Presentations & Public Speaking

– Fine-Tuning Some Old Saws
– Fundamental 15 Tips for Winning Presentations
– But What Do I Do With My Hands?
– International Presentations: How Not to Sound Like a Fool

“Fine-Tuning Some Old Saws: Revisiting classic advice for public speaking success

 by Tom Leech,  Art by
 (The Toastmaster August 2005 for full article)

You’ve been hearing them for years: the time-honored tips for speakers: “Practice makes perfect.” “A picture is worth a thousand words.” “The apparel oft proclaims the man.”

Yes, these old saws seem to contain guidelines that presenters would be wise to heed. However your results might turn out better if you examine them more closely and tweak them a bit to make that classic advice even more practical. Here are a dozen of those old expressions that, with tuning, are definitely worth applying to your next speech…

“Fundamental 15 Tips for Winning Presentations”
from How to Prepare, Stage & Deliver Winning Presentations

1. Go in prepared.
Seems obvious but the reality is many people show up poorly prepared because they (a) procrastinate, (b) don’t think it’s important, (c) fail to plan well, or (d) just get swamped. There’s usually a price to pay. Some important nonverbal messages can be picked up by the audience: (a) “I guess we’re not important enough for this speaker,” (b) “I’m impressed that this speaker has done his/her homework and I’ll listen for awhile,” (c) “Hmm, pretty sloppy presentation — wonder if the work behind it is also shaky. Better get on this speaker.”
2. Believe what you have to say is important.

Sr. VP commented about two presentations: “Such a difference. One case was so eloquently related, the speaker bubbled up from pride in her work and spoke with a true passion. The others had just as good a case, but they read from a script, and didn’t demonstrate they believed in the work. We came away feeling the first was a better story, when the opposite was the case.” Current example in the Presidential debates: George W. Bush has gotten some flak because his responses to questions seem to be tightly following a script, perhaps crafted by someone else, rather than from what he truly believes. Lack of passion cost Michael Dukakis in a previous election.
3. Know your own purpose in speaking and make sure it fits reality.
In all the pressure and furor of getting ready for a presentation, speakers may lose sight of their objective, which mostly fits two categories: selling or telling. Three questions keep that focus in mind: What do I want to get out of this? Is what I’m after feasible and appropriate? Am I getting what I came for?
4. Have a clear central theme and core points.
Sort through all the ideas and material you would love to talk about and boil it down to a basic message with a unifying theme and the 3-5 main points that are most vital to getting your message across. The term “Elevator Speech” is a concept that helps focus this message. That’s the talk you give while riding down from the 6th floor with the VP who’s dashing off to the airport.

5. Know your audience – address issues of importance to them.
The primary question in the minds of all audience members listening is “What is this going to do for me?” Knowing and addressing audience priority needs is at the heart of successful attention and persuasion.
6. Give a time-pressed audience an introductory capsule summary of your presentation.
A preview lets busy listeners know early on the essence of the message to come. This is a variation from the typical sequence many people present, but from talking with many senior executives is much welcomed. “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.” (then “Tell ’em” and close with “Tell ’em what you told ’em.”)
7. Reinforce arguments with powerful examples.
Decision makers look for solid substance to support claims. Few things will help make your case better than a relevant example, study or testimonial showing you’ve been there, and done that successfully.

8. Make visuals truly aids, not impediments (readable, punchy, focused).
How often have you heard this complaint? “I can’t read the darn charts!” Visuals frequently form the heart of getting the message across, yet they can hurt rather than hinder. For success, make them readable, punchy, and focused.

Check back in again for next tips 9 and beyond (or pick up your own copy of How to Prepare, Stage & Deliver Winning Presentations.


 by Thomas Leech.  Originally appeared in Toastmaster Magazine.

As a presentations consultant, independent and corporate, over the past twenty years, I’ve coached thousands of business people in how to make better presentations and speeches. Without doubt the single most common question I’ve gotten is the one about the hands. Getting up before an audience and giving a presentation has transformed many a hard-charging executive into an awkward kid stumbling through a class report.

The problem is that this report may decide whether this kid gets the contract. Or receives the funding. Or convinces the audience the program is in good hands. The speaker may be brilliant, the material excellent, the preparation diligent… but none of that may come through if the delivery is weak.

Emily Dickinson wrote about a fellow writer: “She has the facts, but not the phosphorescence.” Many presenters — executives, program managers, engineers — work hard to master the facts, but fall short with the phosphorescence and flat with the presentation.

Columnist William Safire once blasted a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (a chap back in the news again). “Occasionally a speech is written of such apparently stupefying dullness that it rates the accolade ‘MEGO of the Year.” (My Eyes Glaze Over)… It’s stirring title was ‘Remarks,’ a come-on to become comatose.”

That is not high praise. To keep your presentations out of Safire’s MEGO of the Year competition, follow these ten tips for punching up your delivery:
1. Do have a come-on title. I still recall the eager anticipation of the entire audience for a Toastmaster speech 25 years ago titled “Sex.” (Unfortunately the speaker then delivered his prepared remarks about… roofs. I’ve never forgiven him.)
2. Be prepared and practice. Two valuable old saws that are frequently replaced by another old saw — wing it. I’ve heard many excuses from presenters about why they didn’t take the time to prepare or do a dry run, as they moaned about their poor treatment and lousy success. Add to the value of practice by getting feedback from colleagues or via a video recorder.
3. Get there early. This is commonly violated, and a resultant heavy price commonly paid. Have you seen the presenter walk in at the last minute, hurriedly sort through a batch of visuals, and be unable to turn on the projector? It’s amateur night in Dixie, folks. GONG.
4. Have your opener down pat, and put some punch in it. The first minute is where the nerves are tightest and the audience still not tuned in, so get off in style.
5. Talk, don’t read. The fastest way to generate MEGO, and to kill your credibility, is to read.
6. Talk with your audience, not notes, screen or ceiling. You may even find it helpful to project a little personality, such as with a smile. What the face and eyes say is perhaps the single most important factor in interpersonal communication, according to psychologist Albert Mehrabian.
7. Speak so you can be heard, by even those in the far corners. You need a sound system? Now you tell us.
8. Oh, yes, that opening question, about the wayward hands. Well, what do you do with them? Such as when you’re standing around talking with the gang about something you’re enthusiastic about? Say how the Padres smashed the Giants (in your kid’s Little League, that is). Do you stand there with your hands gripping tightly in front of you (the fig leaf) or hanging onto the lectern so tightly a tire iron couldn’t pry them loose? Of course not. Your hands are an integral part of the communication. (Wasn’t that the message from Shakespeare only 400 years back: “Suit the words to the action, the action to the words,”?)
9. To help those hands get naturally in on the action, weave in some body language aids, visual and verbal. A prop heightens audience interest and has to be held up, pointed at or operated to be useful, doesn’t it? With charts and projected visuals, the hands and pointer are valuable for directing audience attention. (But don’t let that pointer become a baton or weapon.) In your spoken words, describe a process, place or activity and the hands will follow. Remember all those movies where the fighter pilots describe how they knocked down the enemy planes? That’s the idea. (Tip: here’s an exercise I’ve used in seminars for years to help speakers loosen up. Describe a favorite place without visual aids, doing it vividly so the audience sees, feels, and smells that scene.)
10. And a final tip, BELIEVE in your message. What words do you use to describe speakers you enjoy? How about “energetic,” “enthusiastic,” and “forceful?” These attributes and related qualities of natural body language, vocal inflection, and delivery spark — Dickinson’s “phosphorescence” — spring from the speakers’ strong feelings about the value of the messages they came to communicate.

So go get ’em, and let those hands in on the action.

International Presentations: How Not to Sound Like a Fool”

Originally appeared in Executive Update Magazine, George Washington ASAE chapter

“We really appreciate the chance to talk to you folks from Japan. We have some new ideas we want to bounce off you that we think will really blow our minds. C-Cubed 1 has had great products, association leaders increasingly must craft their presentations to appeal to international audiences. Author and coach Tom Leech describes how careful crafting of your message and style can serve as a passport to success.

Check out the whole article at: