Presentation Tips: Speaking Well

By Patrick McBrine, Partner

Public speaking is your opportunity to showcase your professional knowledge and ability, and it allows clients and employees to see how you do business. Approaches vary with the individual and occasion, but whatever your presentation style, it is a skill you can develop.

Preparation. The more you do, the better your presentation will be.

Prepare. Turn off your computer. Get a coffee. Get some paper. Sit down in a quiet place and write down the major points you want to cover. Next, write two or three sentences for each point, expressing clearly what you want to say. If you can articulate your presentation in this way first, everything will fall into place.

Predict: Anticipate any questions you think will come up during the presentation and prepare the answers. Some of these questions may not come up, but if one does you’ll have an answer ready. That will make you look knowledgeable and professional and the backup material will give you confidence and control.

Play down: If anyone asks, play down your preparation without boastfulness. Believing that it’s easy for you, others will gain confidence in your knowledge and authority.

Pregame. There are a few useful rituals you can observe before the game starts.

Solitude: Give yourself some time alone (20 min.) before the presentation. This will help you clear you mind.

Memory: Go over your presentation again one more time. This will put the facts and figures into your short-term memory, so you won’t have to depend on your notes.

Composure: If you’re feeling nervous, take a moment to put the day into perspective. There are more important things going on in the world.

Delivery. Giving the presentation itself should be easy if you’ve done the preparation.

Breathe: Take a moment before you speak (don’t be obvious) and take a deep breath. This will help you make the mental transition from silence to speaking.

Pace: If you tend to speak too quickly (write “slow down”) in your notes. You can also write “make eye contact,” “enjoy yourself,” and other cues.

Repeat: Repeat the important points. It’s a misconception that repeating yourself is a vice. In oral presentation, it’s a virtue. Two or three times is fine.

Move: If you’re sitting down, gesture with your hands and shoulders. Don’t sit still. If you’re standing, keep a remote control hidden in your hand or pocket (for PowerPoint) and move around the front of the room, seamlessly advancing the slides.

Relax: Enjoy the attention. If you’ve done the preparation, you deserve some quiet self-congratulation. And the more relaxed you are, the more comfortable the room will be with your talk and authority.

Going off Page. There are good reasons to interrupt the plan and go off script.

Voice: Improvisation changes the modulation of your voice and breaks up monotony. It changes the pace and gives participants a break.

Energy: Interaction with the room arouses interest. A rhetorical question can add needed energy; so can an unscripted example or anecdote. You can also plan these moments, to give the appearance of improvisation.

Transitions: The trick is getting back on track without losing pace. You do not want to say, “Now, where was I?” So plan some transitions as part of your preparation and you’ll be ready to go off page if the moment arises.

Question Period. Question period is often dreaded by speakers and participants alike. Speakers worry, because they cannot fully anticipate what will come up; participants worry that they won’t have anything to ask.

Prepare. Again, prepare answers to expected questions in advance and memorize a few relevant facts and figures. This will give you credibility.

Induce: Seed potential questions into your presentation, inviting participants to “ask about that later.” This prompts them to ask your prepared questions (and answers) and gives them a way to participate. Win-win.

Express: Do not nod (“yes”) or shake your head (“no”) before the question has been asked. Look intently and listen. Even if you’ve prepared an answer, you can appear to take a moment. This shows thoughtfulness and reflection. You don’t always want to rush to an answer.

Unanswerable Questions: You cannot anticipate every question, and sometimes you get one you can’t answer.

Express: By not reacting to questions with a nod or a head shake, participants won’t know that you don’t know the answer. That’s another reason to control your body language.

Listen: Don’t ever say, “I hadn’t thought of that.” Participants don’t know what you know, and often you know more than you think you do. Don’t sabotage yourself. Listen to the question and try to find something to answer.

Respond: If you don’t have an answer and you’ve prepared and presented well, you’ve earned the right to say, “I don’t know.” But you can frame that answer by saying, “this is where we are and this is what we know. We need to know more, but this is the place to start.” Bring the focus back to your work and findings.

Confidence. Confidence comes from readiness but also from self-awareness. Remember that you’re presenting because you have something valuable to say. Beyond that, you don’t need to have all the answers and you should trust in your own ability. Practice, and you’ll develop a confident, comfortable presentation style.

photo credit: Pexels

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