I recently helped Rob, my husband, with a presentation he was preparing on the topic of virtual reality.

Now, he’s a smart guy. He has a Ph.D. in mathematical physics, so he wasn’t asking me what I thought about his virtual reality angle. He had that covered.

He was seeking tips on how to take what he knew and massage it into a better presentation.

Here’s some advice I gave him, which might serve you.

Laura Lewis's Reflections

©Laura Lewis, Reflections. Oil on canvas, 44 x 36 inches. Used with permission.

Make It Visual

Bullet points are okay when your audience needs to write something down and remember it later. Otherwise, opt for visuals.

I use images as much as possible, but sometimes I make fun graphics out of words – sticking to my branding, of course.

You’re lucky! You so have this because your topic is inherently visual.

Most artists need only slides of their art for presentations, but sometimes you want to include in-process and in-studio photos. Anything that reveals what goes on behind the scenes is a winning addition to your presentation.

Any images you use for your presentation can be repurposed. You can use the same images for your blog, newsletter, website, and social media accounts.

Time It

Rob had just 10 minutes for his presentation.

Ten minutes! That’s how long it takes for someone to introduce an academic delivering a paper. The organizers of the event clearly understood that attention spans are limited to non-existent these days, so why speak longer than people are inclined to sit?

I encouraged him to practice a lot and time it so that he could easily fit what he had to say in the allotted 10 minutes.

People will like you more if you end on time, I advised. Better to leave them wanting more than to wonder why you’re still on stage.

Laura Jaszkowski's Precious Land

©Laura Jaszkowski, Precious Land. Quilted textile, 40 x 42 inches. Used with permission.


What is the most important thing your audience should know about your topic?

Free write about the most important aspect of your talk.

Free writing involves setting a timer for a specific period of time (ex: 15 minutes) and letting your pen flow freely across the paper without lifting it. Just keep writing until the timer buzzes.

Adapt your topic using the following examples.

Painting outdoors is cool because …

You should have your portrait painted because …

This is how carving is different than modeling …

You should be interested in my project because …

Just keep writing and collecting words. You won’t use everything you write, but you’ll have the phrasing in your back pocket.

Peter Muzyka's Watt a Bird

©Peter Muzyka, Watt a Bird. Egg tempera on handmade traditional gesso panel, 18 x 24 inches. Used with permission.

Whenever you find yourself using language like “this is really cool” or “it’s unique,” take time to flesh out the meaning with the free-writing exercise. You may know why it’s cool or unique, but you shouldn’t presume that your audience is on that same wavelength.

By the way, this also applies to vague language in your artist statement. Flesh it out.

After collecting a page or two of words during this process, return to your presentation.

  • Add anything that you feel is missing.
  • Remove whatever is unnecessary or doesn’t support your key ideas.

What do you want your audience to do when you’re done?

Rob wanted his audience to try something out, which is a pretty easy sell, but he wanted to remember to encourage this action.

You might want people to:

  • Look at your art.
  • Sign up for more information.
  • Register for a program.
  • Give you feedback about something.

Whatever it is, invite them! But before you do that, make sure you have set your talk up so that they are prepared for the invitation and can’t refuse. Don’t assume they know the next step.

Your Turn

What have you learned by giving presentations? What would you like to know more about?