Career Advice

The Key to Career Success: Learn to Present Well

7 Jun 2023  

It is a time of new beginnings in the business world. College and MBA students are graduating and getting ready to start new jobs. Interns are trying to figure out where to show up and what to wear in the office. Even people who have been working for several years are finding new opportunities.

Here is one recommendation for anyone starting a new job: learn how to create and deliver effective presentations.

Why Presenting Matters

We live in a world of presentations. People present business updates, recommendations, even Top 10 Lists for departing colleagues. Amazon apparently loves written memos, but that is the exception (and writing a good memo is much like creating a good presentation).

If you want to have an impact on a business, you need to present well. Ideas require support to move forward, and a great presentation is a way to build it. A solid recommendation that covers the key issues is likely to get approved. A weak presentation can doom an idea. Even the best idea in the world is not likely to receive support if the presentation is weak.

Perhaps more important, a presentation is a moment to shine. When you are presenting, everyone is looking at you. The senior executives are listening and watching. This means it is a opportunity.

Most days, it is hard to significantly impact your personal brand. Riding the elevator with someone isn’t going to do much for your brand, though in a work-from-home world even showing up can give your brand a boost. Presenting is different.

If you create and deliver a good presentation, people will think positive things. They may believe you are smart, talented, and gifted. This will help your brand and increase the chance you will get good opportunities and a promotion.

A weak presentation, however, can do a lot of damage. The recommendation might not get approved. Worse, you look weak and disorganized. It is possible to destroy a career in one presentation.

Good News

The good news is that presenting well isn’t difficult. The basics of presenting are not complicated. Anyone can create and deliver a solid presentation.

Doing a brilliant presentation? Sure, that is a challenge. It is hard to be as engaging as Taylor Swift, or as credible as Jamie Dimon.

But you don’t have to be outstanding; being pretty good is enough. If you have simple pages, tell a story, start with an executive summary and an agenda, finish with a summary and deliver it with confidence you will stand out.

Partly this is because most people just aren’t good at it. Many people have never learned how to create a good presentation and deliver it with confidence. So, they do the logical things, and these things ofen don’t work. Or they consult ChatGPT, and end up with flat presentations. ChatGPT does not create good presentations.

Where to Start

How do you learn to present well? Here are three ideas.


The first step is simply watching and listening. Any time you are in a meeting, look at what is happening. Are there slides? Do they work well? What is the presenter doing? Is it all working?

It can be very useful to debrief with someone after a meeting to analyze it. What happened? What worked and what didn’t? If the CEO gives an all-hands meeting, ask your manager for their impression. What was particularly good?

If you become a student of the craft, you will quickly realize that there are certain things that consistently work and other things that don’t. Some presentations are just easy: the material is interesting, it is easy to follow, the presenter is engaging. Other presentations (far too many) are not very good. The meeting is dull. It doesn’t seem interesting. It feels like work.


Then track down some books and resources. Watching TED talks can be useful, and there are good books on the topic of presenting.

I’ll recommend my book to start: How to Wash a Chicken: Mastering the Business Presentation. It is a simple guide to presenting well.

There are lots of other good books on the topic. Carmine Gallo has written some terrific books, including The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Barbara Minto wrote the class book, The Pyramid Principle about structuring a recommendation. Craig Wortman’s What’s Your Story focuses on the power of stories. For history fans, Lincoln at Gettysburg is amazing. And Chris Anderson’s TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking is excellent.


The best way to develop your skills is to practice. Try writing a presentation on a particular topic, even if you aren’t ever going to present it. Volunteer to present when opportunities come along.

Be sure to ask for feedback! If you ask for tips on your presentations, people will happily provide them. You’ll be thankful and they will feel helpful. If you don’t ask for input, you won’t get the feedback: people don’t just volunteer presenting tips. If you tell someone, “Next time don’t read from your phone” they won’t like you very much. You’ll feel bad, too, because the helpful suggestion came off as a criticism.

So for everyone starting a new opportunity this summer, spend time on your presenting skills. Succeeding here will get you off to a good start. More important, it will set you up for long-term success.

1 Response

  1. Justin Kim says:

    Great and timely advice! I wanted to reiterate that point about observing. All too often I observe especially more junior folks tapping away on their laptops or phones during meetings when the topic may have shifted to something not immediately within their purview. That is a big mistake. There is so much you can be learning. What kinds of questions are executives asking? What messages are landing, what messages are missing? And so on. Resist the temptation to go through emails, or Slack messages, or work on some analysis or whatever. Close your laptop and pay attention. It will pay dividends later on.

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