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How to Develop Powerful Presentation Skills

“How to Develop Powerful Presentation Skills”

Giving a presentation can be a terrifying experience, whether you will be in front of a few people or a packed house. Learn techniques to deal with an audience, control nervousness, and handle yourself with poise and confidencet


Giving a presentation can be a terrifying experience whether you will be in front of a few people or a packed house. This Business Builder will take you step-by-step through the process of developing an effective presentation from choice of a topic and organization of materials through the final question and answer period. You will learn how to deal with an audience, control nervousness and handle yourself with poise and confidence.


Why Do You Need Powerful Presentation Skills?

  • To be able to give presentations with confidence, competence and clarity

  • To develop and use factual, logical and interesting supporting material

  • To use non-verbals to add power to your presentation

  • To control nervousness

  • To answer questions effectively

  • To handle yourself with poise and confidence while addressing a group

How Will You Recognize Your Success?

  • You will gain a greater sense of personal confidence and security in your ability to present

  • You will improve your ability to speak to a wide range of groups in different settings

  • You will enhance your opportunities for career advancement or promotion by achieving higher visibility in your company or community

  • You will turn stage fright into excitement.

Watch Out For…

  • Letting your fear of public speaking prevent you from giving your best presentation

  • Boring your audience by giving them information they don’t need or is not geared to their level of knowledge

  • Overlooking facts, figures and anecdotes that could enhance and illustrate your points


Any public speaking situation is made up of four major components:

  • The Audience
  • The Occasion
  • The Speech
  • The Speaker

Each affects the other. If a speech is well written, yet the delivery unpolished, it takes away from you the speaker achieving your purpose. If you can’t communicate your message, it does not matter how brilliant that message is. If you don’t know your audience, you will not be able to tailor your message to meet their expectations. If the occasion is celebratory and your speech is serious, you may find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

The Audience

Even before beginning preparation of your speech, it is essential to know whom you will be talking to. An analysis of the audience will often dictate the approach that you will take in writing your speech. An audience of senior executives will differ greatly from a group of new hires. In the same way that you design products for the consumer, you will design speeches for the specific audience you want to reach.

What do you need to know about the audience?

What is the size of the audience?

Why are they there — required attendance or voluntary?

What are their demographics — age level, educational differences, sex?

Besides the logistical and demographic data, information about your audience’s feelings toward you, your speech, the occasion, and your purpose can directly affect your chances for success. There are five basic types of audiences that you will encounter:

  • The uninformed audience — when people are unfamiliar with a topic, they generally try to associate it with something they do know about. They will probably have no preconceived attitude toward the subject. In this situation, your goal is to inform your audience so they will have an understanding of this new information.

  • The apathetic audience — may be indifferent or not care to become involved. You will need to study your audience carefully to determine the nature of their indifference.

  • The favorable audience — people who support either you personally or your attitude and beliefs. You can’t take a supportive audience for granted; however, you can assume areas of agreement. In this situation, you must look for ways to reinforce existing attitudes and to mobilize participants.

  • The hostile audience — sometimes the audience will be hostile either to you, your position on a topic or both. You should begin with a friendly position — look for areas of agreement. Try to establish yourself as an honorable person. Answer the audience’s objections to your proposal with valid reasons and reliable information.

  • The mixed audience — you must determine if your audience is a favorable mix that includes favorable, uninformed and apathetic people, or a hostile mix. One hostile person will make the audience a hostile mix. A hostile mixed audience must be treated as hostile which requires more documentation and support than a favorable mix audience.

The effective speaker tries to gather as much audience data as possible before, during and after the speech. Before the speech gather your information from program organizers, organizational literature, newspaper stories, casual contacts and office personnel. During your speech your best source of information will be the non-verbal (sometimes verbal) cues given by the audience. After your speech you can sometimes remain a few minutes and ask audience members how they liked it.

The Occasion

The occasion will help you determine your subject matter. If it is to be a presentation to generate new business for your company, then you will most likely be part of a team, and have a very specific subject to speak about. If your audience has been forced to assemble and has no idea that your talk is to be about cutbacks and layoffs, then you need to plan enough time for a question-and-answer period. Know exactly what the occasion is before you begin to prepare your presentation.

You will also need to find out about the facility you will be speaking in — what kind of equipment will be supplied (VCR, slide projector, overhead projector, easel, flip chart) and what you will need to supply yourself. It is up to you as the speaker to make sure all necessary arrangements are made and to arrive early enough to ensure everything is set up to your satisfaction, or to make any needed adjustments.

The Speech

Creating, writing, and delivering an effective speech involves following ten steps: They are:

  • Step 1 — Type of Speech
  • Step 2 — Develop a Central Theme
  • Step 3 — Collect the Data
  • Step 4 — Select the Method of Organization
  • Step 5 — Outline Your Speech
  • Step 6 — Introduce Your Speech
  • Step 7 — The Body of Your Speech
  • Step 8 — Supporting Materials
  • Step 9 — The Conclusion
  • Step 10 — Handling the Q & A’s

STEP 1 — Type of Speech

You first need to determine what type of speech you are going to give. There are three types:

The Informative Speech:

    contains new and useful information

    instructs the audience

    motivates the audience to learn the information

The Persuasive Speech

    gets your audience to take action

    changes their attitudes or beliefs

The Entertaining Speech

    is best left to professional speakers or humorists

    is the most difficult to carry off successfully

As business owners you won’t likely be giving entertaining speeches. Therefore, we will focus the Business Builder on informative and persuasive speeches. Once you have chosen the type of speech you will be giving, the next step is to choose your subject and begin preparation.

STEP 2 — Develop a Central Theme

Instead of trying to cram everything there is to know about your subject into your presentation, be selective. Make a list of the key pints you want to cover, eliminating the superficial.

For example, instead of giving a general presentation on "Government Cutback," your presentation might be on "How Reductions in Government Spending Are Hurting the Small Business Owner."

STEP 3 — Collect the Data

Research your topic so that you know everything you possibly can about the subject. Do not include all this information in your speech but be prepared for the questions that will follow at the end of your presentation.

STEP 4 — Select a Method of Organization

The method should reflect the type of speech you have chosen:

  • The Informative Speech
  • The Persuasive Speech

Informative Speech

If you will be providing the audience with new information, choose one of these methods:

  • Chronological order — time of occurrence or time sequence (could use a visual aid showing a time span from start to finish to help the audience see the big picture).

  • Spatial order — pertains to the nature of space

    For example, if you are speaking about how to set up an in-store display area, explain where in the store the display will go and how it will relate to other displays within the store). Visual aids will help the audience see what you are describing and remember what you have told them.

  • Geographical order — similar to spatial order but may include the use of maps. If your information is too difficult to see using slides or overheads, consider including a map in a handout to be given to the audience.

  • Topical order — takes a large topic and breaks it down into sub-topics. For example, if your subject is the automotive industry, you could break it down into specific automobile manufacturers or even further into types of vehicles (i.e., trucks, cars, motorcycles).

  • Comparison and contrast — compares characteristics, features and qualities that are similar and contrasts their differences. For example, you might compare one type computer with another type of computer discussing both their similarities and differences and why you would recommend one over the other.

  • Cause and effect — presents a particular scenario, delves into what occurred or what may occur and predicts the result. For example, if a state votes down mandatory jail sentences for drunk drivers, the effect may be more fatalities caused by these drivers.

Characteristics of an Informative Speech

To be effective, your informative speech should have four characteristics:

  • Contains new and useful information for the audience — if the information isn’t new to the audience, and has no benefit, it does not perform the function of informing at all. The speech should instruct, not merely help an audience pass the time pleasantly.

  • Helps the audience understand and retain information. Facts should be organized in a systematic way that helps people take the information in, assimilate it, and retain it. A well-organized speech helps communicate instructions. For example, in describing how to ensure that a meeting is effective, you could inform your audience of the responsibilities of a leader before, during, and after the meeting.

  • Presents the information in an appealing way. Just because the information of your speech is important to the audience and is well organized, does not mean that your speech will be received favorably. A cookbook can provide a lot of information on how to prepare foods, but a chef such as the Frugal Gourmet can take following a recipe and make it into an exciting experience. He adds the dynamics of his personality to the information to make his audience want to run into their kitchens and cook.

  • Motivates the audience to learn the information. Your goal is to make your audience want to learn. During your introduction, point out the importance of your information to the audience and then continually relate your subject matter to their needs, wants, and desires throughout the speech. For example, we all need to be aware of the best way to respond if we arrive home and suspect a burglary is in progress. Trying to teach people how to respond when they are in comfortable surroundings and aren’t feeling threatened is difficult. You can motivate your audience by giving examples of how a safe and secure environment or community can give a false sense of security or how even a home that looks safe and secure can be a target for a burglar.

Tips on an Informative Speech

Give small amounts of information, repeat your key points several times during your speech; stress the principles. Generalizations and major concepts are better comprehend and retained than are details or specifics. The better the generalizations are, the better the content will be retained. If you must give a large number of details, make printed copies of the information and distribute them. If you overload your audience with details, they will tune out.

Persuasive Speech

When you want your audience to take action or change their attitudes, choose one of these methods:

  • Motivated Sequence. This is a well-known sales technique. It makes the audience aware of a need for change or creates that need. This format is best described as that used by television infomercials where a speaker uses testimonials by people who have used the product or displays dramatic "before-and-after" photographs. It grabs the audience’s attention, expresses a need and shows how that need can be satisfied.

  • Problem to Solution. A need for change is recognized and a solution is presented.

For example, in a talk about the value of routine car check-ups, you point out the consequences of not addressing a problem in it’s early stages: "You notice a strange noise when starting your car but don’t take it in to the shop. Several days later your car breaks down on the highway causing you to be late for work and holding up other drivers as well. Had you taken your car in for its 60,000 mile check-up you wouldn’t have been stranded."

  • Reflective. This is the method of choice for a hostile audience. Consider that there are many solutions to most problems. Present a problem, give several alternatives; evaluate the alternatives, select the best.

For example, in a speech about "How Corner Markets Can Operate With The Big Guys," the owner explained. "Our store has lost 15% of our business to the new supermarket on Main Street. I believe we can gain back some of that share by using a combination of double-coupons and special family shopping discount days to encourage store patronage."

  • Proposition to Proof. In your introduction present your proposition; then prove it throughout the body of your speech. Conclude with an appeal to accept or act upon your proposition.

For example, in a speech about including exercise in your daily routine, one fitness expert pointed out that if you exercise three or more times every week, your risk for heart attack will be reduced by 50%. Then, he used the body of his speech to support this proposition.

Method of Persuasion

Before you can persuade your audience to do or think what you want them to, you must understand them and plan your strategy.Are they uninformed, apathetic, hostile or favorable? Turning an audience around if their attitudes and beliefs are set is unlikely. You should settle, instead, for a chance to speak your piece and hope that they will give you a fair hearing. It is unrealistic to expect to change their minds with just one speech no matter how convincing you are.

To persuade your audience, you have three options:

  • Persuading through the factual presentation of information (statistics, documentation, supporting evidence, hard facts)

  • Persuading through basic social, biological, physiological needs, wants and desires

  • Persuading through your own credibility as a speaker (what kind of education and background you present, how to carry yourself, your position within the company or on the topic)

In most cases of successful persuasion, all three methods are mixed in varying degrees, depending on the speaker’s analysis of his audiences, or his character, and his style.

Planning Your Persuasive Speech

When preparing your persuasive speech, divide a piece of paper into four columns:


1. In the first column, decide whether you want to motivate, convince, or call to action. By writing down your purpose, you will be able to measure your success at the end of your speech and make adjustments, if necessary.

2. The second column, audience, is a brief summary of everything you have learned about your audience. You will need to understand your audience to plan your strategy and be effective when presenting to them. If you realize that you will be dealing with a hostile audience, you may want to change to an informative speech since your chances of changing opinions in one speech are limited.

3. Your third column should list the sources you will be using to compile you information. The data should be current, accurate, relevant and useful. Be straightforward and credible.

4. The last column is organization. As mentioned earlier, there are four options for organization. Decide which is best for your purpose, then decide on your approach. For example:

  • Proposition to proof. State your proposition at the beginning of your speech to let the audience know what you want them to think or do. Then prove your proposition with three to five points of evidence and an emotional appeal. Finally, review your evidence and give a memorable closing.

  • Problem to solution. State the problem and offer the solution from your point of view. Spend time developing your definition of the problem. Follow with your solution and present three to five points and supporting material. Sum up with a memorable statement.

  • Reflective. Start with a problem and prove that it exists. Establish the selection criteria for the solution. Define the solutions that you are discounting, proving with facts that only your solution is the right one.

  • Motivated sequence. Bring the audience to the brink of asking for help to change, then supply the means for making the change. When you want to highlight the features of a product or service, don’t just explain them. Explain the benefits. What they will do for the audience if they use them?

Now you are ready to do the formal outline of your speech!

STEP 5 — How to Outline Your Speech

Why should you outline your speech rather than write it out completely? When you write out a speech, the tendency is to read it. That cuts down on audience rapport. It also locks you into what you have written without giving you the freedom to adapt to the audience or other speakers. Speaking from an outline lets you be spontaneous yet well organized. It ensures that your speech has form and direction. It is a tool for planning and will give you a visual representation of ideas and data through which you will inform, persuade or entertain your audience.

General Guidelines for Developing an Outline

  • Write your specific purpose at the top to serve as a reminder of what you expect to accomplish.

  • Make your outline long enough and detailed enough to remind you of the ideas, points, and data you want to present.

  • Don’t make your outline too long — it is not a manuscript. Don’t make your outline too generalized. Generalized subject headings have little value.

  • Use phrases rather than single words or complete sentences.

  • Use only the top 2/3 of a page to avoid making you put your head down to read further down the page.

  • Plan transitions from one topic to another so your speech will flow smoothly. Write them down.

  • Use large type (18-22 point is good) or write it in large letters using a medium point felt tip pen.


Your speech can be on any subject, but your outline should follow this format (Note: Details on introduction, body, and conclusion are covered in Steps 6, 7, and 9.):

  1. Introduction — Tell them what you are going to tell them.
    1. Attention-getter — Use a quote, a story or a question.
    2. WIIFT — Tell them What’s-In-It-For-Them; why should they listen?
    3. Source Credibility — Who are you? — What are your credentials, experience, your information sources, whom did you interview?
    4. Preview — Give a brief overview of what you will be talking about.
  2. Body
    1. Make 3-5 main points.
    2. Arrange your information logically.
    3. Support with data.
    4. Keep your language simple.
  3. Conclusion
    1. Review what you have already told them.
    2. Close with a memorable statement.


Here is an example of a speech outline:

Audience: Philadelphia School Board Association

Speech Purpose: After my speech the audience will agree that schools should guarantee their instruction.

  1. Introduction (Attention getting grabber, WIIFT, source credibility and preview)
    1. Would you buy a brand X car if you knew that half those cars broke down in one year or less?
    2. As a school board association, we are concerned that we provide a quality education for each student.
    3. As a member of the community and the school board, I, too, am concerned about our students and their ability to contribute to our society.
    4. Schools to guarantee their instruction.
  2. Body
    1. The need for guaranteed learning
      1. Half of students who enter college never become sophomores.
      2. Some graduate from high school with only a 4th grade reading level.
      3. We spend more than $6,000 per year per student with no assurance of what that money will produce.

      TRANSITION: We can guarantee learning when we understand how it works.

    2. How guaranteed learning works — four steps:
      1. Community and school sets goals.
      2. Teacher establishes measurable objectives stating:
        1. What the student is to do to show he’s "learned."
        2. How he is to show it — conditions.
        3. Level he is to achieve.
      3. Teacher designs instruction to attain objectives.
      4. Teacher tests effectiveness of instruction, redesigns to endure learning occurs.

      TRANSITION: There are successful examples of these guaranteed learning agreements in our community.

    3. Success of guaranteed learning
      1. Gary, Indiana: entire K-6 school, 400 students.
      2. More then 200 projects across county.
  3. Conclusion (review of key points and memorable statement)
    1. Guaranteed learning should be provided by all schools
      1. It is needed.
      2. It is a clear, specific, 4-step process.
      3. It works.
    2. We guarantee cars, orange juice, appliances and a wide variety of products, why not education?

Now that you know how to outline your speech, you next need to know the proper way to introduce it.

STEP 6 — How to Introduce Your Speech

A strong introduction is vital to the success of your presentation because it can win over your audience immediately. Your introduction should serve four major purposes:

  • Get the attention of the audience and arouse their interest.

  • Preview the theme, basic idea, subject or main points of your speech.

  • Establish your credentials.

  • Establish a climate of good will and develop audience rapport.

  • Let the audience know when you will be taking their questions.

The Introduction

Without the attention and interest of your audience, you can’t accomplish your purpose. You have a challenge to make the audience want to listen. Here’s how:

  • Ask a question. For example: "If you had your life to live over again, what would you change?"

  • State an unusual fact. "Today more people see popular television programs than have seen all the stage performances of Shakespeare’s plays in the more than 400 years since he was born."

  • Give an illustration, example or story. "Last night I was walking home from the library when I noticed a woman’s purse lying on the ground. As I leaned over to pick it up,…"

  • Present a quotation. "The human brain is a wonderful thing. It operates from the moment you’re born until the first time you get up to make a speech." Make sure the quote is relevant.

  • Refer to a historic event. "On this day, more than half a century ago, the United States…"

  • Humor. Avoid using humor unless you are comfortable with it, it is in good taste, it is relevant to your speech, and it is truly funny.

The Transition

Now that you have your audience’s attention, you need to design a way to get from your attention-getter to your preview. This transition need only be a phrase or a sentence where you suggest the relationship between your opening and your preview. Here are some examples:

  • "That true story illustrates the need for the new tax proposal I want to suggest to you tonight."

  • "Those are the shocking facts of what’s happening in some hospitals. Now what can be done about them? Let me offer some suggestions."

  • "Thus, we can see that…"

The Preview

This part of your speech should be very clear, specific, and precise. Possible techniques:

  • State the point of your speech, the central idea, your viewpoint, or subject. This should be very brief and direct.

    For example: "So today I want to talk with you about the problem of waste in the welfare program."


    "My main point is this: How can taxes be reduced?"

  • You can list the main points of your speech.

    For example: "Travel is good because it is educational, economical, and everlasting."


    "My candidate has four advantages: One, he’s experienced; two he’s creative; three, he’s qualified; and four, he’s understanding."

When introducing your speech…

Start with the attention-getter. In some instances, you may first give a brief greeting.

Be confident in your attitude. Step up with confidence; speak out loudly and clearly; move with assurance; sound authoritative, be pleasant; and exude positive energy.

Get set before you start to speak. Once you’ve begun your speech, you don’t want to arrange your notes, test or adjust the microphone, or move the lectern.

Be alert to tie in your attention-getter with the remarks of the previous speakers, other parts of the program or the person who introduces you.

Although the introduction is, in most cases, the smallest part of your presentation, it is critical. It is your job, as you start your speech, to turn that daydreaming, diverse group of individuals into a concentrating, stimulated, involved, thinking and participating audience.

STEP 7 — The Body of Your Speech

In the body of your speech, you will develop the points that you previewed in your introduction. In developing these ideas, organize your materials in a way that the audience will find easy to follow. People have a need for logic. You can provide this by selecting a method of organization that your audience can understand. If you look at organization as though it were a map, you will understand that there are different approaches you can take to get from the beginning point to the conclusion. Your audience and your subject will determine which route you will take.

For example, if your topic is travel within the United States, you could use the comparison and contrast method. "When traveling in the United States you have a range of options to reach your destination. You could fly, take the train, drive, or even take a boat. Let’s look at these options one-by-one."

STEP 8 — Supporting Materials

Using supporting materials effectively in a speech will not guarantee selling a bad idea, but using data effectively can increase the likelihood of your listeners accepting ideas of merit.

Supporting materials can be used to

  • Substantiate your point of view
  • Clarify a point
  • Make a point more interesting
  • Get the audience involved
  • Make the point memorable.

Supporting materials can be of many types:

example. Can be used to clarify, add interest or make memorable, but not to validate.

story. A story is an account of an event or incident. People like to hear about the experiences of others, but don’t ramble on.

quotation. A quote is a statement by someone who is usually authoritative or experienced on the subject. Essentially the value of a quotation depends largely on the source — on a reputation as knowledgeable, objective, and honest.

definition. A definition is a statement of the meaning of the word or idea. In a speech, using a definition can help prove a point, but is usually presented to make a point more understandable. The major value of a definition is to establish a common basis for views.

comparison and contrast. A comparison presents characteristics, features, and qualities that are similar; a contrast presents differences. They help clarify the unknown by referring to the known.

statistics. You can increase the effectiveness of statistics by comparing the figure with some other fact known to the audience or easily comprehended by the audience.

audio/visual aids. This can be a recording, slide, overhead, diagram, model, etc. They allow you to present your case through an additional communication channel with your audience.

STEP 9 — The Conclusion

The conclusion to your presentation should be presented in two sections — a review and a memorable statement. In these, your objectives are to:

  • Emphasize the point of your speech

  • Climax your speech

  • Leave the audience remembering your speech

  • Get action from your audience if your objective was to persuade

Tips on Conclusions

  • Summarize your points. In a few words, present a brief, an abstract, or viewpoint of your speech.

  • Repeat your main points. Repeat or rephrase the two to five main points you presented in the body of your speech.

  • Combine a summary with repetition of key facts.

  • Present a memorable statement. You can select from the same techniques you used for getting the audience’s attention in the introduction of your speech.

  • Return to the theme of your attention-getter. This is particularly effective in closing. Use the same story or quote that you used earlier, but now with a different ending or an additional line, insight or explanation. If your opening attention-getter was "How many of you have experienced symptoms of stage fright when giving a presentation?" then the close could be, "Remember, your goal is to turn those feelings of fear into anticipation and excitement."

  • Look to the future. Pointing to the future invites your audience to consider, explore and think further about your subject.

  • Call for action. This is primarily used when the purpose of your speech is to persuade.

  • Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Conclusions


    • Work on your conclusion carefully, it is the last thing your audience will remember.

    • End with strength. Reiterate a point relating to your presentation making use of that moment to tie it all up.


    • Merely stop at the end of your material. Bring your speech to a smooth polished ending. Your speech should have unity and a conclusion should bring it all together.

    • Stretch it out. Get to the point, summarize and finish.

    • Continue to speak as you leave the lectern.

    • Introduce any new points.

    • Be abrupt. Always signal to your audience that you are about to conclude.

    Suggestions for Effective Conclusions

    • It should take 10% or less of your speech’s total time.

    • It should be consistent with the rest of your speech.

    • You should have the first sentence of your conclusion written out and the rest outlined.

    STEP 10 — Handling the Q & A’s:

    After you conclude, it will be time to open the floor to your audience by asking for questions.

    • If there are no questions, be sure you have prepared some in advance.

    • Step out from behind the podium or lectern to encourage your audience to participate.

    • Restate or rephrase each question so the audience can hear/understand it.

    • When repeating the question, look at the questioner; when answering, look at the entire audience.

    • Try to extract the substance of the question. Don’t get tied up in the details with a "rambler."

    • Answer briefly.

    • Anticipate questions in advance.

    • If you don’t know an answer, say you will find out and get back to the person.

    • Never get into a sparring match with a hostile questioner.

    • When confronted with a "stage hog" who asks question after question, answer the initial questions, then cut him off by asking him to write his questions down and meet you after the presentation in order to give others the opportunity to ask questions.

    • Always answer even hostile questions politely.

    • If an expert is in the audience, you may refer a question to him but then take back control by thanking him and moving on to the next question.

    • Conclude the question and answer period with a closing statement.


    As the speaker, you will be the center of attention. For most people, that can be an uncomfortable experience leading to physical as well as emotional symptoms of stress. Successful speakers harness that stress and turn it into a feeling of excitement and anticipation. You, too, can become a more confident and relaxed presenter by using these time-tested techniques:

    • Before or during your speech, your mouth or throat may become dry because you are nervous or because talking brings in air which dries your mouth. Drinking room-temperature water with lemon will keep you from going dry.

    • If you are unsure how to present yourself, remember to SOFTEN:


      Open Stance

      Forward Lean

      Tone of voice is warm and professional

      Eye contact with different members of the audience

      Nodding to convey understanding and to keep things positive

    • As the speaker, you can strengthen your message with visual signal and delivery techniques. Choose your clothing to enhance your presentation. Ask the person who has scheduled you to speak what the audience will most likely be wearing and what would be appropriate for you to wear. For business presentations, a suit conveys more authority than a sports coat or blazer for men. A conservative dress or suit is appropriate for a woman. Wear colors that compliment you and jewelry that is inconspicuous.

    • Posture is a highly visual element of your speech. Often, unpracticed speakers will sway or rock at the podium. Avoid this by standing with your feet spread four to eight inches apart, parallel to each other and pointed straight ahead. Flex your knees and put your weight on the balls of your feet. The space and symmetry of this position will stop any swaying or rocking motion. Keep your posture open. Crossing your arms may be perceived as being defensive. Keep your arms relaxed and hanging down at you side when you are not using them to gesture.

    • It is important to move when you speak, but avoid pacing. Take at least two steps and get back into position. Use movement to establish contact with people in different parts of the room. You many even want to walk to the back of the room occasionally, depending on the purpose of your presentation.

    • Gestures should be spontaneous and should support your delivery. Use them sparingly to emphasize your major points.

    • Varying your pitch will put interest in your presentation. Research has indicated that the deeper the pitch of you voice the longer people will listen to you. Also, control the volume of your voice — too soft or too loud will not be as effective as a mix. Vary your tempo as well. A normal speaking rate is 120-160 words per minute. Some regions of the U.S. have varying speaking rates; you may want to "mirror" the preference of the region in which you are speaking. Also, slow down for people whose primary language is not English. Avoid speaking in a monotone voice.

    • Use simple, clear, colorful, descriptive language. Keep your sentences short. Avoid using buzz words and jargon. Avoid tag questions. These are questions at the end of a sentence that give the impression that you are unsure of what you just said or that you are looking for approval.

      For example, "I think this proposal will work to make our profits soar, don’t you?" The "don’t you" weakens your position and undermines your statement.

      If your aim is to encourage comments, ask an independent question.

      For example, "I think this proposal will work to make out profits soar. What are your impressions?" Other words to avoid are — well, like, um, ah, sort of, kinda, like, maybe. These words will distract from what you are trying to say and become annoying to the audience.

    Common Fears and How to Deal with Them

    • Fainting is a relatively rare occurrence, almost never experienced by someone in front of an audience. You may think you are going to faint, but it rarely happens. If you feel light-headed, it may be because you are breathing too quickly or at a shallow level. The best way to stop this feeling is to take controlled deep breaths. Before your presentation take a few minutes to take some deep breaths and try to relax.

    • Boring the audience. If you approach speaking as an audience-centered sport, you will seldom need to worry about boring your audience. You do have the responsibility to provide your audience with useful information geared to their level of knowledge. If you have chosen material that interests them and have backed it up with the facts and figures needed to give credibility, there is no reason for them to be bored. To strengthen your presentation include stories and anecdotes to illustrate your points and entertain the audience.

    • Having your mind go blank does sometimes happen. When it does, the best way to deal with it is to simply pause, look at your notes or outline and try to pick up again or move on to your next thought. Don’t be afraid to use your notes to help you get back on track. If you mistake a fact and realize it, correct it while you still can. Use humor if you feel comfortable with it. Once you recognize your mistake, correct it, then continue on with your presentation.

    • Fear of being judged is usually a result of our own judgments of other speakers. You may have noticed a speaker who is dressed inappropriately, uses the same word repeatedly or waves his hands in the air. This makes us fear that we, too, will be judged critically. Most of us are harder on ourselves than others. If you are well prepared, have practiced your presentation, enjoy your subject and can communicate it well to your audience, minor imperfections will most likely go unnoticed.

    Becoming a polished speaker takes time, but it is a skill that can be learned. Anyone can become an exceptional speaker by preparing adequately and by observing others to discover what works and what doesn’t. You can acquire new skills along the way and eliminate your weaknesses. Critique yourself after every speaking opportunity to decide what you can change and what you have to live with. Figure out how to compensate for the things you cannot change. Use every opportunity you can to speak because the more you do it, the better you become.

    And finally, Practice, Practice, Practice.

    CHECKLIST [top]

    The Audience

    ___ What do you need to know about the audience?

    ___ The size?

    ___ Required attendance or voluntary?

    ___ What are their demographics?

    ___ List the five basic types of audiences you will encounter.

    The Occasion

    ___ Determine your subject matter.

    ___ Do you know what the occasion is?

    The Speech

    ___ What type of speech are you going to give?

    ___ Informative

    ___ Persuasive

    ___ Entertaining

    ___ Have you developed a central theme?

    ___ Have you selected a method of organization?

    ___ Have you outlined your speech?

    ___ Follow the general guidelines for developing an outline.

    ___ Follow a format when doing your outline.

    ___ Is your introduction strong?

    ___ Make sure your speech is clear, specific, and precise.

    ___ Does the body of your speech develop the points that you previewed in your introduction?

    ___ Do you have supporting materials?

    ___ Is your conclusion presented in two sections?

    ___ After you conclude, be prepared to open the floor to your audience for discussion.

    The Speaker


    RESOURCES [top]


    How to Give a Terrific Presentation by Karen Kalish. (AMACOM, 1997).

    High-Impact Presentations: A Multimedia Approach by Jo Robbins. (Wiley, 1997).

    101 Ways to Captivate a Business Audience by Sue Gaulke. (American Management Association, 1997).

    Loud and Clear: How to Prepare and Deliver Effective Business and Technical Presentations, 4th ed. by George L. Morrisey et al. (Addison-Wesley, 1997).

    Say It with Presentations: How to Design and Deliver Successful Business Presentations by Gene Zelazny. (McGraw-Hill, 2000).

    Writer: Marjorie Brody

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