Presentations


Speak to the head and the heart in your next business presentation.  After you’ve presented the analytical and intellectual side of your story, shift to the personal meaning it has for your audience.  For example, after a supervisor discussed new safety policies and procedures with his crew, he linked the safe practices to the impact on the employee’s family.  He conveyed “I don’t want to have to go to your home and tell your wife and kids about your accident.”

So what?

Most business presentations focus on the logic of an argument and provide reams of facts and figures.  Connecting to the heart by recognizing and addressing emotion-laden concerns engages and motivates your listeners at a deeper level.


To manage speech anxiety, consider the following tips:  1) practice in the room before your presentation begins, 2) prepare notes that only highlight key ideas or phrases and have them on a folded 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper and 3) greet and make small conversation with attendees.

So what?

1) Practicing in the room acts as a “dress rehearsal,” which helps to familiarize you with the room, microphone and your physical location. 2) Too many notes will act as a distraction because you will have a tendency to read them rather than glance at them.  Also, a small sheet of paper will draw less attention that you are using notes.  3) Greeting and conversing with attendees helps to create a welcoming, positive atmosphere.  Your presentation will be a natural continuation of these conversations.


Adapt your presentation to your audience’s visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning style predispositions.  Incorporate simple pictures and graphs to connect with visual learners, tell stories and anecdotes to appeal to auditory learners and include some physical activities–role playing, handling a prototype or creating models–for the kinesthetic learners.

So what?

Research shows that 30 – 40% of people are visual learners, 20 – 30% are auditory learners and 30 – 50% are kinesthetic learners.  Adapting your presentation to different learning styles will help capture your audience’s attention, ensure that they will remember your ideas and persuade them to respond to your message.


Limit the number of points in your presentation.  The strongest presentations are those in which a speaker makes just a few points, but reinforces them in a number of different ways.  Break your talk into threes if you can:  three examples, three reasons, etc.  For example, if you’re presenting why your department should be awarded a special project, your headings might be:  the department’s technical expertise, knowledge of the industry and special rapport with key individuals.

So what?

People are more likely to remember items in groups of three.  After all, we heard groups of three when we were small (“reading, writing and arithmetic”; “hop, skip and jump”) and when we grew up (“blood, sweat and tears”, “location, location, location!”).


Vary the pace of your speech.  While there should be a rhythm to your spoken communication, there’s a time to slow down and a time to speed up.  For example, to emphasize a thoughtful approach, you may want to slow down.  On the other hand, speeding up your speech may help to create a sense of momentum or combat a sluggish atmosphere.  One way speech coaches help professionals learn this skill is to practice reading aloud nursery rhymes.

So what?

This approach is particularly effective when making a presentation because you can “verbally underline” or emphasize key points.  It can also be a tool to energize a meeting.


When you’re planning a presentation, clearly think through what you want to achieve.  In other words, what do you want to happen as a result of the presentation?  What do you want people to do, to understand, to believe or change their opinion about?  No matter what your goal is, you must define it before you start preparing.

So what?

Defining your goal will help you focus and keep to the point.  You will be better able to judge the points that truly support your goal and those that are unnecessary or irrelevant.


When designing slides for your oral presentation, follow the KISS principle:  keep it simple!  Use bullet point phrases, rather than complete sentences.  Limit the amount of information to 35 words or less on each slide.  Give each visual a title that makes a point, followed by three to five points.  Don’t display the visual until you are ready to talk about it and when you do, avoid reading from it word-for-word.

So what?

The goal is to use visuals as an outline for your presentation, highlighting your main “talking” points rather than giving every detail.  The slides provide the jumping off point for discussion; they are not a substitute for it.


Move away from the podium for your next presentation.  Try decreasing the amount of space between you and your audience which frees you up to move about more comfortably.

So what?

Podiums create physical as well as psychological barriers.  The audience will perceive you as being more accessible instead of hearing “a lecture from on high”.  Also, you will be more at ease being closer to the audience as it more closely resembles a personal conversation.


Before a presentation or a group meeting, check out the logistics of the room. Sit in various locations to identify any potential sound or viewing interference. Test out the projection equipment to ensure that all members will be able to view the presentation. Try out a lapel or lavalier microphone if you decide that one is needed.

So what?

Often speakers focus so much on the content that they fail to take into account factors that impact the deliveryof their presentation. Going through this preparation will enhance your comfort level with the physical environment as well as increase the likelihood that the presentation will be successful. These are elements that can “make or break” a presentation.


Before you begin a presentation, ask a well respected colleague to introduce you. Help the person by preparing a short bio that highlights your expertise and experience. You can include extracurricular activities or hobbies that the audience might find intriguing.

So what?

One element that enhances your credibility is trustworthiness. The act of a well regarded colleague making the introduction demonstrates that an influential person thinks highly of you. By preparing your bio, you can have some influence over the content and the tone of the introduction, which helps to augment your credibility.


When planning a presentation, thoroughly think about your audience and how you need to adapt to its needs. Consider, as a starting point, such things as your audience’s: 1) knowledge level about the subject, 2) opinions and concerns, 3) motivation for being there and 4) preferred approach for receiving information.

So what?

Adapting your presentation to your audience’s characteristics, preferences and needs enhances the likelihood that the presentation will be successful. By tailoring your content and approach, the audience will find the presentation more memorable, pertinent, interesting and persuasive.


Judiciously incorporate visuals such as charts, graphs, lists, diagrams, objects or models in your oral presentations. Any of these can be presented on a poster, flip chart, overhead or handout. Use the visuals to enhance and clarify your points, not just to attract attention.

So what?

Visuals are useful to explain difficult concepts, emphasize important information and demonstrate relationships such as trends and comparisons. Additionally, visuals add interest and increase the audience’s retention of information. After all, 50% of our brain is devoted to processing visual information.


When delivering an oral presentation where you hope to convince your audience to accept your idea, anticipate likely questions and obstacles your audience might have. Craft your response by first restating the question, then respond or refute. If necessary, prove your point with evidence, and summarize by linking your response to the goals of the department or organization.

So what?

Being prepared to answer tough, challenging questions bolsters your credibility by providing you an opportunity to clarify arguments and challenge evidence and reasoning. Even if people disagree with your position, they are more likely to respect your ideas when you can demonstrate understanding. Additionally, it can minimize the potential hostility and combativeness of a situation.


Use vocal variety in your oral presentations. Vocal variables that speakers can control include the rate of speech, the force or loudness and the pitch. For example, you can slow down and verbally underline a point you want to emphasize.

So what?

Variety in speech contributes to effective delivery. It enhances the audience’s interest and makes what you have to say more memorable.


When proposing an idea or project, try to distill the essence of the idea in a 30-second presentation. Think of this as a TV commercial. When the opportunity presents itself, start by gaining the attention of your audience, present the need, propose a remedy and link your solution to the audience’s or organization’s need.

So what?

Preparing this short presentation forces you to think clearly about your idea and express it in a concise manner, focusing on the significant. As a result, you are ready to express the salient points when a spontaneous opportunity arises. Sometimes all the time you have to influence an important person is during a short elevator ride. Seize these moments and use them to your advantage.


When presenting orally, consider distributing printed copies of your outline, tables or illustrations. Handouts are especially helpful for presenting complex information such as detailed statistics which would be ineffective if projected only as a slide or transparency. You can hand out an outline before an oral presentation, but distribute more detailed illustrations just before you discuss them.

So what?

Printed copies help the audience follow your presentation. They also provide a permanent record of your major points and facilitate more thoughtful note-taking. A note of caution: overly detailed notes may actually hinder listening, as the audience may be reading ahead.


Incorporate verbal “signposts” in your oral presentations. For example, to preview, consider, “I will deal with three main issues…the first being…”, to enumerate, “My first main point is…”, to emphasize, “The main point to remember is…” and to summarize, “Let me conclude this section by saying…”

So what?

The “signposts” increase the clarity of the presentation and better help the audience follow your organization. It also increases the likelihood that they will remember your critical points.


Devote less meeting time to viewing PowerPoint slides and more time to meaningful discussion about the underlying issues. For example, instead of spending 95% of meeting time to present a prearranged slide presentation, allocate 50% to the presentation and the rest to discussion.

So what?

PowerPoint may not be as powerful as the name suggests. Highly polished slides often convey a false sense of permanence and formality that hides underlying uncertainties. They also discourage people from expressing their concerns. In fact studies reveal that participants are less likely to engage in meaningful discussions when they view formally prepared slide presentations. As one expert puts it, “PowerPointPhluff”-the chartjunk, corny clip art and over-produced layouts–often replace serious analysis.


When making an oral presentation, start off with a bang. Share a startling statement, relate a story, ask a question, quote a well-known person or use a dramatic prop or visual aid. In all cases, aim for a strong opening that is personalized and appropriate for your audience. For example, in a presentation that highlights dissatisfaction with the performance appraisal process, you might begin with a startling statistic such as, “40% of employees report that they do not have annual performance appraisals with their supervisor.”

So what?

The first words out of your mouth set the tone for the entire presentation. The introduction is a critical time to gain the attention and interest of the audience.