Guest Post: What Makes a Good Presenter

This post is by Ellen Spaeth (@ellenspaeth), a PhD student researching music listening in the treatment of anxiety, and a technology trainer. You can hear more from Ellen on her blog. In this post Ellen wonders whether ‘professional’ has to mean being serious.

What do you think makes a good presenter?

Do you prefer:
–    Someone who is incredibly energetic and passionate, or someone who has gravitas and authority? (Not that those are necessarily mutually exclusive…)
–    Lots of slides with interesting information and audiovisual materials, or a bare-bones “just a chat” approach?
–    Someone who stays still, or someone who uses body language to emphasize their points?

You might have personal preferences, but I’m guessing your answer is: “Well, I don’t know! This is a ridiculous question; it depends entirely on the context.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this answer. There’s a big difference between introducing a topic to 8 year-olds and explaining it to academics in your field. To me, the idea that one approach is inherently “better” is flawed.

Before you interrupt, YES, there are some extremes that tend to detract from a good presentation. If you speak so quickly that nobody can understand you, that’s a fairly obvious problem. If you have slides full of text, which you proceed to read out with no regard for the audience, that’s not going to be great. A good presenter should speak clearly, know their subject, and communicate this knowledge well. A good presenter should engage the audience and be able to take their audience into consideration when planning and delivering material. Yes.

But between the extremes, there’s quite a lot of leeway to modify your presentation based on context.

Aside from context, there’s something else, perhaps the most important thing.


Watching someone try to be someone they are not is a painful experience.

Before you interrupt again, YES, life is a constant learning experience. Very, very few people are “born presenters” (I’m not even sure such a thing exists). It’s incredibly important to develop your skills, and in doing so you can create a versatile presentation portfolio.

But there will be some things you’re better at, some things that lend themselves better to your personality. Recently, I published a blog post on the Thesis Whisperer blog about humour and enthusiasm in academia. I’m an enthusiastic person. And while I am perfectly capable of being serious when the situation requires it, I am best at being enthusiastic, passionate, and jokey.

The resounding message from the comments was that you should be yourself, and play to your strengths.

So when making a decision about how to present, there are really two things you need to consider:
– Is this something that comes naturally to you? Something you do well?
– Is this something that is context-appropriate?

What makes a good presenter? Someone who can adapt their presentations so they can say “yes” to these questions.


About Jonathan Downie

I am a conference interpreter, public speaking coach, preacher and researcher.
This entry was posted in Audience, Delivery, Guest Post, Preparation, Public Speaking. Bookmark the permalink.

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