Presentation Skills

Presentations and reports are ways of communicating ideas and information to a group. But unlike a report, a presentation carries the speaker’s personality better and allows immediate interaction between all the participants.

A report is the orderly presentation of the results of a research that seeks truth and interprets facts into constructive ideas and suggestions (Gwinn, 2007). It is normally built on research that finds, develops, or substantiates knowledge. Once all the facts are collected, they are organized and presented in a report designed to meet a need for specific information.

A presentation is created in the same manner as a report; however, it adds one additional element — The Human Element.

A good presentation contains at least four elements:

  • Content — It contains information that people need. But unlike reports, which are read at the reader’s own pace, presentations must account for how much information the audience can absorb in one sitting.
  • Structure — It has a logical beginning, middle, and end. It must be sequenced and paced so that the audience can understand it. Where as reports have appendices and footnotes to guide the reader, the speaker must be careful not to loose the audience when wandering from the main point of the presentation.
  • Packaging — It must be well prepared. A report can be reread and portions skipped over, but with a presentation, the audience is at the mercy of a presenter.
  • Human Element — A good presentation will be remembered much more than a good report because it has a person attached to it. However, you must still analyze the audience’s needs to determine if they would be better met if a report was sent instead.

The Voice

The voice is probably the most valuable tool of the presenter. It carries most of the content that the audience takes away. One of the oddities of speech is that we can easily tell others what is wrong with their voice, such as it is too fast, too high, or too soft, but we have trouble listening to and changing our own voices.

There are five main terms used for defining vocal qualities (Grant-Williams, 2002):

  • Volume: How loud the sound is. The goal is to be heard without shouting. Good speakers lower their voice to draw the audience in, and raise it to make a point.
  • Tone: The characteristics of a sound. An airplane has a different sound than leaves being rustled by the wind. A voice that carries fear can frighten the audience, while a voice that carries laughter can get the audience to smile.
  • Pitch: How high or low a note is. Pee Wee Herman has a high voice, Barbara Walters has a moderate voice, while James Earl Jones has a low voice.
  • Pace: This is how long a sound lasts. Talking too fast causes the words and syllables to be short, while talking slowly lengthens them. Varying the pace helps to maintain the audience’s interest.
  • Color: Both projection and tone variance can be practiced by taking the line “This new policy is going to be exciting” and saying it first with surprise, then with irony, then with grief, and finally with anger. The key is to over-act. Remember Shakespeare’s words “All the world’s a stage” — presentations are the opening night on Broadway!

There are two good methods for improving your voice:

1. Listen to it! Practice listening to your voice while at home, driving, walking, etc. Then when you are at work or with company, monitor your voice to see if you are using it how you want to.

2. To really listen to your voice, cup your right hand around your right ear and gently pull the ear forward. Next, cup your left hand around your mouth and direct the sound straight into your ear. This helps you to really hear your voice as others hear it… and it might be completely different from the voice you thought it was! Now practice moderating your voice.

The Body

Your body communicates different impressions to the audience. People not only listen to you, they also watch you. Slouching tells them you are indifferent or you do not care… even though you might care a great deal! On the other hand, displaying good posture tells your audience that you know what you are doing and you care deeply about it. A good posture helps you to speak more clearly and effective.

Throughout you presentation, display (Smith, Bace, 2002):

  • Eye contact: This helps to regulate the flow of communication. It signals interest in others and increases the speaker’s credibility. Speakers who make eye contact open the flow of communication and convey interest, concern, warmth, and credibility.
  • Facial Expressions: Smiling is a powerful cue that transmits happiness, friendliness, warmth, and liking. So, if you smile frequently you will be perceived as more likable, friendly, warm, and approachable. Smiling is often contagious and others will react favorably. They will be more comfortable around you and will want to listen to you more.
  • Gestures: If you fail to gesture while speaking, you may be perceived as boring and stiff. A lively speaking style captures attention, makes the material more interesting, and facilitates understanding.
  • Posture and body orientation: You communicate numerous messages by the way you talk and move. Standing erect and leaning forward communicates that you are approachable, receptive, and friendly. Interpersonal closeness results when you and your audience face each other. Speaking with your back turned or looking at the floor or ceiling should be avoided as it communicates disinterest.
  • Proximity: Cultural norms dictate a comfortable distance for interaction with others. You should look for signals of discomfort caused by invading other’s space. Some of these are: rocking, leg swinging, tapping, and gaze aversion. Typically, in large rooms, space invasion is not a problem. In most instances there is too much distance. To counteract this, move around the room to increase interaction with your audience. Increasing the proximity enables you to make better eye contact and increases the opportunities for others to speak.
  • Voice: One of the major criticisms of speakers is that they speak in a monotone voice. Listeners perceive this type of speaker as boring and dull. People report that they learn less and lose interest more quickly when listening to those who have not learned to modulate their voices.

Active Listening

Good speakers not only inform their audience, they also listen to them. By listening, you know if they are understanding the information and if the information is important to them. Active listening is NOT the same as hearing! Hearing is the first part and consists of the perception of sound.

Listening, the second part, involves an attachment of meaning to the aural symbols that are perceived. Passive listening occurs when the receiver has little motivation to listen carefully. Active listening with a purpose is used to gain information, to determine how another person feels, and to understand others. Some good traits of effective listeners are:

  • Spend more time listening than talking (but of course, as a presenter, you will normally be doing most of the talking, but do take time to listen when the opportunity arises).
  • Do not finish the sentence of others.
  • Do not answer questions with questions.
  • Aware of biases. We all have them. We need to control them.
  • Never daydream or become preoccupied with their own thoughts when others talk.
  • Let the other speaker talk. Do not dominate the conversation.
  • Plan responses after others have finished speaking…NOT while they are speaking. Their full concentration is on what others are saying, not on what they are going to respond with.
  • Provide feedback but do not interrupt incessantly.
  • Analyze by looking at all the relevant factors and asking open-ended questions. Walk the person through analysis (summarize).
  • Keep the conversation on what the speaker says…NOT on what interest them.

Listening can be one of our most powerful communication tools! Be sure to use it!

Part of the listening process is getting feedback by changing and altering the message so the intention of the original communicator is understood by the second communicator. This is done by paraphrasing the words of the sender and restating the sender’s feelings or ideas in your own words, rather than repeating their words.

Your words should be saying, “This is what I understand your feelings to be, am I correct?” It not only includes verbal responses, but also nonverbal ones. Nodding your head or squeezing their hand to show agreement, dipping your eyebrows to show you don’t quite understand the meaning of their last phrase, or sucking air in deeply and blowing out hard shows that you are also exasperated with the situation.

Carl Rogers (1957) listed five main categories of feedback (Demos, Unwary, 1962). They are listed in the order in which they occur most frequently in daily conversations (notice that we make judgments more often than we try to understand others):

  1. Evaluative: Makes a judgment about the worth, goodness, or appropriateness of the other person’s statement.
  2. Interpretive: Paraphrasing to explain what another person’s statement mean.
  3. Supportive: Attempt to assist or bolster the other communicator
  4. Probing: Attempt to gain additional information, continue the discussion, or clarify a point.
  5. Understanding: Attempt to discover completely what the other communicator means by her statements.


The main enemy of a presenter is tension, which ruins the voice, posture, and spontaneity. The voice becomes higher as the throat tenses. Shoulders tighten up and limit flexibility, while the legs start to shake and cause unsteadiness. The presentation becomes canned as the speaker locks in on the notes and starts to read directly from them.

First, do not fight nerves — welcome them!This allows you to get on with the presentation instead of focusing on being nervous. Actors recognize the value of nerves… they add to the value of the performance. This is because adrenaline starts to kick in. It’s a left over from our ancestors’ fight or flight syndrome. If you welcome nerves, then the presentation becomes a challenge and you become better. If you let your nerves take over, then you go into the flight mode by withdrawing from the audience.

Thus, welcome your nerves, recognize them, let them help you gain that needed edge! Do not go into the flight mode! When you feel tension or anxiety, remember that everyone gets them, but the winners use them to their advantage, while the losers get overwhelmed by them.

Tension can be reduced by performing some relaxation exercises. Listed below are a couple to get you started:

  • Before the presentation: Lie on the floor. Your back should be flat on the floor. Pull your feet towards you so that your knees are up in the air. Relax. Close your eyes. Feel your back spreading out and supporting your weight. Feel your neck lengthening. Work your way through your body, relaxing one section at a time — your toes, feet, legs, torso, etc. When finished, stand up slowly and try to maintain the relaxed feeling in a standing position.
  • If you cannot lie down: Stand with you feet about 6 inches apart, arms hanging by your sides, and fingers unclenched. Gently shake each part of your body, starting with your hands, then arms, shoulders, torso, and legs. Concentrate on shaking out the tension. Then slowly rotate your shoulders forwards and then backwards. Move on to your head. Rotate it slowly clockwise, and then counter-clockwise.
  • Mental Visualization: Before the presentation, visualize the room, audience, and you giving the presentation. Mentally go over what you are going to do from the moment you start to the end of the presentation.
  • During the presentation: Take a moment to yourself by getting a drink of water, take a deep breath, concentrate on relaxing the most tense part of your body, and then return to the presentation saying to your self, “I can do it!”
  • You do NOT need to get rid of all anxiety and tension. Channel the energy into concentration and expressiveness.
  • Know that anxiety and tension is NOT as noticeable to the audience as it is to you.
  • Know that even the best presenters make mistakes. The key is to keep continuing after the mistake. If you pick up and continue, so will the audience. Winners continue! Losers stop!
  • Never drink alcohol to reduce tension! It affects not only your coordination but also your awareness of coordination. You might not realize it, but your audience will!


Keep cool if a questioner disagrees with you. You are a professional! No matter how hard you try, not everyone in the world will agree with you!

Although some people get a perverse pleasure from putting others on the spot, and some try to look good in front of the boss, most people ask questions from a genuine interest. Questions do not mean you did not explain the topic good enough, but that their interest is deeper than the average audience.

Always allow time at the end of the presentation for questions. After inviting questions, do not rush ahead if no one asks a question. Pause for about 6 seconds to allow the audience to gather their thoughts. When a question is asked, repeat the question to ensure that everyone heard it (and that you heard it correctly). When answering, direct your remarks to the entire audience. That way, you keep everyone focused, not just the questioner. To reinforce your presentation, try to relate the question back to the main points.

Make sure you listen to the question being asked. If you do not understand it, ask them to clarify. Pause to think about the question as the answer you give may be correct, but ignores the concern of the person asking it. If you do not know the answer, be honest, do not waffle. Tell them you will get back to them… and make sure you do!

Answers that last 10 to 40 seconds work best. If they are too short, they seem abrupt; while longer answers appear too elaborate. Also, be sure to keep on track. Do not let off-the-wall questions sidetrack you into areas that are not relevant to the presentation.

If someone takes issue with something you said, try to find a way to agree with part of their argument. For example, “Yes, I understand your position…” or “I’m glad you raised that point, but…” The idea is to praise their point and agree with them as audiences sometimes tend to think of “us verses you.” You do not want to risk alienating them.

Preparing the Presentation

After a concert, a fan rushed up to famed violinist Fritz Kreisler and gushed, “I’d give up my whole life to play as beautifully as you do.” Kreisler replied, “I did.”

To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail

The first step of a great presentations is preplanning. Preparing for a presentation basically follows the same guidelines as a meeting.

The second step is to prepare the presentation. A good presentation starts out with introductions and may include an icebreaker such as a story, interesting statement or fact, or an activity to get the group warmed up. The introduction also needs an objective, that is, the purpose or goal of the presentation. This not only tells you what you will talk about, but it also informs the audience of the purpose of the presentation.

Next, comes the body of the presentation. Do NOT write it out word for word. All you want is an outline. By jotting down the main points on a set of index cards, you not only have your outline, but also a memory jogger for the actual presentation. To prepare the presentation, ask yourself the following:

  • What is the purpose of the presentation?
  • Who will be attending?
  • What does the audience already know about the subject?
  • What is the audience’s attitude towards me (e.g. hostile, friendly)?

A 45 minutes talk should have no more than about seven main points. This may not seem like very many, but if you are to leave the audience with a clear picture of what you have said, you cannot expect them to remember much more than that. There are several options for structuring the presentation:

  • Timeline: Arranged in sequential order.
  • Climax: The main points are delivered in order of increasing importance.
  • Problem/Solution: A problem is presented, a solution is suggested, and benefits are then given.
  • Classification: The important items are the major points.
  • Simple to complex: Ideas are listed from the simplest to the most complex. At times, it may also be performed in reverse order.

After the body, comes the closing. This is where you ask for questions, provide a wrap-up (summary), and thank the participants for attending.

Notice that you told them what they are about to hear (the objective), told them (the body), and told them what they heard (the wrap up).

And finally, the important part — practice, practice, practice. The main purpose of creating an outline is to develop a coherent plan of what you want to talk about. You should know your presentation so well, that during the actual presentation, you should only have to glance at your notes to ensure you are staying on track. This will also help you with your nerves by giving you the confidence that you can do it.

Your practice session should include a live session by practicing in front of coworkers, family, or friends. They can be valuable at providing feedback and it gives you a chance to practice controlling your nerves. Another great feedback technique is to make a video or audio tape of your presentation and review it critically with a colleague.


We all have a few habits, and some are more annoying than others. For example, if we say “uh”, “you know,” or put our hands in our pockets and jingle our keys too often during a presentation, it distracts from the message we are trying to get across.

The best way to break one of these distracting habits is with immediate feedback. This can be done with a small group of coworkers, family, or friends. Take turns giving small off-the-cuff talks about your favorite hobby, work project, first work assignment, etc. The talk should last about five minutes. During a speaker’s first talk, the audience should listen and watch for annoying habits.

After the presentation, the audience should agree on the worst two or three habits that take the most away from the presentation. After agreement, each audience member should write these habits on a 8 1/2 “x 11” sheet of paper (such as the word “Uh”). Use a magic marker and write in BIG letters.

The next time the person gives her or his talk, each audience member should wave the corresponding sign in the air whenever they hear or see the annoying habit. For most people, this method will break a habit by practicing at least once a day for one to two weeks.


You want to include some visual information that will help the audience understand your presentation. Develop charts, graphs, slides, handouts, etc. When developing slides, think visual, rather than text and bullet points!

Your slides should not only be engaging, but also easy to understand quickly (Reynolds, 2008). Thinking “Visual” — such as pictures, charts, and drawings that support what you will be speaking about. You want the slides to support and clarify the story you will be telling rather than simply be redundant text that mimics what you are saying.

Making bad slides is easy… and all too common, thus you need to invest in not only your slides, but also in your visual presentation (Duarte, 2008).

Tips and Techniques For Great Presentations

Eleanor Roosevelt was a shy young girl who was terrified at the thought of speaking in public. But with each passing year, she grew in confidence and self-esteem. She once said, “No one can make you feel inferior, unless you agree with it.”

  • If you have handouts, do not read straight from them as it confuses more than it helps (we read faster than people talk). The audience does not know if they should read along with you or listen to you read.
  • Do not put both hands in your pockets for long periods of time. This tends to make you look unprofessional. It is OK to put one hand in a pocket but ensure there is no loose change or keys to jingle around. This will distract the listeners.
  • Do not wave a pointer around in the air like a wild knight branding a sword to slay a dragon. Use the pointer for what it is intended and then put it down; otherwise the audience will become fixated upon your “sword”, instead upon you.
  • Do not lean on the podium for long periods. The audience will begin to wonder when you are going to fall over.
  • Speak to the audience…NOT to the visual aids. Do not stand between the visual aid and the audience.
  • Speak clearly and loudly enough for all to hear. Do not speak in a monotone voice. Use inflection to emphasize your main points.
  • The disadvantage of presentations is that people cannot see the punctuation and this can lead to misunderstandings. An effective way of overcoming this problem is to pause at the time when there would normally be punctuation marks.
  • Learn the name of each participant as quickly as possible. Based upon the atmosphere you want to create, call them by their first names or by using Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms.
  • Tell them what name and title you prefer to be called.
  • Listen intently to comments and opinions. By using a lateral thinking technique (adding to ideas rather than dismissing them), the audience will feel that their ideas, comments, and opinions are worthwhile.
  • Circulate around the room as you speak. This movement creates a physical closeness to the audience.
  • List and discuss your objectives at the beginning of the presentation. Let the audience know how your presentation fits in with their goals. Discuss some of the fears and apprehensions that both you and the audience might have. Tell them what they should expect of you and how you will contribute to their goals.
  • Vary your techniques (lecture, discussion, debate, films, slides, reading, etc.)
  • Get to the presentation before your audience arrives; be the last one to leave.
  • Be prepared to use an alternate approach if the one you’ve chosen seems to bog down. You should be confident enough with your own material so that the audience’s interests and concerns, not the presentation outline, determines the format. Use your background, experience, and knowledge to interrelate your subject matter.
  • When writing on flip charts use no more than 7 lines of text per page and no more than 7 word per line (the 7 x 7 rule). Also, use bright and bold colors, and pictures as well as text.
  • Consider the time of day and how long you have got for your talk. Time of day can affect the audience. After lunch is known as the graveyard section in training and speaking circles as audiences will feel more like a nap than attending a presentation.
  • Most people find that if they practice in their head, the actual talk will take about 25 percent longer. Using a flip chart or other visual aids also adds to the time. Remember — it is better to finish slightly early than to overrun.



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