How to give a great presentation
From the HP Learning Center
How to give a great presentation
Planning your presentation
Identify your goals
You probably give more presentations than you realize. Updating your boss on your
recent accomplishments, giving a status report during a project meeting, and calling on a
new sales prospect are all examples of public speaking opportunities. In the business
arena, your ability to clearly communicate to your clients and coworkers will lead people
to perceive you as credible and capable, and may even improve other people's evaluation
of your skills. Although some presentations are more important than others are, the better
you understand how to prepare for a presentation, the better results you'll get following
In this lesson, we'll concentrate on pre-presentation planning. Planning helps you to
target your presentation to meet the particular demands of the time, place, and listeners.
Determine your purpose
Most of the presentations you're asked to give in a business setting aim to achieve one of
1) To inform
2) To persuade
In an informative presentation, the audience learns about a new subject or learns
something new about a familiar subject. In a persuasive presentation, the speaker
attempts to change the audience's attitudes or behaviors.
For example, if you are asked to stand up in the company meeting and summarize the
status of a project you are working on, your goal is to inform. Your objective is to present
the facts relating to the completeness of the project. However, if you are asked "how
things are going" on a project you are currently working on, your goal is to persuade.
Your objective is to present your opinion of the project— and tacitly, to convince others
that your opinion is correct.
Let's say you're the CEO of a company and every month you must give a status report to
the Board of Directors. The facts you choose to present to the Board will shape their
impression of the success or failure of your operation. For example, if you highlight
activities that have gone well over the past month like decreases in operational costs,
savings in payroll, and increased sales, the Board is likely view your status in a positive
light. However, if you touch on issues such as attrition, pending lawsuits, and business-
process inefficiency, the Board is more likely to question the success of the company. As
you plan your presentation, you must decide what your goals are. If your goal is convince
the Board that the company is doing well, then you might choose to present only
1 How to give a great presentation
achievements. However, if you want the Board's help in overcoming obstacles, you will
need to inform the Board on all the facts.
Whether your purpose is to inform or to persuade, your presentation will include many of
the same elements. It's important that you know your own purpose before you give a
presentation, however, or you risk giving away details you did not intend to expose or
leaving a weak impression on your listeners. If you begin a presentation with the intent to
inform, but decide halfway through that you need to persuade your listeners instead, then
you've wasted half of the opportunity you had to convince your audience. Assess your
goals before the presentation your presentation will be stronger as a result.
Opening the presentation and capturing in
Set the tone and build rapport
Most public speaking skills trainers and most professional presenters focus on
specific techniques and procedures for presenting. While it's important to have such tools,
ultimately the audience reaction is a human reaction. People listen to people they like,
Your goal especially in the first seven to ten seconds is to be the most likable speaker
that your audience has ever encountered.
Most presentations start before the formal presentation begins. A bit of time usually
elapses while people filter into the room and select their seats. Use this time to your
advantage. If this is your first time presenting to the group, use the time to introduce
yourself, shake hands, and learn people's names. If you're already familiar with the
audience members, then use this time to catch up and ask how things are going.
Even if you're presenting to a room of 300, small talk is appropriate. Get down from the
podium and mingle with the audience.
Speaking one-on-one with your audience members will reinforce, refine or correct
impressions you made during the audience assessment phase of planning. Take mental
notes and shift the emphasis of your planned presentation as necessary. Often, you'll learn
something during your meet and greet with the audience you can bring up later in your
presentation to demonstrate how well you understand your audience's situation. This will
win you points.
By engaging in small talk with your audience, you encourage building a relationship with
those audience members. You want to cultivate this relationship to develop rapport. What
is rapport? According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, rapport is "relation
marked by harmony, conformity, accord, or affinity." In presentation-speak, this
2 How to give a great presentation
translates to audience members who trust you and feel that you care about them.
Developing rapport with your audience early helps to build a good first impression,
which will be important as you move into the first formal stage of your presentation
7 ways to sabotage a first impression:
1. Sloppy language. Using words like "anyways," or phrases such as, "That's a
whole nother thing."
2. Lazy language. Using phrases such as "you guys," "okey dokey," "no
3. Verbal fillers. Using "ums" and "ahs".
4. Hiding your hands. This demonstrates a lack of trust. Keep your hands where
people can see them.
5. Being late for the presentation.
6. Throat clearing. The message sent here is that you think you are superior.
Not a good first impression
7. Lack of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm sells. If you're not enthusiastic and excited,
why in the world should your audience get excited about your presentation?
Opening your presentation
Just like the essays you wrote in high school required an introduction, body and
conclusion, your presentation should follow a similar structure. If you jump directly from
introducing yourself to presenting reasons why everyone should agree with your point of
view, you're bound to disorient the audience and may be accused of giving a tirade rather
than a presentation.
The first part of your presentation is called the opening. You use the opening to get the
audience's attention, build (or continue to build) rapport with the audience, introduce
your topic, and prepare the audience for the rest of your presentation. The opening should
take only a fraction of your total presentation time. For example, if you're giving a
fifteen-minute presentation, you might dedicate two to three minutes to the opening. Your
opening should set the tone for the rest of your presentation. Speakers use a number of
different attention getting techniques to set the tone of their presentations. We'll discuss a
couple in this lesson.
Make sure everybody knows who you are. This step is especially important if you're
presenting to a group for the first time. Whether you introduce yourself or have someone
introduce you, the goal is the same. The audience needs to know who you are and why
they should listen to you. Present your credentials and let people know why you're an
expert on this topic. If someone else will be performing your introduction, it often helps
to provide them with a few notes about who you are and why you're the right person to be
speaking at this event.
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Make them laugh
According to Bob Orben, former Director of the White House Speech Writing
Department, "Business executives and political leaders have embraced humor because
humor works. Humor has gone from being an admirable part of a leader's character to a
mandatory one." Using humor in public speaking helps you accomplish the following:
• Arouses interest
• Helps you connect with the audience
• Disarms hostility
• Shows that you don't take yourself too seriously
• Makes a positive impression
For these reasons, humor is an invaluable attention-gaining technique.
You've probably heard speakers open a presentation by telling a joke or relating a funny
story. In fact, this tactic is used so often some professional speakers consider the practice
expected, staid and uninventive. I disagree on two counts:
1. most of us aren't professional speakers out to blaze brave new territory in
2. just because something's "been done" doesn't mean it's "played out".
The truth is, people like to laugh. And in a business setting, we're not often privy to well-
planned, well-executed presentations. Unless a speaker is presenting at a banquette or
some other high-profile occasion, the tendency is to skip the steps necessary in delivering
a professional quality presentation. Therefore, I continue to advocate the use of humor as
an attention-gaining device in business presentations an arena in which fun can be
Always wield humor wisely. Although this should go without saying, telling a sexist,
racist, or ageist joke will get people's attention – but not the kind of attention you want
when you're trying to get the audience on your side. Observe all the normal human
If you're not funny now and would like to be, or you'd like to learn more about
developing the use of humor in presentations, visit the Advance Public Speaking Institute
The joke you tell should have some relationship to the rest of your presentation or to your
audience. For example, if speaking to a group of lawyers on the topic "updates in probate
law," you might tell a lawyer joke (which relates to your audience) or a probate joke
(which relates to your topic). Your opening is, again, an introduction to the rest of your
presentation and a means of building rapport with your audience. If your joke is
4 How to give a great presentation
completely off-topic, then you'll fail to accomplish the goals of a good opening. If you
don't know a joke or a funny story that relates to your topic, but you want to use humor in
your opening, then make something up. Humor is funny because it exaggerates or distorts
the truth. It's not disingenuous to make up a funny story to illustrate a point.
Finally, make sure your "humorous" opening is actually funny. If you're starting with a
joke, try it out on a practice audience (a friend, a family member) first. And remember
that humor is in the delivery. Deliver your punch line with a punch – then pause to allow
people to laugh. If you can't tell a joke to save your life, opening with humor isn't the best
idea. Luckily there are a variety of other opening techniques that work equally well.
Make them think
If you can't make them laugh, then make them think. Two key strategies will help you get
your audience thinking:
• Present facts, figures and expert opinions
• Invite the audience to participate
Show what you know
Once again we return to the idea of building rapport with your audience. Your audience
will be much more likely to listen to you if they believe you are an expert on the topic
you're discussing. One way to demonstrate your expertise is to open your presentation
with data, exact figures, latest developments, and interesting little-known facts. Provide
the audience with some "ah-ha" evidence of a problem or need with which they can
relate. If you don't feel like an expert in your own right, then borrow from the expertise of
others. Give a quote from a recognized expert (someone your audience has heard of, or
someone whose credentials are impressive) that illustrates your opinion or drives home a
point you want to make. Select relevant information that will fascinate or surprise the
Get the group involved from the beginning. One great way to encourage involvement is
to take an audience poll:
• How many of you have experience with this?
• How many of you have had problems in finding...?
• Has anyone found a really effective way to...?
By getting a show of hands, you will demonstrate that your topic has relevance to people
in the group. In addition, you'll get people thinking about how your topic relates to them
personally, and will interest them in hearing your proposed solution. Another way to get
the audience involved is by holding a mini-brainstorming session. It's best if you have a
5 How to give a great presentation
white board or flip chart to write down the audience suggestions. Select your
brainstorming topic carefully – ask a question that you know will generate answers that
you intend to touch on during your presentation. Let's say your planned subject is "buying
a new home" and you want to cover topics including evaluating your credit, getting a pre-
approved loan, and locking in a mortgage rate. If you ask a question like, "What are the
main things you should consider when buying a new home?" you'll get answers that
include price, location, resale value, etc. These really aren't the answers you wanted.
Instead, you should ask a more focused question like, "What are some key issues to
consider when financing a home loan?" This way, you'll get suggestions from the
audience that mirror topics you already plan to discuss, and you'll get points from the
audience later in the presentation when you touch on topics they suggested.
One you've introduced yourself and gained the audience's attention, you're ready to
complete your opening by clearly stating your topic, giving an overview of your
presentation, and transitioning to the body of your presentation.
Define your topic
Defining your topic works a little differently depending on whether your goal is to inform
or to persuade. If you intend to give an informative presentation, then make sure you've
set clear parameters regarding what you intend to cover within the time constraints of
your speech. You won't be able to discuss everything ever thought on your topic within
fifteen or thirty minutes. Instead, you'll touch on the highlights, or a specific subsection
of the overarching subject. For example, you're not going to be able to discuss
everything to do with air quality during one presentation. Instead, you can talk about
recent improvements in air quality, recent changes to air quality legislation, or changes to
emissions standards adopted by the transportation industry. Your opening is your promise
to the audience about what they'll get out of your presentation – make sure you promise
something your can actually deliver.
If you plan to give a persuasive presentation, use the opening to tell
• What's the problem?
• Who cares?
• What's the solution?
Be clear about why we should care about this topic at this time, and how you intend to
solve this problem. Take a stand. Don't be wishy-washy.
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Provide an overview
Tell them what you're going to tell them. Give a brief outline of the topics you intend to
cover. In a presentation, repetition is your friend. If you say something once, people may
forget; if you say something twice, more people will remember. At a new job orientation
you receive a description of your goals, and an outline of the business processes that will
affect your day-to-day activities. It usually takes weeks of practice to understand how
those details really come into play. Think of the overview as an orientation to the rest of
your presentation. You're not going to give away specifics or details during the overview.
Instead, provide a brief verbal map that identifies the organizational structure of your
presentation and lets people know what to expect down the line. We'll discuss more about
organizational structure in the next lesson.
While I do not advocate manuscripting your presentation, I do suggest writing out and
practicing your opening. If you're a nervous public speaker, or don't have much
experience in front of a group, then knowing exactly what you plan to say at the
beginning of your presentation will give you confidence and will help you through those
first few difficult moments when you're warming up the crowd. If you're an executive
who has staff available to write your presentation, you should still write your own
opening. The opening gives the audience an idea about who you are and what you stand
for. Those words should be your own.
Assess your audience
The audience itself will have an impact on your presentation. Consider the way you
communicate with your friends, your children (or nieces/nephews), and your parents.
Whether you mean to or not, you probably select different approaches when
communicating with each group. While you may approach your parents with deference to
their age and experience, you'd probably expect a young child to have less knowledge of
the world and to respect your own wisdom. Thus, when presenting an argument to these
groups, you're likely to differentiate your argument based on audience characteristics.
The same rules should apply to all presentations. Although you could chose to present the
exact same message to all audiences, your presentation will be more meaningful to your
listeners if you tailor your message to the attributes of the particular group with whom
you're communicating. Remember – the success of your presentation lies in your ability
to reach your audience. Even the most flawless speaker can fail to inspire listeners if the
message isn't perceived as significant to their lives or their experience. Think back to
sitting in your high school classroom wondering "when will I ever use this again?" Do
not expect that simply because you work for the same company as your audience
members your presentation will seem relevant and consequential to your listeners.
7 How to give a great presentation
To help target your presentation to your audience, consider the
• Size: Will you present to a large group? A small group? A single person?
Large group presentations often call for more formality and more structure,
while highly structured presentations to small group may seem rigid and out
of place. If presenting to a large group, you'll need to do more to make all
audience members feel involved in your presentation. With a small group, it
may be easier to encourage participation.
• Demographics: Demographic factors to consider include age, occupation,
ethnic or cultural background, socio-economic status, educational background
and gender. Presenting to a group of older politicians will require more
deference to age and experience than presenting to a group of recent
graduates. When speaking to a group of doctors, you can assume a certain
level of medical knowledge. When speaking about college admissions to a
lower socio-economic status audience you might want to include information
about financial aid, grants, and scholarships. In contrast, audiences with
members of a higher socio-economic status who don't qualify for aid will
perceive such information as useless.
• Knowledge Level: What does your audience already know about your topic?
Are you presenting to a group of water engineers on the topic of water
safety? Or are you presenting to the city council on the topic of water safety?
With some audiences, you may need to provide more background/historical
information about your topic before you can effectively persuade them of the
correctness of your position.
• Motivation: Why is your audience listening to your presentation? Are you a
consultant giving feedback to a group who has paid a lot of money for your
opinion? Or did you call a meeting to voice your own opinion? If the
audience is not inherently motivated to listen to you, then you'll need to give
them reason to listen within the presentation itself.
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If you're not personally familiar with the attributes of an audience for which you plan to
present, ask around. Maybe you're new to the company, presenting to a client, or acting
as a guest speaker for an event your coworkers, business contacts or presentation
organizers will be able to provide you with information to help you correctly assess your
audience as you prepare for your engagement.
8 How to give a great presentation
Set the stage
Planning the space
The space in which you present will impact both you and your audience. If you're forced
to give your presentation in a hot, cramped room with bad lighting, your listeners are
more likely to be thinking about their own discomfort than what you're saying. If you've
reserved an auditorium, but only ten people show up to hear you speak, you'll have some
other challenges to face. Issues to consider when booking your presentation space are:
• Size: How many people will the space comfortably seat?
• Number of chairs: Are there enough seats for the number of people invited
to hear you present, or will you be asking people to stand or sit on the floor?
• Seating arrangement: Are chairs set up so that everyone can see you, or is
the space arranged such that some listeners have their backs toward you or
must contort themselves to see your face?
• Audio/visual equipment: If you plan to use presentation aids, does the
room you've booked have the appropriate equipment/hook-ups/internet
• Distracters: Does your meeting space provide the audience views that
compete for their attention? Can you hear other people talking in their cubes
during your presentation?
Sometimes, you have little control over space constraints. Maybe your company only has
one conference room available to you, or the company culture dictates that all corporate
presentations are given outside on the front lawn. Take these factors into account as you
plan your presentation. If space constraints make sitting for long periods distasteful, for
example, consider breaking your presentation into shorter chunks or handing out "pre-
work" so you can limit the duration of your presentation while maximizing its impact.
If you've never seen the space in which you plan to present, you may find it helpful to
arrive early to review the layout.
9 How to give a great presentation
What's the best time to set a presentation?
There are some times and days that are better for presentations. And they are (drum roll,
• Mornings: As early in the morning as possible. Presentations made later in
the day often get pushed back or pushed aside because of "crises" that occur.
• Any day of the week: That's right – the day doesn't matter Let me repeat
that: THE DAY DOESN'T MATTER I used to manage a group of people who
would tell me that Mondays weren't good to make presentations because
people were trying to catch up from the weekend. My associates also said
Wednesdays weren't good because it was "hump day" and people's energy
was down; therefore, they weren't inclined to listen to a presentation. They
also informed me that Fridays weren't good because people were focused on
the weekend. Oh, and Thursday wasn't a good day either, because people
were trying to get all of their work done so that they could leave a little early
on Friday. That left one good day for presentations – Tuesday.
Be conscious of call time
When you set presentation time, if you tell the audience the meeting will take about 30
minutes, honor that timeframe If you get to the 30-minute mark and you're on a roll (and
the audience seems interested) simply say, "I know we agreed to 30 minutes and I've
noticed that time is up. Would you prefer to continue now, or schedule another time to
reconvene?" The listeners will appreciate you, and thank you for being respectful of their
Oh please The bottom line is that any day is a good day. If you've done your planning,
done your homework, and have a compelling message, the audience will be receptive.
Dress the part
A study by Albert Mehrabian at UCLA shows that 55 percent of our total message in
face-to-face interactions is communicated through body language. A big part of body
language is how you dress.
Listeners form an initial impression about you within the first seven seconds of meeting
you. They decide whether they like you, trust you, and want to do business with you.
We'll discuss non-verbal communication as it pertains to presentational style in more
detail in a later lesson. For now, we'll concentrate on attire.
10 How to give a great presentation
Dress for your audience
In this era of business casual office attire, the lines are blurred as to what is appropriate
dress for a presenter. As a general rule of thumb, you should dress slightly better than
your audience. For example:
• If you are presenting to a board of directors, you'll want to dress in your best business
suit. If you're presenting to a middle manager and the office dress is traditional business
attire, again, you'll want to pull out the suit. If you're presenting to a mid- or upper-level
manager in a business-casual environment, you may want to wear a sport coat and a
shirt with a collar. For women, a pantsuit or dressy slacks and a sport coat work well in
business-casual environments. Regardless of the environment, there are some general
o Conservative dress and solid colors are always winners in the business arena. Of
course, if you're presenting to a highly creative group (such as ad agency
creative directors), it would be appropriate to go a little out of the box. In general,
keep it conservative. Remember: People will always forgive you for dressing too
conservatively, but they may not always forgive you if you don't dress
• Keep jewelry to a minimum. Excessive or large jewelry is usually more of a distraction
than a complement to your clothing.
• Neatness counts Regardless of what type of clothing you wear, always make certain that
it is cleaned and pressed. This sends a subliminal message to the audience that you
have a strong attention to detail.
Some truths about attire
There is no such thing as neutral clothing. Everything you put on represents a decision
you have made and says something about you. Good manners require appropriate attire.
The body of a presentation
In the last lesson, we talked about strategies for creating a strong opening to your
presentation. Once you've grabbed your audience's attention with a short story, startling
statistic, or other attention-getting technique and previewed your topic in the opening, it's
time to move into the body of your presentation. Here, you'll discuss your topic in more
detail. If your purpose is to inform, you'll use the body of your presentation to describe
your topic and demonstrate how it relates to your audience. If you're goal is to persuade,
you'll use the body of the presentation to define the problem and offer your solution. In
this lesson, we'll discuss proven methods for developing the body of your presentation.
As we discussed in the last lesson, you have a limited amount of time in which to address
your audience, therefore you must limit the number/breadth of main ideas covered in
your presentation. Depending on the time allotted to you, it's best to stick to two to five
main points. You need to provide supporting evidence for each main point, so allow
enough time to develop each point in adequate detail. It's usually best to err on the
11 How to give a great presentation
conservative side – if there's a question in your mind about how many points you can
reasonably discuss, go with the lower number.
Once you've determined the most important issues to illuminate during your speech, the
next thing you should plan is the appropriate organizational structure for your speech.
Yes, you really do need to plan your presentational structure. There's nothing more
frustrating than listening to a speaker who jumps from one topic to another without
explaining how the topics are related, repeats herself often, and never seems to get to the
point. These are just a few the side effects of poor organizational structure. You should
organize the body of our presentation in a manner that makes sense for your subject. In
fact, most subjects naturally lend themselves to a particular structure.
The most common organizational patterns are:
• Topical - use when several ideas relate to your theme, each distinct idea
becomes a main point. This structure is useful for informative speeches.
• Chronological - uses time sequence for a framework. This structure is useful
for both informative and persuasive speeches, both of which require the
presentation of background information
• Spatial - organizes material according to physical space. This structure is
useful for informative speeches.
• Classification - organizes material by putting things into categories. This
structure is useful for both informative and persuasive speeches.
• Problem/Solution - organizes material by describing a problem and then
presenting a solution. This structure is useful for persuasive speeches.
• Cause/Effect - organizes material by describing the cause of a problem and
then presenting the effects of the problem. This structure is useful for
As you can see, some subjects could easily be organized by a number of different patterns
described above. For example, if you are giving an informative speech on how to make a
peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you could organize your presentation chronologically or
topically. In the chronological arrangement, you would describe the sequence of actions
necessary to build your sandwich. In the topical arrangement, you might cover three
main ideas including ingredient selection, building the sandwich, and proper clean up and
storage of sandwich materials. Chose a structure that supports the presentation of the
supporting materials you plan to share with your audience. In the above example, if
your goal is to talk about the speed or ease with which a sandwich can be made, the
chronological structure is best. However, if you're more concerned with describing the
number of choices necessary in a simple action like making a sandwich, then the topical
arrangement is better. Whatever organizational structure you chose, make sure to stick
with it throughout your presentation.
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To create a credible presentation, you must provide supporting materials to back up your
claims. Although people might like you and want to believe you, a well-crafted
presentation includes evidence demonstrating that what you say is true. Evidence serves a
number of purposes including:
• Clarification of your position or main ideas.
• Proof that your claims are true.
• Creates a lasting and memorable impression
Evidence is the meat of your presentation. Without evidence, you are simply providing
people with a verbal outline of main ideas. Evidence is the material that gives your
Types of evidence include:
• Facts and figures: information that can be verified by an outside source.
• Statistics: data explaining something in terms of size or frequency. Statistics
are powerful because they sound like facts and figures. However, statistics
can be easily manipulated. When evaluating statistics always consider the
source. Compare your statistics to others – seek multiple sources – to ensure
they are accurate. When presenting statistics, quote the statistic completely,
and use only current information.
• Statements by authority: quotes from an expert on your subject. If the
person you're quoting from is not well known, provide her credentials along
with her quote. Statements by popular figures like politicians, television or
radio personalities may be used, as well, but should not be confused with
statements by authority, nor should they be presented as such.
• Testimony: supporting statements by others. Testimony can be expert,
prestige or lay. Expert testimony is the same as "statements by authority" as
described above. Prestige testimony is supporting statements made by an
individual held in high esteem, like a well-liked politician, a famous business
personality or a movie star. Lay testimony is supporting statements made by
someone from the community who is not necessarily an expert on the
subject. Lay testimony is often used to show that a problem or issue is
prevalent, and is identified by others as a problem.
• Narratives: examples in the form of a story. Narratives should have a
beginning, a middle, and an ending, and should be interesting without
including unnecessary details.
• Definitions: terms can be defined in one of three ways:
o The dictionary definition
o The etymological definition
o The operational definition. –The etymological definition describes how a
word derives from the root word of its culture. The operational definition
describes how the term relates to how it works or how it operates.
• Humor: jokes or funny stories relating to the topic. Although humor works well
to gain interest and build rapport with your audience, there are some subjects for
which humor is not appropriate.
13 How to give a great presentation
Facts and figures, statistics and testimony are the only supporting materials that can
prove. Without such types of evidence, your argument will be weakened. However, a
well-supported presentation will also include narratives to demonstrate how the subject
impacts the audience in human terms. Use a combination of types of evidence to build a
well-supported argument that also interests your listeners.
Once you have determined your organizational structure and fleshed out your topic with
the use of evidence, you're almost done preparing the body of your presentation. Now it's
time to plan how you will transition from your opening to the body of your speech,
between your main points, and into the conclusion. Transitions help you move your
audience smoothly from one point to the next. A transitional statement is usually one or
two sentences long, wrapping up your last idea and moving into your next idea. Smooth
transitions make for a polished presentation, and help your audience follow along.
I recommend that first time or nervous public speakers plan their transitions. Although I
do not recommend scripting your entire speech, it's easy to forget little elements like
Transitions when you're nervous and you just want to get through all of your material and
sit down. If you plan and practice transitions ahead of time, you'll be less likely to leave
them out on presentation day.
Transitions are the glue that holds the structural elements of your presentation together.
They either should emphasize the organization of your speech, or should demonstrate
how your ideas relate back to the theme of your presentation. The best transitions do
both. A transition emphasizing organization can be as easy as
"Now that you understand _______, let's move on to my next point, which is _______."
Simple, right? Admittedly, not very creative, but it gets the job done by telling the
audience that you've finished talking about main point number one, and now you're going
to talk about main point number two. The transition alerts the audience to prepare to shift
gears and listen for new information.
Without transitions, it's easy to confuse your audience. If your main points run together
without a clear distinction, listeners may not realize that you've moved on to a new topic
and may not understand why the evidence you're presenting doesn't seem to support your
main point. This is dangerous in that audience members will have to take time to figure
out what's going on instead of listening to you. In addition, if audience members feel
confused, they'll blame it on you, and you'll lose some credibility. Although you won't
win big points by including transitions in your presentation, you'll lose points if you
14 How to give a great presentation
Preparing an outline
As I've mentioned a few times throughout this course, I don't recommend scripting your
entire speech. What I mean is, do not write out your presentation word for word and then
attempt to either memorize it or read from it during your presentation. There are a
number of reasons I advocate against scripting your speech:
• If you attempt to memorize your speech word for word, and then you can't
remember the exact words you had planned to use when you're in front of the
audience for the live presentation, you're likely to panic, to lose your place
and have to go back and repeat yourself, or to leave out an entire piece of
your planned presentation.
• If you script your presentation and then bring your script to the podium,
you're likely to read your presentation.
• If you have scripted your speech, you're less likely to integrate information you
learn from or about your audience during your opening.
• If you have scripted your speech, you're more likely to sound formal and stilted
when you speak.
Although I dislike scripted presentations, I do not intend for you to be ill prepared and
poorly practiced. Instead, I suggest outlining your speech.
A good outline includes the main points of your presentation, plus reference to your
evidence. I say reference to your evidence because an outline should be composed mainly
of keywords. For example, rather than writing out the complete narrative about your dog
in your outline, you reference the narrative with the words "dog story." This way, the
broad organizational structure and key evidence is noted and ordered – but you're not tied
to a scripted speech. There are a couple exceptions to this rule. I usually include statistics
(or any other numbers) I plan to present directly in my outline, as well as any relevant
source information. If I use a long quote in my presentation, I'll write that out word-for
word, as well, so as not to misquote the source. If I'm afraid I might forget my transitions,
I'll write those out, as well. But everything else in the outline should be in key word
The benefits of working from an outline rather than from a script are many:
• Allows for a more conversational flow to your presentation.
• Allows flexibility to integrate information you learn about your audience (just
add a quick note to your outline).
• If you lose your place during your presentation, you can easily see any points
you missed and can skip around to ensure you've covered everything you
planned to present.
• If your audience seems confused about one of your main ideas, you can make
a decision on the fly to spend more time on this topic before moving on to the
15 How to give a great presentation
Essentially, working from an outline allows you to be more responsive to your audience.
Always practice your speech from your outline. You'll notice that the exact wording of
your presentation shifts a bit each time you present. That's to be expected, and just
demonstrates how an outlined presentation allows for a more conversational tone than a
Although we talked about the opening of your presentation before we talked about the
body, you should start by planning the body of your presentation. Once you know
exactly what you plan to cover, you can go back and prepare your opening – and plan the
conclusion – knowing exactly what will be expressed during the rest of your speech. In
the next lesson, we'll talk about wrapping up your presentation with a memorable
Closing your presentation
When to close
One of the worst mistakes you can make in a presentation is talking too long. No matter
how brilliant or funny you are, people will get bored, think of other things they need to
do, and will start to wonder
when you'll be done. Ideally, you'll conclude your presentation before you're audience
starts to drift. Get up, say what you have to say, and sit down. Never keep talking just
because you had been allotted thirty minutes for your presentation and you only used
fifteen. People will appreciate it if you end early because you've said all you need to say.
This shows respect for your audience's time (and attention span).
You're ready to close your presentation when you've covered all of your main ideas, and
don't have any new ideas to present. You may offer new evidence in your conclusion, but
should not attempt to develop any new ideas. Keep in mind that the goal of the
• To inform the audience you're about to close,
• To summarize the main points,
• To leave the audience with something to remember
I have heard numerous presentations in which the speaker used the "conclusion" to
present yet another main point. Don't make this mistake. Think of the opening and
conclusion as bookends, and the body of your presentation as the book. All the idea
development happens in the body. If you have another main point to discuss, do
so in the body. Once you've presented all the ideas you wanted to present, you're ready to
transition into the conclusion.
16 How to give a great presentation
Wrap it up
The opening and the conclusion have a lot in common, and utilize many of the same
techniques. In the opening, your goal was to get people's attention, introduce them to
your topic, and transition into the body of your presentation. In the conclusion, you
transition out of the body of your presentation, quickly review what you've said, and
deliver your parting shot. Since the conclusion is the last thing you say, it's often the most
remembered, so spend as much time planning your conclusion as any other part of your
During your conclusion, it's a good idea to "tell 'em what you told 'em." Since you've
taken the time to develop each of your main ideas in the body of your speech, take a
moment in your conclusion to wrap it up – summarize each main idea one last time. Your
summary should be succinct. Once you've reviewed your main points, the last thing left
for you to do is deliver a parting shot – one final statement that leaves your audience
something to think about. As with the attention getting techniques we utilized in the
opening, you'll draw on those same techniques to deliver your parting shot. Use humor,
present a challenge, restate your point in a new way, relate a touching story, present a
final statistic, or state a final quote. This is your last opportunity to convince the
audience that your topic is important so chose concluding evidence that makes an impact.
You may want to save the most damming statistic or the most insightful quote to use in
your conclusion. Always leave the audience with something to remember.
Call to action
Whenever possible, as part of your wrap-up, leave your audience with something to do.
Giving your audience a call to action in your conclusion accomplishes two main
• Gives your listeners direction regarding what to do with all the information
you've just presented.
• Gives your audience incentive to think about your presentation later, outside
of the walls of the presentation room.
Keep the call to action simple enough to be something your audience can accomplish. If,
at the end of your presentation, you ask your audience to complete a full analysis of
operational costs company-wide over the last year, few people will have the time or the
access to do so. However, if you ask people to keep track of all the office supplies they
use over the next week, more people will be able to comply. Make your call to action
meaningful to your audience. Let them know how taking one small step (as you advocate
in your call to action) can produce impressive results over time or when completed by
many. Now that you've learned about the aspects of a good opening, body and
conclusion, you should be able to prepare an interesting, informative presentation that
grabs and holds your audience's attention from beginning to end. However, it's not just
what you say, it's also how you say it. In the next lesson, we'll talk about non-verbal
elements of a presentation such as eye contact, gesture and vocal inflection, and how to
use these elements to your benefit.
17 How to give a great presentation
The difference between a good presenter and a great presenter is often "presentational
style." By style, I mean the intangible elements of a presentation including a speaker's
poise, movement, projection of enthusiasm, and comfort in front of the group. A common
misconception is that good presentational style is inherent – you have it or you don't. In
fact, presentational style is made up of three main elements that everyone can learn to
incorporate into their speaking: vocalics, body language, and use of space. In this lesson,
we'll break down each component of style and discuss how to plan and practice stylistic
techniques to improve your presentations. Non-verbal communication reinforces verbal
communication, thus your words will have more impact if you utilize non-verbals to
emphasize key ideas. Even the best prepared presentations benefit from attention to these
non-verbal elements of style, which give your speaking a polished, professional edge.
Vocalics, or vocal techniques, are the way you speak your words to create emphasis and
set the tone of your presentation. In Lesson 3, we discussed "conversational tone" as a
desirable characteristic for your presentation. Although outlining your speech is a means
to achieving conversational tone, incorporating the vocal techniques we will discuss in
this lesson is a more direct means to impact tone. Practicing your presentation out loud is
the only way to determine which vocal techniques to utilize. When integrating vocalics,
it's helpful to think of yourself as an actor practicing your lines. Your goal is to suggest
emotion and bring your words to life through the manner in which you deliver your lines.
However, your delivery must remain believable and natural not forced. Again, this
balance will be achieved through practice.
Vocal techniques to consider when practicing your presentation are:
• Loudness: the relative amplitude of your voice. Both loudness and quietness
can be used to gain attention. First, determine the right level of loudness to
use as a baseline. During the "meet-and-greet" period before your
presentation begins, get a feel for the way your voice sounds in the room. If
you're working in a small space, the walls may amplify sound, causing your
normal speaking voice to sound very loud. In this case, you may need to
speak more quietly than normal to avoid blasting your audience. If you're
speaking in an auditorium or other large, open space, you'll need to speak
more loudly than usual to project to the back of the room. However, if you
use a microphone during your presentation, your normal speaking voice will
Once you've determined your baseline amplitude, you can vary the loudness
of your voice to draw attention to particular ideas. For example, one way to
draw your audience into your presentation is to begin by speaking quietly,
which forces your audience to settle down immediately and listen closely in
order to hear you. (This approach can backfire in large rooms when a
18 How to give a great presentation
microphone is not available, as people in the back of the room may not
know that you've started speaking yet). Alternately, you could start your
presentation by loudly listing a litany of startling statistics, then transitioning
to your baseline amplitude to describe what those statistics mean in the
context of your presentation. The point to remember is that variation from
the baseline creates emphasis. Quietness works as well as loudness, and not
all ideas are best emphasized by being loud. For example, softness is a great
strategy for relating sad stories, giving asides, or presenting details to which
you want the audience to believe they are especially privy.
• Learn by listening: Storytellers use vocal style to create characters,
emphasize ideas, suggest movement, and add drama to their presentations.
Listening to a storyteller in action will help demonstrate the power of vocal
style can hove on your own presentation. Look for story hours, book readings,
or poetry slams at your local library, bookstore or coffee shop.
• Pitch: the highness or lowness of a sound, such as the property of musical
notes. Your voice box vibrates at a particular frequency, creating a pitch. You
can vary the pitch of your voice to relate dialog between two or more people
or to suggest a variety of personal characteristics such as sex and age. For
example, a young person might speak in a higher pitch than an older person
might, while a man would speak in a lower pitch than a woman would.
• Rate: the speed with which you speak. Speaking quickly can suggest speed,
excitement or energy. Speaking slowly can suggest emotions like lethargy or
boredom, but can be used to emphasize complex ideas or points of special
• Pause: essentially, pause is speaking with a rate of zero. The silent pause
provides time for ideas to sink in, and emphasizes what was just said.
All the vocal techniques described in this lesson add drama to your presentation.
Deviations from "normal" rate, pitch and loudness emphasize the words you speak in
comparison to words spoken at a "normal" rate, pitch or loudness. Since not every word
you speak needs special emphasis, much of your presentation can be delivered in your
normal conversational style. Add variations from the norm to support and enliven the key
ideas and examples in your presentation.
Some people are naturally better public speakers than others, and tend to utilize the vocal
style techniques identified here without much practice or pre-planning. For the rest of us,
however, practice is key. I suggest practicing your presentation aloud; overemphasizing
the vocal techniques you plan to incorporate. With practice, you're more likely to utilize
your planned techniques even when your tendency may normally be to speak fast to get
through the presentation quickly.
Body language is another non-verbal technique that can be used to enhance your
presentations. By body language, I mean gestures, movements and mannerisms that
people use to communicate. As with the use of vocal techniques, body language comes
more easily to some than to others. Again, body language is something that can be