

While i think the numbers are rubbish the rule does call out factor your presentation into bit size pieces (see rule of 3 above).   If you are looking for some aspirational factoring guidelines:

  • Use as many slides as needed to tell the story (more slides and less animations is often your friend)
  • Try and have a strong transition every ~10 minutes
  • Words on page are not as good as an image

Emphasize appropriately

Modulation can be a very powerful tool.  While you don’t want to mimic William Shatner on Star Trek all the time even this over the top delivery is better than monotone.

If you want to practice modulation and emphasis get good at telling the joke below….it is 100000% about emphasis, modulation and of course time.




Below is some email with a friend Michele, who is a speech therapist about over coming accents…A big deal for the up coming MVPs Summit as around 70% of the Microsoft MVPs are from Europe and are not native English speakers. ….So to them we will all have accents.


From: Michelle
Sent: Thursday, February 22, 2018 2:33 PM
To: Charles Sterling <chass@microsoft.com>
Subject: Re: Overcoming accents in presenting?

I would agree. However, the most difficult, yet most effective way to improve an accent, is to work on correct production of vowels. Changing vowel production will do wonders, but a lot of people can’t hear the difference in the vowels they are producing.


From: Charles Sterling <chass@microsoft.com>
Sent: Thursday, February 22, 2018 11:18:13 AM
To: Michelle Mordaunt
Subject: Overcoming accents in presenting?

Hello Michele,

As you may/may not know I do presentation skills courses at work.

One of my better presenters asked how he could ensure his accent isn’t a liability.

During the call I said to focus on the foundations i.e.

  1. Speak slowly. Pronunciations tend to be better when speaking slower.
  2. Speak Louder. This will force to speak slower.
  3. Exaggerate pauses/breaks.  Helps the audience with the assimilation

Since then I have seen the following, specific to accents…would you agree with these?

  1. Read out loud and practice saying the last sound of each word. English grammar depends heavily on how words end, which sets it apart from many other languages.
  2. Make sure your intonation goes down before a comma or a period as you’re practicing reading aloud. This signals to the listener the end of a sentence.
  3. At minimum, nail down the most pervasive sounds in the English language: “th,” “v and w,” “r” and the letter “o.” The letter “o” has many different pronunciations, the most common being “ah” as in prophet or option. The least common is “oh” as in no.
  4. Practice at least 15 minutes per day five days a week. You acquire these techniques experientially.

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