The four Ps you need to focus on for your next presentation (2024)


Practice makes perfect.

You must keep practising your presentation skills. Like any good athlete, we need to keep our brain and muscle memory fine-tuned. Don’t wait until that crucial next presentation is on the horizon

Pick up a video camera - or use your smartphone - and practice with colleagues, friends, family, and even the dog – if it will listen.

The more you practice, the more confident you will become and the better you will come across when it is time to present for real.

And, those skills will help you with more everyday interactions, like meetings.

Practice should also include thinking about your personal branding and image.

Personal branding and image

We know it sounds shallow.

But the harsh reality is that when you are public speaking and presenting, your audience will form an almost instant impression of you.

And they will only pay attention if you sound and look like you know what you are discussing.

Generally, your impact in the first 30 seconds is determined by:

  • Body image - 55 per cent – what you wear, posture, gestures and eye contact
  • Voice - 38 per cent - your tone, volume, accent and clarity
  • What you say - just 7 per cent.

First impressions are formed almost instantly. And then, in the subsequent few minutes, the audience will be looking for proof that their initial assessment is correct. This is called confirmation bias, and everyone is susceptible to it.

So, how do you create the right first impression?

Start by considering how you want to be perceived. As someone knowledgeable, professional and experienced? Or someone who has integrity and is approachable, decent and trustworthy? Or a combination of all these qualities?

The audience will tend to assume how you have presented yourself in terms of your appearance reflects your state of mind. So, it’s vital to consider the tone you want to set and reflect that in your dress.

As the speaker, you want to be about 10 per cent smarter than your audience.

You should also look to make eye contact with the audience and smile – smiling will make you appear confident and suggests you are happy to be there.

If you are presenting in a room, avoid starting by tapping the microphone and asking whether people at the back can hear. Not only is it boring, but it also doesn’t create the impression of someone who is going to communicate with confidence and clarity.

Similarly, opening with phrases like “I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare”, or “I’ll keep it brief”, does not suggest you are taking the opportunity seriously or that the audience will get much out of the presentation.

Eight phrases which will ruin your presentation

Any negative introduction or self-deprecation will alert your audience to look out for flaws in your presentation that they may never have noticed had you not drawn attention to them.

But what should you wear?

Well, this gets trickier all the time. Fashions change constantly, and many presentations now take place online.

So, rather than tell you what you should wear, we will highlight some pitfalls we think you should avoid and offer a few tips.

1 Don’t try something new – the presentation stage is not the right time to find out if that new outfit looks as good as you thought it did in the fitting room, or whether it is as comfortable as you imagined.

2 Choose comfort – of course, you want to look professional. But don’t make yourself uncomfortable and unable to move freely. Choose clothes that don’t feel restrictive.

3 Choose clothes that make you feel confident – most of us will have ‘go-to’ items in our wardrobes we turn to when we need to feel good about ourselves. If they are appropriate for the situation then choose them for your presentations. If you feel good, you will appear more confident.

4 Avoid clothes that might distract – you don’t want the audience to go away thinking about what you were wearing, so avoid distracting clothes. Glittery outfits can be particularly distracting, as can loud socks, anything with large writing on it and comedy ties. If in doubt we recommend choosing items with solid colours, rather than anything with patterns.

5 If you opt for a dark suit, match it with a lighter shirt or blouse to provide a little contrast.

6 Be careful with jewellery and accessories. If it makes a noise when you move around, or continually knocks against the microphone, it will take the attention of the audience away from what you are saying. Jewellery can also reflect light at the audience, especially on TV, which is distracting.

7 Similarly, avoid shoes that make a noise when you walk around.

8 Think about the audience – if you know it is a formal event, then you need to dress smarter. But, in many countries, the business suit is not as popular as it once was. Many people go to work in jeans, for example. If you turn up in a suit to talk to an audience wearing informal clothes, you may seem old-fashioned and out of touch. Speak to the organisers and venue before the event and bring an alternative option just in case.

9 Many presentations now take place online, and its ease and convenience mean it is likely to remain a popular option.

If you are presenting online, you can usually relax the dress code a little – no one expects you to login wearing a suit and tie. Choose something you will be comfortable in, but still consider the impression you want to get across to the audience.

Remember that block colours look good on camera, and avoid black and white because they are harsh and can make you look stern or washed out. Patterns and stripes should be left in the wardrobe as they can create a strobing effect with many TV and video cameras.

As you will be on camera, avoid wearing anything that will distract from what you are saying (such as large dangly earrings) and make sure your hair doesn’t need to be constantly brushed away from your face.


It's time to take a deep breath.

Let’s assume you have planned properly, prepared carefully and you are confident you look the part.

The final part of the Ps is presenting. And getting your body language right can make a massive difference to its success.

So, let’s take a look at it and how you need to adapt it for different presentation formats:


Standing in front of a seated audience is probably the presentation format that causes the most fear. The good news is there are simple steps to help you appear composed and confident.

When you are on the stage, plant your feet hip-width apart. Now imagine your feet are on a clock, and your toes are pointing at 5 minutes to 1. This maximises your floor coverage and makes you look as if you’re standing on solid ground - even if you’re behind a lectern.

Draw yourself up to your full height. Shoulders should be relaxed.

Everyone’s favourite actress Dame Helen Mirren says she bases all of her characters on one part of the body: the elbows. The more confident her character, the looser she is at the elbow. So, you want those arms away from your body. Allow the energy to come up and out to the audience, forget about your hands and use your whole arms to help get your points across. We promise your hands will follow.

Gesture to your slides and visual aids (if you’re using them – more on this later) and out to the audience. The bigger the stage, the bigger the gestures need to be. Fill that stage.

If you like to move around to encompass the whole audience, that’s fine. But always stand still with your feet planted when you make a crucial point.

As part of that all-important preparation, we spoke about earlier, practice delivering your presentation in front of a tall mirror, so you can see if you are standing confidently and using your arms and hands to emphasise particular points.

The four Ps you need to focus on for your next presentation (2024)


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