by Steve Roche

In a nutshell

1. The presenter

The first step towards becoming excellent at giving presentations is to think of people whom you regard as really good presenters and notice what you appreciate about their performances. There are several keys to becoming as good as they are:

  • Modelling – observe how good presenters work
  • Decide what outcomes you want from the presentation
  • Think about what outcomes the audience is hoping for
  • Study how to improve your chances of success at the levels of environment, behaviours and capabilities
  • Make sure your beliefs and values are empowering rather than limiting


2. Develop your skills and experience

If you want to get better at presenting, you must keep getting up and doing it. That is how you build experience and find out what works, what your strengths are and what you need to develop.

  • Use feedback to help you to learn, to find solutions and to pick out your good points and develop your own style.
  • Watch yourself on video.
  • Learn from other presenters – good and poor.


3. Your audience

Consider what the audience will be wanting from your presentation. Find out as much as possible about them beforehand. Strive to anticipate and meet their needs.

Why will they be there and what will they want from the presentation?

  • Will their basic comfort needs be met?
  • What is their level of knowledge/expertise?
  • What state do you need to be in?
  • What state do you want to evoke in them?
  • How can you establish and maintain rapport?
  • What assumptions will guide you towards success?


4. The structure

Structure your subject matter by identifying the big chunks, then gradually breaking them down. There are various ways of structuring your material, each of which has certain advantages.

  • Plan a beginning, middle and end – introduction, main body, summary and conclusion.
  • The sequential argument is a series of linked statements leading to a conclusion.
  • The pyramid, as found in newspaper stories, amplifies further and further and can easily be cut to suit the occasion.
  • Stories and anecdotes are often more acceptable than jokes.
  • Exercises and demonstrations are good for getting your audience involved.


5. Preparation – the words

Begin preparing as early as possible. Create a set of notes and practise speaking from them until you are fluent. Never read out your speech from a script.

  • Confine your notes to simple, legible key words.
  • Prepare more than you need and be willing to throw chunks away to keep to time.
  • Help your listeners by offering periodic signposts.
  • Use simple, straightforward language for greatest impact.


6. Preparation – delivery mechanisms

Some presenters think that a presentation is the visual aids they use – and that their part in it is simply to supply a voice-over to the visuals. This approach is usually based on fear and wanting to hide away. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Is this visual aid really necessary?
  • Would my presentation suffer without it?

If you choose to use a visual aid, the key to success is preparation.

  • Practise writing on whiteboards and flipcharts.
  • Make sure you know how to use the projector.
  • Have a spare bulb, the right type of pen in a range of colours, and anything else you might need.
  • Remember that people can only hold seven plus or minus two pieces of information in mind at a time.


7. Appealing to preferred senses

People tend to have a preference for using one or other of the senses.

  • Those with a visual preference are happiest learning when they can see things written down, watch videos or view diagrams or models – on flips, OHPs or text.
  • Those with an auditory preference are happiest learning through lectures, discussions, audio cassettes and stories.
  • Kinaesthetic types are happiest learning when experiencing sensations, feelings or physical activity – in role play, training games or outward bound events.


8. Presenting at short notice

Sometimes you have no choice but to prepare a presentation with very little notice. The 4-MAT system offers an easy way to construct an instant presentation, by appealing to groups with all four learning styles.

  • The why group want to know the reason for learning.
  • The what group want the facts and figures.
  • The how group want to practise and do something.
  • The what ifs want to try out variations.


9. The delivery

You never get a second opportunity to make a first impression – so make a good start.

  • Use pacing and establish rapport from the beginning.
  • A joke is a good way to start – but only if you are good at jokes and the choice is relevant and not offensive.
  • Build on your own individuality.
  • Make sure your body language is appropriate.
  • Take in the whole audience with your eyes and give each individual some eye contact.
  • Develop your peripheral vision.
  • Use spatial and other forms of anchoring to help the group to learn.


10. Questions and handouts

Decide if you will take audience questions after the presentation, as you go along, or not at all. Plan the time carefully, anticipating likely questions and developing ways to deal with problems.

  • If there are no questions, this may be for one of several reasons and a friend in the audience may be able to help you out.
  • Make sure both you and the audience hear and understand each question.
  • Be prepared for difficult questions – and keep your temper.
  • Avoid red herrings.
  • Use handouts to reinforce your message.


11. When things go wrong

Sometimes things go wrong, no matter how thoroughly you have planned and prepared. If your mind goes blank, buy time by checking that you are being heard.

  • Try chaining ideas, by using words from the last sentence you spoke.
  • Regain state, and control, by using humour and dissociating from the error.


12. Storytelling

Storytelling can be a great way to liven up a potentially dull subject. The best stories often come from your own experience, are relevant to the subject matter and make a useful point.

  • Check that the story will work by imagining yourself telling it and being in the audience listening.
  • Decide what response you want and how you will know if you are getting it.
  • Be flexible.
  • To raise audience anticipation, use nested loops, moving from tale to tale and then finishing them in reverse order.


13. Presenter as performer

Presenting is one of the performing arts, so you can learn from great entertainers.

  • One of the greatest gifts for a speaker is that of enthusiasm, and it is a talent you can develop for yourself.
  • Use your body language to support your content.
  • Study the patterns identified by Virginia Satir.
  • Use stillness and silence to gain control.
  • Train your voice.


14. Building confidence

With the right understanding and approach, and the right preparation and practice, it is entirely possible for you to become a skilled and confident presenter.

  • The first step is to start with a strong desire to become a good presenter.
  • Make sure you know your subject thoroughly.
  • Act confidently, and the feeling will follow.
  • Practise as much as you can.
  • Remember that it’s not your impression of your performance that matters – it’s what the audience think.
  • Deal with that critical inner voice.
  • Be congruent and get into a performance state before you begin.


15. The logistics - a summary

Notes on this page summarise much of the material in this topic. Checklists include what to do

  • Before the day – planning, checking the practical details, rehearsing and gathering all the equipment and handouts
  • On the day – final checks and adjustments to seating, lighting and so on
  • During the presentation – acting confidently, maintaining energy levels and monitoring the audience
  • After the day – following up, collecting feedback, working to improve the performance.