How do you deliver a presentation that really engages your audience?

We’ve all sat through those presentations where we feel trapped by a dull presenter, someone who reads their slides, too many umms and ahhs and no idea how long it’s going to drag on for!

Nobody wants to be that type of presenter!

That’s why we asked Drive member Jon Torrens to give us some tips on how to deliver great presentations!

Jon uses a unique combination of insights from the worlds of computer game design and stand-up comedy that enables even the most introverted to deliver presentations that enhance their professional persona and both delight and motivate their audiences.

This is a transcript of a live Q&A from the Ask the Expert session.

What’s a good way to open?

Jon Torrens The first few seconds are your opportunity to grab your audience or lose them. Try hitting them with a question. No intro, no “Here’s what I’m going to talk about”. Find out beforehand what matters to them (pain point) and ask them directly what bothers them the most about that particular issue.

I like start with a stand-up comedy technique of saying hello and talking to individuals about minor details of the moment, such as where they’re sitting. This is what I like doing, but the controversial statement is another good technique.

Something personal and unique can be good, such as a photo of yourself in a very different context, to show your true passion and humanity.

TED Talks are a brilliant resource: you can see that people generally talk about important things, with passion, and have REHEARSED it loads. The really casual-looking speakers are usually the best rehearsed.

Speed of delivery

Q. Is there a good rule of thumb when it comes to speed/words per minute etc?

Jon Torrens Recording yourself (video or audio) to get a sense of the pace works well. Good advice is ‘slow down for the important bits’. In my experience, people rarely speak too slowly. Never go over your time limit; rehearse, timing each run through, then cut the material to fit.

Ann Hawkins When I did a lot of broadcasting and podcasting we worked on about 150 words per minute. It’s a good place to start then you can cut or expand as you time it in rehearsal.

Jon Torrens The timing is crucial. You should know where you should be at any given point, e.g., slide 3 starts at 9 minutes and I’m at 10 minutes already – better skip a bit.

DIVIDE UP YOUR PREPARATION TIME CORRECTLY. By this I mean spend the first half creating the material and the second half rehearsing it.
Make sure you can deliver the thing without any slides. Sounds tough but it will help you only include slides that illustrate your knowledge rather than adding to it.
I thoroughly recommend trying different PowerPoint templates too! There are loads of ’em and they do a lot of work for you (and therefore save you loads of time) in terms of fonts, colours, interesting backgrounds etc.

Story telling

Jon Torrens INCLUDE A STORY. Makes a helluva difference to your content and delivery. It also makes it much more interesting and memorable for your audience.

Q. I’m listening to an audio business book and what I noticed most was the author has used stories all the way through. He doesn’t tell you his view, he tells you stories about what others have done. It’s a really good technique.

Eye Contact

Q. I know its important to make eye contact when speaking but what’s the secret to staying locked and focused?

Jon Torrens Eye contact and smiling is the best way to engage the audience – it convinces them of your ability and confidence even if you feel nervous and inadequate. It also tricks your own subconscious into thinking ‘I’m good at this’. Being ‘in the moment’ can be hard when you’re worrying about what’s coming next, so rehearsal is your friend, as it helps you focus on your delivery and not trying to remember all your material. You should feel some fear, but you need to embrace it and turn it into excitement.

How much rehearsal?

You may have noticed that I bang on about rehearsal – it’s the key stage that people skimp on or miss out entirely.

Q. Can you share some rehearsal tips e.g. is it best to just do it in a room by yourself with a timer? Find an audience?

Jon Torrens I walk around in a room with a timer on my desk. Get a trusted colleague to watch you once you’ve already run through it 2 or 3 times.

Scripts and notes

Jon Torrens Start with some key words for the different areas you’ll cover, get that edited and sorted and THEN create the slides. Very important.
Use cue cards and have one keyword or phrase for each minute or so of speaking, in a large font so you can read it easily from a few feet away.
You should know what’s coming next on the slides instead of having to using them as a prompt and NEVER EVER EVER read your slides out loud! It’s the thing that annoys audiences the most! It’s best if they don’t have any words at all!

Panic, fear and nerves!

Q. How do you deal with the panic/fear just before standing up to speak. I know breathing techniques and rehearsal help, but anything else?

Jon Torrens I find that practising my first line works well.
Fear is a vital part of the process, feeling nervous is normal and a good sign.
Your fight-or-flight instinct will be pushing you to move, and I find speakers who move around more interesting.
Video yourself and experience the horrible realisation of all the stupid things you do such as fidgeting. Then get over it and try to stop doing them.

Q. A lady I met talked about standing as if you are Wonder Woman / Superman and then relaxing into a less formal version. That sounds like a fun way to take control of the presentation!

Jon Torrens I like to imagine myself as Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne.The idea is that you do it BEFORE you get up to speak, though.

A big finish

Jon Torrens DO NOT trail off with a “So… I think… yeah.. is that my time.. so yeah.. is that… OK, thanks.”
Give them your killer closing statement, your callback to your killer OPENING statement, hit them with a call-to-action that ties it all together. Then wait, look directly at them, smile and say… “Thank you.”
Give people a chance to give you a round of applause (it makes them feel good as well as you) and after that, ask if there are any questions!


Get more help from Jon on how to improve your presentations at  and follow him on Twitter @JonTorrens