How to Do Public Speaking and Presentations
Sections of This Topic Include
Guidelines for Public Speaking and Presentations
Five Things You Must Do in the First Five Minutes
How to Handle Undesirable Behaviors in Presentations or
Training: Use the Intervention Escalator
Additional Perspectives on Presentation Skills (Public Speaking)
Related Library Topics
Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Public Speaking and Presentations
In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which
have posts related to Public Speaking and Presentations. Scan down the blog’s
page to see various posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog Posts”
in the sidebar of the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a
post in the blog.
© Copyright Carter
McNamara, MBA, PhD
Leaders make presentations to a wide variety of audiences, for example, Board
members, employees, community leaders and groups of customers. Usually there
is a lot that can be quickly gained or quickly lost from a presentation. A little
bit of guidance goes a long way toward making a highly effective presentation.
Note that meeting management skills are often helpful in designing an effective
presentation. Also note that the following guidelines are intended for general
presentations, not for training sessions where your presentation is to help
learners to gain specific knowledge, skills or attitudes in order to improve
their performance on a task or job.
Basic Guidelines For Designing Your Presentation
- List and prioritize the top three goals that you want to accomplish with
your audience. It’s not enough just to talk at them. You may think you know
what you want to accomplish in your presentation, but if you’re not clear
with yourself and others, it is very easy – too easy – for your audience to
completely miss the point of your presentation. For example, your goals may
be for them to appreciate the accomplishments of your organization, learn
how to use your services, etc. Again, the goals should be in terms of what
you want to accomplish with your audience.
- Be really clear about who your audience is and about why is it important
for them to be in the meeting. Members of your audience will want to know
right away why they were the ones chosen to be in your presentation. Be sure
that your presentation makes this clear to them right away. This will help
you clarify your invitation list and design your invitation to them.
- List the major points of information that you want to convey to your audience.
When you’re done making that list, then ask yourself, “If everyone in
the audience understands all of those points, then will I have achieved the
goal that I set for this meeting?”
- Be clear about the tone that you want to set for your presentation, for
example, hopefulness, celebration, warning, teamwork, etc. Consciously identifying
the tone to yourself can help you cultivate that mood to your audience.
- Design a brief opening (about 5-10% of your total time presentation time)
a. Presents your goals for the presentation.
b. Clarifies the benefits of the presentation to the audience.
c. Explains the overall layout of your presentation.
- Prepare the body of your presentation (about 70-80% of your presentation
- Design a brief closing (about 5-10% of your presentation time) that summarizes
the key points from your presentation.
- Design time for questions and answers (about 10% of the time of your presentation).
Basic Guidelines About Presentation Materials
You might be handing out supplemental materials, for example, articles, reports,
etc. along with making your presentation. You might also be handing out copies
of your presentation, for example, handing out copies of your slides that you
will be referencing during your presentation. You might be using transparency
slides or showing slides from a personal computer onto a project screen.
- If you plan to project your slides from a computer onto a projection screen,
then be sure to check out the computer system before people come into the
meeting room, if at all possible.
- Use a consistent layout, or organization of colors and images, on your
- If you use transparencies on an overhead projector, then allocate one slide
for every 3-5 minutes of your presentation. Include 5-8 lines of bulleted
phrases on each slide.
- If you provide the supplemental information during your presentation, then
your audience will very likely read that information during your presentation,
rather than listening to you. Therefore, hand out this information after you
have completed your presentation. Or, hand it out at the beginning of your
presentation and ask them not to read it until you have completed your presentation.
- If you hand out copies of your slides, be sure that the text on the slides
is large enough that your audience can read the text on the table in front
of them without having to hold the handouts up to their faces. Be sure to
leave space on the handouts for the audience to make notes on them.
Basic Guidelines About Your Delivery
- If you’re speaking to a small group (for example, 2-15 people), then try
to accomplish eye contact with each person for a few seconds throughout your
- Look up from your materials, or notes, every 5-10 seconds, to look into
- Speak a little bit louder and a little bit slower than you normally would
do with a friend. A good way to practice these guidelines is to speak along
with a news anchor when you’re watching television.
- Vary the volume and rate of your speech. A monotone voice is absolutely
toxic to keeping the attention of an audience.
- Stand with your feet at shoulder-length apart.
- Keep your hands relatively still.
© Copyright Gail
Recently I attended a speech given by a brilliant but soft-spoken philosopher
and author. Even though he had a gentle, thoughtful way of speaking, and a serious
topic, he managed to connect well with the audience, and got some great chuckles
with his stories and his subtle humor. It started me thinking again about how
important the first few minutes of every presentation is, and what you can do
to make a good connection with your audience early on.
Check your next presentation to see how many of these you are doing.
Tell a short human-interest story.
This speaker made a reference to boy scouts, comparing how they were years
ago, to how they are today. It illustrated a point he was making in a highly
visual, personal and memorable way. And it took less than one minute.
Refer to the audience and their worlds.
More important than telling them all about you, let them know you understand
who they are, what their concerns are, and how you plan to address them. The
old adage is true: they don’t care how much you know until they know how
much you care.
Engage them in some way.
Get them to do something besides just sitting. Ask a question, ask for a show
of hands, ask them to greet their neighbors, ask them to write down their questions,
ask them to gather in the four corners of the room according to…well,
you get the idea. Unless you are mesmerizing, you really should get them engaged
and involved, and do it sooner rather than later.
Start without slides.
It sends a whole different energy into the room than starting with your slides
on and ready to go. In fact, this speaker used no more than 10 slides in two
hours, and he turned them on when needed and off when not needed. And another
thing; they were all images, not bullets! Maybe you need to use slides. If so,
then make them as clean and simple as possible, and start (and end) without
Find the humor.
It could be in your story, in the audience, in a misfire or mistake, in a cartoon
you show, or in something you heard or read recently. Look for humor that is
comfortable and natural for you; don’t try to be a comedian. It doesn’t
have to bring the house down; even a chuckle can bring us all together.
Yes, this speaker did all five of these in the first few minutes. He showed
humility, depth, and passion about his topic. I bet you can too, and I would
love to hear what you do in the first five minutes.
© Copyright Gail
Many years ago, while leading a workshop for effective presentations, I had
a number of students who were actually there because they had been asked to
conduct mandatory safety training. They talked about undesirable behaviors on
the part of their learners: people falling asleep during the training sessions,
arguing, or making inappropriate comments about the content. I asked what they
would do in such cases, and their immediate response was to “kick them
out of the class.” I thought this was a pretty radical reaction, so we
talked about what else they could do to get through to their learners. I am
not sure they bought into my suggestions to start with a more subtle intervention
at that point, but I hope as they became more experienced in the classroom they
tried some more subtle techniques.
Over time, as I heard and experienced similar audience behaviors, I developed
and shared the Intervention Escalator, a reminder to start with subtle interventions,
and move toward more extreme responses only as needed. The hope was that presenters
could use subtle but active interventions to maintain harmony in meetings, presentations,
or training sessions without relying on extreme or unilateral methods.
Take a look and let me know what you think of this approach. Where do you start
on the scale? What is the most effective technique, in your experience? Have
you had to eject participants from a classroom or meeting? Are there other steps
you would suggest adding?
- Ignore it. If you see or hear a behavior once, you may
be able to ignore it. For example, a short side conversation, heavy eyes,
or a comment you think is just a little “off” can probably be
ignored for a while without fear of losing control of the classroom. Keep
an eye out for continued behaviors around the room or from the same people
but just take note.
- Silence it. Instead of stopping your presentation or commenting
directly to the offender, insert an extended pause into the conversation.
Most times, when the room gets quiet, so do those who are indulging in side
conversations. Wait until everyone is quiet, then continue without comment.
- Eyeball them. Often you can head off a confrontation non-verbally
by making extended eye contact with people who are distracting others. Your
silent message is: “I have my eyes on you.” You still don’t
have to be confrontational or put anyone on the spot. Just extend the eye
contact beyond 5 seconds and they will get the point.
- Stand by them. As you move around the room, standing close
to those who are being disruptive can help quiet them down, again without
a direct confrontation. If only one party to the side conversation is “into
it” the other person may appreciate your non-verbal intervention.
- Ask a question. As the behaviors continue unabated, you
are moving toward direct action. But before you jump on someone, start with
questions. Ask a question of the audience at large: for example, “I
have shown you some of the facts about eye safety, now who can tell me which
one you think is most compelling?” Questions sound different than questions,
and this may be enough to grab the attention of those who are drifting. By
the way, ask the question first, then call on someone. That way, everyone
in the room must think, in case you call on them.
- Ask for input. If lots of side discussions are breaking
out, or if lots of eyes are fluttering, you are going to have to deal with
it. Call it out: “I see some of you are drifting… Is it too warm
in here? Do we need a break now? Did you have a question? Was there a comment
you could share?” Note that it is really easy to sound sarcastic here,
so try not to let that happen. You could try humor too, if it seems natural
and appropriate. “Try this lecture tonight on your three year old to
get her to sleep.” (And if you are lecturing, stop, and change the pace
to discussion or action.)
- Talk offline. If one or two people are causing the distraction,
try connecting with them on a break. Let them know the impact of their behavior,
on you and on others. Ask if there is anything you can do to keep them engaged.
Let them know the consequences of continued behavior. At least this way you
aren’t embarrassing them in front of others and you are giving them
- Divide and conquer. If certain people are developing distracting
behaviors, it may help to get them apart. Break into “discussion groups”
by counting off, thereby breaking up teams or whole tables who are too chatty.
After lunch or a break, ask people to sit in a new spot so they can “meet
new people.” In long meetings or training sessions, this is great practice
anyway. Just note that people get attached to their territory and sometimes
resist moving. If you use name tents, you can move them over lunch, or catch
people at the door and ask them to move. If even a few people change seats
it is often enough to change the dynamics.
- Address them directly. You are getting toward the most
direct approaches. If behaviors have continued to this point, you will have
to address them directly. Be direct, calm, and factual. “Bill and Sam,
I am going to ask for your cooperation. Let’s eliminate the side comments
so we can finish our session on time.” (I love telling them this; everyone
wants to finish on time.)
- Eject them. In twenty years of leading training sessions,
I have only had to ask someone to leave once or twice. But if you feel their
presence is impacting or threatening the physical or psychological safety
of the other participants, you will need to take action. Personally, I would
ask them to step outside the room and then privately ask them to make a choice
about leaving the class or changing their behavior. If you feel threatened,
you will want to call security or ask for help. Hopefully, you never have
to get this far on the Intervention Escalator.
It is a fine line to walk between being respectful to individuals while being
a strong leader, but by starting at the bottom of the escalator, you may never
have to get to the most direct actions. Don’t confuse subtlety with avoidance
or evasion; take action early to maintain a healthy environment in your next
meeting, training session or presentation.
There are numerous articles on the Internet about public speaking,
presentation skills, etc.
Three Mind-Tickling Techniques to Make Your Presentation
Content More Memorable and Motivating
Big Dog on Presentation Skills
Delivering the Speech of Your Life
Fear of Public Speaking
Three Things You Should Know About Communicating Credibility
20 Ways to Engage and Involve Your Audience
Ways to Deliver Winning Team Presentations
Are you performing or just presenting?
How CEOs Can Improve Speeches
Improve Your Public Speaking with a More Effective Mindset
10 Ways to Encourage Continuous Learning in Presentation Skills
5 Tips for Building Effective Delivery Skills
Training by Toastmasters?
Humor has it: How to use Humor in Business Presentations
Top Ten Tips for Becoming a Skilled Presenter
Humor Has it: When Should you Use Humor?
Become an UM Fighter! How to Get Rid of Filler Words
How to Use Humor in Your Next Presentation
Hello my name is….How to Introduce a Speaker
Speaking or Lecturing Between the Adult “Glee” Practice and BINGO
Training and Teaching Public Speaking with A Difference
The Visual Communicator
PowerPoint Debate Continues
Tips for Telling Stories in Your Presentations
Alphabet Series on Presenting
A is for Authentic
B is for Brilliant
C is for Courage
D is for Dynamic
E is for Energy
F is for Focus
G is for Gracious
H is for Heart and Head, Humor and Honesty
I is for Introducing Yourself
J is for Joy, Jobs and Jagger
K is for Killer and KISS slides
L is for Live, laugh and love (your audience)
M is for Message
N is for Never
O is for ’Oops’
P is for Poise and Persuasion
Q is for Quiet Audiences (Part 1)
R is for Perfect Rehearsals and Reading Your Audience
S is for Storytelling
S is for Storytelling Part Two
T is for Timing
Using Visual Aids
Developing Winning Team Presentations
Top 10 Ways to Create Better Visuals?
More Than 100 PowerPoint Tutorials &
a Free Template The Rapid eLearning Blog
How Visual Aids Undermine Presentations – Three
Ways You May Be Boring Your Audience to Tears
When Learning Takes Place — PowerPoint vs. Presenter
My Favorite Tool for Making Presentations
5 Tips for a Great PowerPoint Presentation
How to Brainstorm with Visual Aids
How to Stop Abusing Your Visual Aids
Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to This Topic
In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following
blogs which have posts related to this topic. Scan down the blog’s
page to see various posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog
Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “next”
near the bottom of a post in the blog.
For the Category of Interpersonal Skills:
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