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What Is Your Presentation Ritual?

Effective Presentation Skills Can Open Doors…

Last month, I was invited to contribute “Best Practice” insight to participants in the SAP Ambassador Briefing Program as part of the SAP Executive Briefing Center (EBC) in Palo Alto (Silicon Valley), California. 

This special program offers SAP colleagues the opportunity to work closely with EBC staff and with visiting customer account teams to create world-class experiences for customers and others we host at our Silicon Valley campus.

As part of this training experience, our topic was: “Presentation Best Practices.”  Some of the tips I shared are encapsulated in these slides:



The Agony and the Ecstasy of Presentations 

It’s been a long time since I consciously examined the steps I take to prepare for a speaking event, so to ensure that I captured a vast and robust perspective, I sought feedback from my leadership team (Chip Rodgers, Dan Maloney, Marco ten Vaanholt) about their presentation approaches. 

I also listened-in to comments and tips by some of the really great presenters at SAP: Peter Graf, Jonathan Becher, Kaj van de Loo, and Denis Browne.  

Below is the compilation of our presentation best practices that I hope you will find informative and helpful.

Get Ready…

Before the Presentation:

  • Research the company or organization(via Google, Yahoo Finance, etc.), Contacts (through LinkedIn or Twitter), so you can demonstrate knowledge and interest in them (as individuals, and in their companies)

    • Determine scope of topic, angle you will take to tell the story that might resonate with and benefit them
  • Understand audience – external vs internal, tailor messages (use something from their website, news/industry), their business issues and challenges…
  • Create a storyline –
    • Within your own remarks, prepare to personalize, customize and thread in insight about the big overall picture, and specific actions or follow-on recommendations relevant to your narrow area
    • It needs to flow logically from top down, from outside in, in a linear timeline, or using some other technique
  • 3 key elements:
    • Grounding the audience => make sure everyone is on the same page – set the right expecations of scope, topic, goals, approach, flow  
    • Capture top 3-5 topics only: focus on what matters and forget the rest or provide it in written form afterwards
    • Drive discussion – especially if it’s a smaller group, get the audience involved
    • Always leave with a Call to Action – the “So what?” or “What now?”
  • Understand structure and storyline (focus on top points)
    • Special focus on beginning delivery (capture audience attention) and ending (leave a favorable last impression)
  • Remember:  they want you to be successful, interesting and deliver value – so relax and have fun
  • Attend pre-event networking/social time – get introduced to a few people so you can relax and engage more actively
  • Have a couple of people to look to for face-to-face banter
  • Get familiar with individuals – gauge who the leaders are, learn their pain points/challenges, what they heard from previous presenters, what they hope to hear from you, gauge the appropriate style (formal v. informal) 

Lights, Camera, Action…

During the Presentation:


  • Look professional – dress for the role: expert, peer, authority, etc.
  • Be optimistic, upbeat and honest (but positive) – your energy matters; if you’re interested, they will be, too
  • Be crisp and high energy – humor is an icebreaker and infuses good energy if you can do it well and appropriately
  • Be as conversational as possible, make it interactive — ask questions to engage audience
  • Have a strong opinion and point-of-view… not “maybe”, “sorta” or “kinda” – even controversial is good. It’s OK to be memorable, to disagree (respectfully)

  • Talk about a problem or opportunity –> approach/options –> outcome/benefits
  • Use lots of anecdotes or stories – from your personal experience when possible
  • Tell a story, paint a picture, show a vision
  • Watch audience for queues – do they get it, should you go slower/faster, do their eyes show confusion, what do you need to reiterate or re-state?
  • Engage audience in discussion/questions –invite participation and feedback
  • Will you use slides, or flipcharts, or whiteboards, or other visuals? 
  • Note where Acct Exec/Contact is located in the audience for time/stage queues
  • Move around, pick focal point(s) in each quadrant in audience layout to ensure you’re not just speaking to the front row
  • In powerpoint, use graphics to tell the story — not text — wherever possible
  • Be conscious and deliberate with you body language (be open in gestures)
  • Recap key points / give reasoning – repeat, summarize, and recap
  • Include your contact information at end of presentation for follow-up
  • End preso with “what if…” types of thoughts – plant a seed
  • Show your personality! Be yourself, be authentic, you’re interesting!


Leave a Lasting Positive Impression

After the Presentation:


  • Post-event networking – remain available for questions, comments, more offline conversations, business card exchange — you may be approached in the back of the room or in the hallway afterwards
  • Follow-up with the Account Executive/Contact/Host for comments/feedback
  • Send slide deck to event organizer/contact to share with attendees – or post it on SCN or Slideshare and send a link
  • Follow-up on all commitments made in offline discussions — agreements to send information, or make an introduction, or have a follow-up meeting
  • Update your contact list from business cards you receive
  • Gather feedback (especially from an external audience)
  • Review surveys and feedback from team and audience
  • If it was taped, watch the video of yourself to critique — it might be painful but is valuable to continuous improvement
  • Adapt “lessons-learned” into next presentation
  • Find something to follow-up on, to extend the connection with key people in the audience
  • Send “thank-you” notes and invite follow-up


Everyone Has a Unique Approach and Style

While each of our presentation processes have similarities, our own diverse personalities are very much reflected during the entire process… as they should be.  Even as you inject your own personality and style into your presentation, I hope some of the tips here will be helpful.  


Most Important: Have Fun!

Whether you’re presenting to 10, 100 or 500 people – remember to have fun!

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  • Hello Mark

    Thanks for the blog, it is very interesting content. I actually requested one of my managers to do a workshop on presentation skills as I believe it is very valuable for everyone.

    When I have to give a presentation I have to know what I’m talking about, it’s a prerequisite for me. Answering questions and talking about something you don’t properly know is just not a good idea.

    As for rituals I like to tell the story up front a number of times.Learning it by heart is not a good idea either in my opinion. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to speak in front of a large audience but I’m certainly up for the challenge.

    Practice is a key word here and what better practice than to actually give presentations. One can start small and present topics to  colleagues (less nerves) and step up to other audiences in due time.

    Kind regards


    • Hi Tom:

      You are on the right track.  I am convinced that strong presentation skills really can open doors to career growth and opportunity.  I’ve seen it happen: someone makes a great presentation and the perception of that person is suddenly transformed and elevated in the minds of the audience – sometimes very senior execs.  (I’ve also seen people crash-and-burn and it really hurts their credibility and career.) 

      There is no substitute for practice, and in a variety of situations.  Sometimes that can be simply in a webcast or webinar, other times with a small group of peers, other times to a more senior exec and her staff, and if you’re lucky in front of a room of 100 or 1000 in the audience.  Accept invitations to present in a variety of situations and at some point it will come together as a new, strong skill.

      Thank you for your comments,
      Mark Yolton

  • Hi,

    Such preparations should always be done be it a presentation ranging from small seminars to large conferences.
    However, the speaker should be prepared to handle adverse situations. e.g. one among the audience might not like his point and opposes openly. Speaker should be able to handle him.



    • Hi Kumud:

      If you’re a presenter on a topic for which you’re a subject-matter expert, you should have enough background to defend your opinion and perspective. I think it’s OK and might even be more interesting to have a little debate and difference of opinion with an audience member… being opinionated and pushing people to think differently is a good sign.  You’re correct that handling opposing viewpoints with grace, respect, etc. is important. 

      Mark Yolton

  • Just dropping in to say thanks for this. I see lots of great advice in your blog. I yet have to give the presentation that meets my own expectations and as such it’s always good to have such a check-list. I’ll print it and circle 1 or 2 specific points I want to improve on (one step at a time!)

    From the “Executive Presentations” trainings I had one lesson sticked with me: make sure you’re comfortable! Check out the presentation room/stage early and make yourself familiar with it. Make sure your equipment is all set up and re-arrange it required.

    • Hi Matthias:

      I’ll readily confess that I don’t always (actually: rarely) do all the things I’ve captured here.  Some of it is good insight from others that I’ve simply captured. And I have no problem admitting that I have a looooong way to go before I’m really satisfied with my own presenting skills from start to finish.  We’re all learning and (hopefully) improving as we go.

      You make a good point: Don’t arrive 5-minutes before you’re scheduled to go “on stage” (even if it’s just the front of a room of 20 people) and expect to be totally successful.  Get there early, get comfortable with the physical room and with the dynamics and flow and style of the event or group. 

      Mark Yolton

    • John:

      I appreciate you taking the time to read it and to comment.  Bloggers and others who take the time to prepare and share love to know that “there’s someone out there” reading their stuff! 

      Mark Yolton

  • In my day job, I live in a world of presentations. Hardly a week goes by without a preso I have to make to a client or an IBM executive. I have presented at the last 3 Techeds, and it is a great learning opportunity. For one – it is a large audience (200+), it is very heterogeneous, and some of the audience members know more about the topic than you do. So you have to be on the top of our game to do it well. A good number of people will send in feedback forms, and SAP will let speakers know how they fared. This type of feedback is most useful to improve your skills and do a better job next time.

    It has certainly helped me.

  • Hi Mark,
      I’m doing a demojam presentation next Sunday (20th), and I’ve been reminded of that (possibly apocryphal) story about Mark Twain.
      Apparently, his publisher sent the author a telegram reading:
    Twain sends back a telegram reading:

    It captures the chronic problem of the 21st Century – the pace of modern life allow very little time to prepare. As a result, the quick and dirty approach tends to produce dull boring sagas, because most presenters haven’t given enough thought to what they’re talking about

    For most of us, presenting is a rare event.  Certainly, this is the case for me.  When making time to work on the demo and the presentation over the last two weeks and next week, I have been very aware that none of my daily tasks have the impact on my future that this presentation will (could ?) have.

    Think of it as your “15-minutes of fame”.  And use it wisely, by preparing thoroughly.  You owe it to yourself, and even more, to your audience.

  • Hi Mark, Excellent blog! I plan to share your insights with all the TechEd speakers. 

    Lately most of my presentations have been on the phone and online. I always find this challenging since it’s hard to gage the audience reaction when you can’t see or hear them. Plus, when talking to a group of people on phone, it loses that personal feel of in person. 

    One of the most unusual but very useful tips I’ve heard for phone presentations is to use photos or images of people and put them in front of you, then present to those images. I highly recommend using images of people that look positive and engaged, to help you keep that same energy while presenting.

    Pacing and flooding your audience with information is hard to balance on the phone as well, but can be a challenge for in person presentations too.  On the phone, I like to take time for each slide for questions and check in with audience to ensure they are still following.  Another tip I’ve learned is that for every 10 minutes of presentation, to pause ask for Q&A, since audiences tend not to be able to absorb more than 10 minutes of material.  It allows them to keep up and remember what you’re presenting.

    Thanks again for these great tips!