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Wednesday, 05 November 2014 01:08

Professionally Speaking

Professionally Speaking

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Some of the most informed people in the workplace have difficulty conveying their ideas because of fear. It has become mandatory in most places of business that presentation skills are required to communicate to others. In general, we admire presenters who are inviting, engaging and informative. Although it can be intimidating to give a presentation, even to peers you interact with throughout the workday, it is not as difficult as is perceived.

Public speaking offers a great opportunity to convey thoughts, to teach, to convince and to enlighten. This holds regardless of whether the presenter is presenting a research paper to scientists at a national meet, or a budget proposal to a senior executive’s group.


Centered in this fear factor is not knowing how to present a topic. There are a couple of frameworks that can provide a means to break down the information so that it makes sense and is easy for the listener to understand.

One is the four W’s (why, who, what and where) and the one H (how). This is critical to any presentation. The presenter should know the kind and the number of audience attending his presentation (Who). It is also a good idea to know the culture and background of the audience so that there is less of a chance of them to misunderstand or, worse case, be offended by a remark.

What is the purpose of the presentation? Is it to explain a plan or project; to tell people what to do - and how; report some event; get support for an idea; define or solve a problem; gain consensus for a decision; provide training; or encourage and motivate? Every presentation has a purpose and the presenter should be aware of it. Presentations could be used to motivate, inform or advertise. The presenter should know which category his work falls into.

Why are they here? Most often people attend presentations not because they want to but because they have been deputed to. Hence, their query, “What’s in it for me?” The presenter must therefore have a definite purpose for his talk. The venue of the presentation is another significant aspect of a presentation. So are the acoustics of the room.

The second framework is known as the 3 “T”’s: Tell them what you are going to tell them, Tell them, and then Tell them what you told them. This is a simple framework that describes the opening, body and conclusion.

The opening should set the stage for the presentation at a high level. It should describe what the major topic is all about but should be very brief, no more than a short paragraph; enough to get the listener interested. The body is the detailed information and can be constructed to build upon the previous topics within the body. For short presentations there should be no more than three main topics in the body. This helps the presenter to be concise and easily move from one point to the next. The conclusion can be very similar content to the opening and is used to reinforce what the presentation was about.


A presentation must be well rehearsed. Practicing also allows the presenter to be more at ease and confident in the material. It is a good idea not to read verbatim from handheld notes, or handouts. However, if the content is pretty technical, note cards with brief “reminders” could be used as a cue for helping to remember information about the topic. The presenter should know the content well enough to establish constant eye contact with the audience. This helps connect with the audience and establishes a relationship. This will make him appear knowledgeable, friendly. If note cards are used, looking at them briefly is acceptable but not as optimal in maintaining credibility.


A good presentation has a clear opening and a perhaps an icebreaker such as a story, interesting statement or fact, joke, quotation, or an activity for warm up. The introduction is based on an objective, that is, the purpose or goal of the presentation. This amply prepares the audience, as they know what to expect. A presentation should be organized for maximum impact. A strong opening, a logical body, and conclusion will direct the audience through a journey. Finally, the audience should feel that the presenter has delivered what he promised.

The beginning

Grab the attention of the audience

Take into account those who may be arriving late or having side conversations with their neighbor. Begin the presentation after the audience has settled down and begin with a solid opening statement.

Present a structure

Give the audience an idea of what will be covered. This is where a well-constructed opening can help the speaker get engaged with the audience. Let the audience know the duration. The presenter should also briefly talk of how he plans to proceed with the presentation. The audience will know what to expect and will concentrate on the material.

Create a rapport

The presenter must create a relationship with the audience at the beginning. If the presenter can get the audience at the opening, it will be easier for them to stay interested.

Visual aids

No one would want to listen to someone talk endlessly. Appealing visuals also arouse the interest of the audience.

Visual aids could be in the form of powerpoint presentations or graphics of some kind. If more sophisticated technology is used, the speaker must make sure everything operates as expected. There are many terrific presentations that have been ruined because of technical difficulties. In most cases it is best to keep it as simple as possible.

If the presentation is intended to teach the audience, it is a good idea to distribute handouts in the beginning. If an audience member would like to take notes they can write it directly on the handout for easier recall. The sequence though must be maintained so there is less of a chance the shuffling of paper could disrupt the presentation. The speaker should remember to talk to the audience not to the visual aids!


The set piece joke can work very well, but it can also lead to disaster. Apt anecdotes/jokes must be chosen, at no point should any member of the audience be offended. That rules out all racist, sexist and snide jokes. Amusing asides are equally useful in relieving the seriousness.

The ending

This can be the most important part of the presentation. Not only does it summarize the important points, it reinforces what was covered. It can also build to a “call for action” which can encourage the audience to use what was presented. Audiences seldom forget powerful conclusions, so planning it is critical since the presenter is leaving them with significant information.

As with the beginning, it may necessary get their attention. A way to do this is to introduce a change of pace, a new visual aid or perhaps the introduction of a final culminating idea. Some speakers end with a summary of the points but don’t “telegraph it” by stating “In conclusion….”. They will get the idea once you begin the conclusion. The ending can be motivational, challenging, thoughtful, or a reiteration of a point.

Post Mortem

Once the presentation is completed, the presenter should honestly evaluate his performance. This provides a basis for improvement and confirming successful points for the presenter. Surveys can be requested or recording the presentation for later review (which can be a scary thing!) is a great way to get a sense for the success of the presentation.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at

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