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Speeches and Presentations

The vast majority of people have a greater fear of having to give a speech before a large group than almost anything else. While your first instinct will be to go to any extreme to avoid giving a speech, your career will greatly benefit from you doing the reverse.
Organizations highly value those individuals who do an excellent job of representing the organization in speeches to outside groups, including ones comprised of customers, suppliers and even competitors. The days of companies and other organizations being able to hide from the public are over. Organizations need representatives who can articulately describe their mission, programs and projects to a variety of different groups.
Becoming an excellent speech-maker is definitely within your capability. As is the case with learning any other valuable skill, it helps to follow certain specific steps but you must invest the necessary effort to do so. Also, like anything else, the more you do it, the better you will become. The payoff is that doing so will accelerate your career and raise your profile above your peers within the organization.
Everyone experiences some fear about giving a speech. No one expects you to give anything like a perfect performance, especially when you are new at doing it. The surprise is that you will actually be much better at speaking than you remotely think you will be.
The Invitation
Take advantage of any opportunity to participate in speaking before a group — introducing a speaker, joining in a presentation, or making a speech. Despite all your fears of doing so, you just have to do it.
The one exception is when you are asked to give a speech on a subject you really do not care about and on which you have nothing worthwhile to say. When you are not informed, passionate and committed about what you are asked to speak about, politely decline the invitation.
If you are asked to speak on a panel or at a conference, ask the person giving the invitation if you can be the first speaker. It is always best to speak when the audience is fresh.
When you receive a speech invitation, also ask who is going to introduce you. If you are concerned about the person introducing you, you may be able to suggest someone else. Obtain that individual’s contact information. Write your own brief introduction and send it to your introducer two weeks ahead of time with a covering note saying, “Thought the attached might be helpful in introducing me.” Bring a copy to the speech event in case your introducer has misplaced it and asks you for another copy.
In addition, get as much information about your audience as you can from the individual inviting you to speak. Find out what you have in common with the members of the audience. Ask about their special interests, likes and dislikes. Determine the attire you should wear for your speech.
The final questions to cover when you receive a speech invitation are how long do you have to speak, where will you be speaking, how large is the audience likely to be, what facilities are available for using audiovisual aids, and will there be a question-and-answer period afterwards? Also, let the organizer know if you think you will need a microphone, especially when you have a quiet voice.
The Purpose
Speeches generally serve one of three primary purposes — to inform, persuade or entertain. To a large extent, this is a function of the audience and the event at which you are speaking.
You have to be guided more by what your audience wants and needs to hear as opposed to what you want to say. This will enable you to formulate the basic theme and purpose of your speech. Nothing is worse than being out of sync with your audience’s expectations. For example, you do not want to deliver a lengthy informative speech when your main purpose should be to entertain.
It is hard to exaggerate the importance of being crystal clear in defining the goal of your speech in your own mind before starting to prepare it. Specifically, what do you want to accomplish with the audience in giving your speech? Also, what action do you want your audience to take afterwards?
You are ready to start the speech’s preparation once you have determined its primary purpose and gained a good understanding of the character of the audience. The combination of these two factors establishes the overall framework for your speech.
Regardless of the speech’s principal purpose, you need to give your audience something of value that will cause everyone to remember you afterwards. To do so, you have to get your creative juices flowing as soon as possible by thinking day and night about possible ideas and points to include in your speech.
Start a speech file. Write down notes on interesting ideas, stories, comparable situations, pertinent facts, and themes you might want to use. Let your speech thinking go in wild and unpredictable directions. Pick the brains of your friends and associates. Ask them, “If you were me, what points would you make to this audience?” Keep notes on humorous jokes and stories in your speech file.
Put yourself in the audience’s shoes. Think through what subjects and issues are most relevant and important to your listeners. What do they want to hear? What is really going to move them? What are likely to be their emotional hot buttons.
Develop an overall theme for your speech. Within this theme, decide on the two or three main points you should make. That is all any speech should attempt to cover. Begin by thinking of your theme and main points in loose, general terms. Keep your mind open to creative and different ways of dealing with your theme and main points.
Go to unconventional sources to research your speech. Use Internet search engines. Browse through any relevant websites. Build up your speech file as much as you can.
Finally, I also highly recommend that you watch a video of Steve Jobs giving one of his main product introduction presentations for Apple. Jobs was one of the most brilliant communicators in the history American business. He always kept his message simple and focused, and used body language, verbal delivery and pacing to the maximum advantage. To become a “pro” at making presentations, you should read Carmine Gallo’s book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.
Writing the Speech
Two weeks before your speech, you have to sit down and write it. As you do so, there are two principles to keep in mind — “the worst sin is to bore” and “less is more”.
An audience will forgive you for absolutely anything except for being boring. Less is more applies to everything from the length of your speech to the number of points you try to make or the number of facts and slides you use. When in doubt, leave out.
Plan your speech to take no more than 75% of the allotted time. If there is going to be a question-and-answer period, limit your speech to 50% of the available time. The shorter your speech, the better. As the famous vaudeville entertainer Al Jolson said, “Always leave them wanting more.”
The steps in actually writing a speech are:
  1. Crystallize the central theme into a written single sentence, statement or newspaper headline.
  2. Do the same for the supporting two or three main points.
  3. Prepare an outline of the speech.
  4. Write the speech word-for-word.
  5. Decide on what audiovisual aids to use.
  6. Edit and rework the speech into the format that best suits the way you want to deliver it.
In preparing the outline, divide the speech into logical progressive parts, similar to the different courses in a meal. Start with an intro or appetizer, then cover a manageable number of parts in the main body or course, and end with the conclusion or dessert. Try to establish a linkage or natural progression as you go from part to part. Sequence what you have to say in order of importance.
With speeches whose principal purpose is to inform the audience, a simple outline to follow is tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. For speeches designed to persuade the audience, a straightforward approach is to state the issue, give the facts and reasons for your recommendation, and issue a challenge or call for action to deal with the issue as your conclusion.
The reasons for writing your speech out word-for-word is to force yourself to think through exactly what you need to say and how best to say it in the most effective, concise manner. It is a necessary discipline you have to go through to get it right. While you are not going to read the speech to the audience word-for-word, it usually is also a good idea to have copies of it available to distribute afterwards if anyone, including the media, wants one.
Write your speech in a conversational style just as you normally would express yourself verbally in talking to a friend or associate. The best speeches are delivered as conversations between the speaker and the audience. Keep that as your mindset in planning, writing and delivering your speech.
The opening statement of your speech is critical to getting the audience on your side and capturing their full attention. Addressing the audience as “Ladies and Gentlemen” is too weak. Pick an appropriate address that immediately establishes rapport between the audience and yourself, such as “Good morning fellow book lovers!” Similarly, do not open your speech by saying, “I’m happy to be here” or “Thank you for inviting me to speak to you.” Also, do not explain why you are the speaker or apologize for anything.
Experienced speakers often start their speeches with a humorous story or joke that relates to the central theme of the speech. If you use this approach, do not risk saying anything that some members of the audience might find offensive. Also, do not begin by warning people ahead of time that you are going to tell them a joke or story. Just do it.
You have about 15 seconds to secure the attention of your audience or you will lose them. The opening line of your speech therefore is critical and serves as the launching pad for the remainder of your remarks. It has to be memorable, a grabber, something your listeners can easily picture in their minds and relate to. It has to be brief, punchy and nothing abstract or complicated. Alternative openings include a dramatic statement, a startling statistic, a compelling news headline, a provocative question, a quote from a well-known source, or a pertinent definition from a dictionary.
To engage the audience at the beginning, some speakers start by asking the audience to answer several pertinent, topical questions through a show of hands. For example, “How many of you think that … ?” This causes the audience to sit up and pay attention, plus gets you into a more relaxed informal mode.
In your introduction, you need to briefly give the background or provide the context of why what you are about to say is relevant for the audience. Then, tell your listeners what you are going to be covering in as few words as possible. Afterwards, you are ready to move into the main body of your speech.
Keep each part of your speech focused and to the point. Support your opinions, points and recommendations with concrete examples, facts and statistics. Avoid qualifiers. Use anecdotes, analogies and metaphors to illustrate your main points in a vivid, attention-getting manner. As is the case with most verbal communications, by far the most powerful way to communicate is to tell a story that in effect takes your audience on a journey with you, such as a personal experience you had.
Try to create simple word-pictures in the minds of the audience around each of your main points. Get creative and off-the-wall in doing so. Refer to something from a well-known movie, TV show or book to buttress your statements. Use quotations from famous characters and historical figures, such as Winston Churchill, Will Rogers and Harry Truman.
Avoid long or complicated words and sentences. Employ the active verb tense to be more direct and forceful. Limit each sentence to one idea. Do not exaggerate or over-communicate. Eliminate unnecessary adjectives and adverbs like “very”. Be careful about using generalizations.
Address the audience using the personal pronoun “you” as opposed to the more indirect third person “they”. You want the audience to relate to what you are saying personally rather than thinking it applies to someone else.
Insert humor in your speech whenever there is a good opportunity to do so. Good-natured humor causes audiences to relax and connect with the speaker. The more you can deliver your humorous comments or stories in a seemingly spontaneous or off-the-cuff manner, the better. Whatever you do, do not try to tell a joke by reading it from your written speech.
Avoid using euphemisms, jargon or overly technical terms. If you must use acronyms, define them for the audience in a clear manner. Whenever you are unsure about the correct meaning or pronunciation of a word, select an alternative word that is more easily said and understood. Use words that are common to daily conversations.
Refrain from talking about yourself other than to relate your own experience to the points you are making. Avoid being self-deprecating except in a humorous way. Refrain from playing the role of someone you are not. Do not sound officious or like you are lecturing to the audience.
End your speech in a forceful manner with a firm challenge or inspirational recommendation. Period. Not with a weak “Thank you for … ”
When you have finished writing the first draft of your speech, put it away for a day and clear your mind of any thoughts about it. Then, the next day, sit down and start editing and reworking your speech to achieve greater brevity, clarity and punch.
After you have finished your editing work, type your speech on 8 ½” x 11” white pages in 18-point type, using double spaces between each line and four spaces between paragraphs. Leave the bottom one-third of each page blank so you do not have to look too far down when you are giving the speech. Type paragraphs so they always end on the same page as opposed to continuing on to the next page. Number your pages at the top and do not use all capital letters in your type. Boldface all the type or just the key phrases and words in each paragraph.
A New York speech training firm, Communispond, recommends leaving three to four inches on the right-hand side of each type-written page blank to permit you to draw visual pictures or graphics beside each of your key paragraphs. If you do this, attempt to draw large, simple, cartoon-like pictures that capture the essence of the idea or paragraph. By having such pictures beside the text, you only have to glance at them to know what you want to say.
Audiovisual Aids
Incorporating some form of visual aid, prop or other physical element in the delivery of your speech often helps to generate interest and give emphasis to your point. It can be something held in your hand, shown on a screen, or dumped on the table. The more it is novel and unexpected, the better as long as it closely ties into what you are saying. Adding an audio element often doubles the impact when it’s done well.
Such audiovisual aids range all the way from using a simple hand-held prop, such as a telephone book, to a much more involved audiovisual PowerPoint presentation requiring separate supporting projectionists and considerable production expenses. The more complicated the speech’s audiovisual aids, however, the greater the risk for something going wrong.
Prompted by the growing popularity of YouTube, speakers are also using short video clips to engage the attention of their listeners. A good time to do so is shortly after your introductory comments. Keep such video clips brief, say no longer than 45 seconds. Select ones that have impact and support your main message as opposed to primarily just being entertaining. Rehearse the showing of your video clip beforehand and what to do and say to your audience if something goes wrong with the technology. Also, remember to check on any copyright restrictions and licensing requirements before downloading any video materials.
For speeches whose purpose is to inform or persuade, the use of projected graphs such as slides of charts, tables and lists of bulleted points are excellent ways to facilitate the communication of your message, particularly if your subject is multi-faceted and you are speaking for longer than 10 to 12 minutes. Keep in mind the principle, less is more, in using such visual aids. The fewer the slides, the better. Limit the information on each slide to illustrate one key point or idea. Try to use unexpected and original slides, including cartoons. Do not use slides to make obvious or simplistic points.
Consider placing a punchy headline at the top of each slide to telegraph quickly the main message of that slide to your audience. For maximum readability, utilize 32-point type on slides and limit the number of lines to no more than six per slide. To hold the attention of your audience, vary the format of your slides between bullets, charts and pictures. Ration your use of animation and other special effects.
The safest slide presentations are those which you can control with some type of “clicker”. Make sure the size of the type or information on each slide can be read by the audience in the back of the room. Have the room darkened as necessary when the time comes to use the slides but never dim the lights so much that you are talking in the dark. You need to maintain physical and visual contact with the audience. If it is possible, ask for a small light to be clipped to the podium to keep you illuminated when the room is darkened for your slides.
Your first slide should be blank. As a general rule, spend no more than 30 to 40 seconds per slide explaining the relevance of the slide to your theme or one of your main points. Never read or parrot back to the audience the information contained on a slide. If you need to spend much longer on a slide, consider putting the information on two slides. When you are not immediately going on to the next slide, switch on a blank slide so the audience is not distracted by the old slide. When you have finished with the last slide, turn off the projector or switch to another blank slide. The same applies to the use of overhead transparencies.
Millions of computer users have access to PowerPoint presentation software. Like other audiovisual aids, it is just a tool to help you communicate your points and information in a speech or presentation. The advantage of PowerPoint is its versatility in enabling you to include a range of different visual images in your talk, including photos, pictures and cartoons, which audiences find more interesting than viewing a slide of just words.
The previous cautions about using slides equally apply to PowerPoint. Do not overuse it. Many PowerPoint presentations are criticized for being glib, superficial and without substance. In fact, you should not use PowerPoint for any serious or technical presentation as the simplistic character of its bullet slides will weaken your credibility. The statistician Edward R. Tufte wrote a scathing essay, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, critiquing the weaknesses of using this presentation tool.
At the beginning of using slides or overheads, advise your audience that you will have copies of them available after your speech if you think it is worthwhile to do so. Depending on the importance of the subject, you may also want to have copies of your full speech available to distribute. Never give out copies of your slides or speech beforehand.
When something goes wrong with the audiovisual equipment you are using, keep your cool, spend no more than four minutes trying to fix it, and move on with the rest of your speech or presentation. Be good-humored about it and never make disparaging remarks about the equipment or those who set it up.
Before the Speech
Take the final copy of your speech and underline in red the key phrases and words. Read the speech to yourself and try to establish a cadence or natural pacing to the delivery of your words, phrases and ideas. Insert red slash marks in accordance with this pacing. After the end of most slash marks, you ideally should be able to pause and look at the audience.
Rehearse delivering your speech aloud on your feet, duplicating as much as possible the actual physical circumstances where you will be speaking, apart from the audience. Pay special attention to when you should pause and look at the audience. Time yourself in case your speech is too long.
Practise speaking slowly enough and loudly enough. Vary your voice tone for emphasis. Rehearse presenting your speech, not reading it. Do not be concerned if you say the words somewhat differently each time. Your objective is to communicate ideas and messages, not words. Use your hand-drawn images on the right-hand side of each page to help guide you. Do a dry run of your speech using the audiovisual aids and equipment.
Do not staple the pages of your speech together. Use a paper clip instead and remove the paper clip when you step to the podium. When you finish with each page in presenting your speech, just slide it to the left of the remaining pages of your speech.
The end goal of rehearsing is to make yourself so familiar with what you want to say that you do not have to read your entire speech word-for-word. At a minimum, you need to be able to deliver your opening and closing remarks looking directly at the audience without having to glance down at your notes.
Visit the room where you are speaking one or two days beforehand and, if possible, familiarize yourself with the podium. Verify that it is the right height for you and ask to use a different podium if it is not. Check out how the microphone works.
Double check that the necessary arrangements have been made for any required audiovisual equipment. When you are using rented equipment, make sure it arrives at least four hours beforehand. Verify that it works properly. If the lighting has to be dimmed, determine how that is going to be controlled. For speeches longer than ten minutes, arrange to have a glass of water available for you at the podium.
While you need to test all needed equipment beforehand, it is always a good idea to have a backup plan in hand in case something goes wrong with the audio-visual equipment you are using. Since it often does, do not let yourself be surprised when it happens.
Determine beforehand how the audience is going to be dressed. Your appearance clothes-wise as the speaker should be in sync with the highest common denominator of dress in the audience. Error slightly on being over-dressed for your audience as opposed to being too casual.
Keep your dress and appearance simple. Do not wear anything with vivid and distracting colors or patterns. Avoid clothes of an extreme fashion or style. Solid-color dresses, jackets and suits are best. The same goes for blouses and shirts. Leave your glitzy jewelry at home.
Bring extra copies of your speech and any handouts you wish to distribute to the audience afterwards with you. Again, bring an extra copy of your own scripted introduction, in case the person introducing you has lost his notes for doing so.
Eat lightly, if at all, before you speak. Try to make sure nothing gets caught in your teeth. Also, do not drink a lot of liquids before you speak. Never have anything alcoholic to drink beforehand. It will not help you to relax.
You just have to accept the fact that all speakers are nervous and fearful of getting up to speak in front of an audience. That is the way it goes for everyone, regardless of how many speeches anyone has previously given. While you are waiting to speak, concentrate on reading the pulse of the audience. Try to gauge its mood and temperament. Get a sense of what is the right tone for you to use with the audience.
Just before going up to the podium, visualize yourself at your absolute personal best. Take a couple of deep breaths by inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Then, stand up and walk purposefully and confidentially to the podium with your shoulders back, saying to yourself, “I’m just going to have a conversation with these people.”
Giving the Speech
Do not rush into your speech. Pause before speaking and look over the audience. Get yourself centered on the audience before you begin. The impression you make in the first 30 seconds is critical to capturing your audience.
You have to communicate with your total being. The reality is, how you say it is much more important than the words you actually say. The impact of your speech is going to be heavily influenced first by your body language and second by the tone and loudness of your voice.
More than anything else, you have to let yourself be yourself. Always keep in mind the dictum that “You are the message.” That means it is not just your words that count but also many other factors, including your eyes, facial expressions, body movements, emotional intensity, the pitch of your voice, and your sense of humor.
While you want to speak to the audience as if you are having a private conversation with its members, you do need to boost your energy level and increase the loudness of your voice. At the same time, you have to slow down your pace of speaking so the audience can better hear you.
Face the audience squarely with your feet about six inches or so apart with your arms at your sides and one or both of your hands resting on, not clutching, the podium. Stand up straight with your knees slightly flexed and tilt yourself a bit forward. Adjust the mike up and down if necessary so that it is approximately six inches below the level of your chin. Keep your posture open with your head and chin up. Do not put your hands in your pockets.
The more you stand tall and keep your hand and arm movements above your waist in your midsection, the more you will hold the attention of your audience. When you want to emphasize a point, raise your arms in unison as you are speaking to just above your shoulders with your hands open, facing each other.
Deliver your speech with enthusiasm, passion and sincerity. Show that you are truly committed and care about your subject and the audience. Pump up your physical energy and free your body to react naturally to what you are saying. Let yourself move and gesture freely as you would in any normal conversation. Do not tighten up and become inhibited physically. After you start, try to relax a bit. Free up your hands to help you make your points.
Think of your audience as a collection of individuals whom you are talking to, one at a time. Look first at a person in the center of the audience and then at other individuals on either side of the room as you continue speaking. Try to vary your looking down at the text so that you are looking up at the end of each sentence. Look at one individual in the audience, complete saying your idea or thought, and then move on to the next person.
By exercising such eye control, looking at each person for about five seconds as you are speaking, you will slow down your thought process and retain better control of yourself and your pace. If you let your eyes jump around, your thoughts will too. The more visual control you maintain on a one-to-one basis talking person-to-person, the more you will be able to think calmly.
Speak in your own voice but make it louder than you normally speak. Do not speak too quickly. Put some warmth and emotion into your voice. Use pauses for emphasis. Vary the volume of your voice so you are not speaking in a boring monotone. Eliminate the use of any non-words, such as “er”, “uh”, “ah”, and “um”. Resist using meaningless phrases such as “I’d like to …” and “you see …” Do not start sentences with “Well, …” Avoid rambling.
Refrain from hiding behind the podium as you talk. Let yourself be a “natural animal” and move around a bit. Avoid clasping your hands together, including in front of you or behind your back. Do not hold a pen, pencil or pointer in your hand as you talk. It will distract the audience’s attention.
The best microphone is a wireless or mobile one clipped on to your shirt, collar or jacket lapel. This will enable you to get closer to the audience by stepping in front of or to one side of the podium, providing you do not need to refer to your notes as you are speaking. When you do so, take at least two or three steps, stay for a while in the same spot as you are speaking, and then return to the podium. Some speakers roam around the stage as they are speaking but this can be disconcerting for the audience.
If an accident happens or something goes wrong, smile, show some pluck and motor on, even if it involved you falling flat on your face. Make some humorous comment about it. Whatever you do, never get angry or uptight as a result. Everyone knows you are human and mistakes happen.
Question and Answers
When you know ahead of time that a question-and-answer period is going to follow your speech, forearm yourself by identifying what are the five toughest or most embarrassing questions you could be asked. Prepare your answers and anticipate any possible follow-up questions.
The best way to get such a session started is to plant several questions beforehand with friendly members of the audience. Then, call on these people first for their “questions”. When no questions are immediately forthcoming from the audience, get things rolling by saying: “The two questions I’m most frequently asked on this subject are … ” And answer them.
Gesture with an open hand or your palm, not a pointed finger, to the person in the audience you want to take a question from. After the individual asks the question, look away to the center of the audience and repeat the question loudly so everyone can hear it. If you do not like the question, rephrase it in a more favorable way when you repeat it to the audience. Then, look back at the person to answer the question, after which return your attention to the center of the audience for the next question.
Pause to think about your answer, if you have to do so, before giving it. Avoid saying to a questioner, “That is a good question,” as this implies the others were not. If you do not really know the answer to a question, you are much better off to say so than to fudge the answer. Never lie or try to cover up something. Admit it when you have made a mistake.
If someone asks you a hypothetical question, always answer: “I prefer not to give hypothetical answers.” Hypothetical questions are almost always dangerous to answer.
With hostile questions, you have the option of not giving a direct answer. Politicians are especially skillful at answering such questions with an answer that actually addresses another more favorable subject. You can always use a question as a bridge to another point you want to make. Look away from a hostile questioner as soon as you can. Move on to the next question right away so you do not get locked into a counterproductive argument. Nevertheless, treat all questioners with courtesy and respect.
Avoid saying after your answer, “Does that answer your question?” Otherwise, you will be engaging in a conversation with that person and lose your audience. Have a line prepared for you to end the question-and-answer period on a positive note when your time is up.
If you are wearing a wireless mike, always remember to turn if off when you are finished. You do not want the audience to overhear any private remarks made afterwards, either by someone else to you or by yourself. It could be embarrassing.
Most of the prior recommendations regarding speeches also apply to presentations, which usually involve persuading the attendees to agree to take some action for yourself or your organization. Presentations are often made to smaller groups without a podium or microphone. Often there is a team of two to four people making a presentation jointly with one of them serving as the lead presenter.
With presentations, it is especially important to be well-informed about the other side and its attendees. In particular, you need to understand how the other side makes decisions, who is its primary decision-maker, and who is usually most influential with that person.
Research as much as you can about the other organization and the participants attending your presentation. The more you customize your presentation to your specific audience as opposed to giving a canned standard talk, the more impact your presentation will have.
Like speeches, the most critical principles to keep in mind are — less is more, do not bore, and refrain from over-communicating. The shorter you make your presentation, the more time you will have for questions and answers. Concentrate on making no more than three main points. Keep the formal part of your team’s presentation to a maximum of 12 to 15 minutes.
Although presentations are generally less formal and more interactive than speeches, you need to script your presentation at least in outline form. A common approach is to cover:
  1. The introduction and presentation agenda.
  2. The definition of the central issue, problem or opportunity.
  3. The most relevant factors pertaining to #2.
  4. The recommendation.
  5. The benefits of accepting the recommendation.
  6. The steps required to implement the recommendation.
  7. Questions.
  8. The conclusion.
  9. Distribution of supporting materials.
In preparing for your presentation, the first requirement after researching the other side is to make certain you have clearly and correctly defined the central issue, problem or opportunity from the standpoint of the attendees and their organization. Second, you need to determine what the other side must believe in order to accept your recommendation. Put yourself in their shoes. Are the benefits to the other side truly compelling and to what extent can you substantiate them? Third, you must anticipate the other side’s most likely objections and questions, and formulate your response to them.
Just as is the case with a speech, your opening line must command the attention of the attendees in a compelling, dynamic manner. It has to make them sit up straight and keenly want to hear what you have to say. Its content has to make an immediate connection between your listeners and yourself.
In your following introduction, briefly give the reason you are there to make the presentation and why it is relevant to the attendees, describe what you intend to cover, state how long your presentation is going to take (using a conservative estimate so you always end sooner), propose that you will take questions following your presentation, and let everyone know if you intend to distribute handout materials afterwards. Throughout the presentation, keep your comments focused, purposeful, and as brief as possible. Following the question period, conclude your presentation with a short, strong, hopefully memorable finish.
Decide on the appropriate audiovisual aids necessary to capture the attention of the attendees and support the points you want to make. Be original in your use of such aids. Do not show boring visuals, such as graphs and charts, when you can include them in your handout materials. When you show a slide, the best approach is to pause to let the audience read it and then to make a capsule comment on why the content of the slide is relevant to the point you are making. Use a pointer with your visuals if it helps to do so but keep your attention on the listeners, not the slide.
Rehearse your presentation in front of your team members and other knowledgeable associates. Ask them to be critical and objective in making suggestions for improvement. Rehearse again after making changes.
Arrive sufficiently in advance of the start of the presentation to give yourself ample time to set up and test any audiovisual equipment you are using. Dress in sync with your audience. When the other side arrives, introduce your team members and yourself to each of the attendees and exchange business cards if it is appropriate to do so. Resist handing out any supporting materials until after you have made your presentation.
If you are making the presentation sitting down, sit up straight facing the center of your audience with both your feet on the floor in front of you and your hands on the table. Like a speech, think of yourself as engaging in a conversation with each of the attendees. Refer to your written notes and presentation outline as necessary but talk to the attendees, do not read to them.
Start your presentation by looking at the key decision-maker first and then gradually establish eye contact with the individuals on one side of the table or room and then the other. When you are making your most important points, recommendation and concluding remarks, return your eye contact to the key decision-maker as you begin to do so.
Use the name of the other side’s organization throughout your presentation. Inject humor into your presentation when it ties into what you are saying. Do not play the role of someone else or take yourself too seriously. If you are running out of time, do not talk faster. Eliminate some of what you were going to say. After the formal part of the presentation, distribute any supporting handout materials to the attendees.
In the question period, if you are unable to answer a question, say so and promise to get back to that person with the answer within a specified number of days. Do not fudge or hedge your answers to tough questions or you will undermine everything you said in your presentation. Be honest and straightforward in your answers. Always follow through afterwards and provide any requested answers or information within the time period you promised to do so.
Following your concluding remarks, ask for clarification if there is any ambiguity concerning the next steps both sides are to take. If you sense it is appropriate to do so, ask the other side when you might expect a decision to be reached on your recommendation. Sometimes, this question is better asked on a one-on-one basis with the key decision-maker afterwards to avoid being perceived as “pushy”.
International Speeches and Presentations
Exercise sensitivity in giving a speech or presentation to an audience whose language, culture and customs are different from yours. In this case, the principle of knowing your audience is especially important in order to have any chance of successfully communicating your message.
Devote the necessary effort to understanding the cultural background of the audience and its social and business customs. Research the current economic and political issues facing the audience’s country and region. Talk to individuals who have experience in dealing with members of the audience. Determine the audience’s principal values and hot buttons.
Pay careful attention to following the proper protocol expected by your audience, especially in your opening and closing comments. Start by acknowledging any senior executives and officials present in the audience in a respectful manner.
Be cautious in using humor. Avoid any form of sarcasm. Do not use jargon, technical terms or complicated language. It is too easy for your audience to misunderstand what you are saying.
If you are using an interpreter, address the audience in terms of eye contact, not the interpreter. Pace your speech so that you pause after each main paragraph or idea to give the interpreter time to translate your comments for the audience. Just be yourself and do not talk down to the audience.
When your speech is being translated simultaneously for the audience through an audio-hearing system, you need to speak more slowly than you normally do. In this case, you do not have to have the same length of pauses as is necessary with an interpreter. With both an interpreter and the person doing the simultaneous translation, it is extremely helpful to provide them with a copy of your speech beforehand, ideally translated into their language. It is also a good idea to have copies of your speech available to give out afterwards to the audience.
After you return home from such a speech, write a thank-you letter to the person responsible for inviting you to speak, expressing appreciation for both the opportunity to speak and any related arrangements made by that individual on your behalf.
Following every speech and presentation you make, attempt to get some objective feedback from an associate who was there. It is similar to analyzing a video replay of a sports event. You need to know what were the strongest and weakest parts of your performance to enable you to increase the effectiveness of your next speech or presentation. Make notes on what you should do differently the next time for your speech file.
After reading this chapter you must be asking yourself, “Why would I ever put myself through something that requires such a major effort?” The answer is simple. One of the fastest ways to advance in any organization is to become one of its spokespeople, to be the person your manager turns to when someone is needed to make a speech or presentation on behalf of the organization or at a special event. To become a leader today, you have to become an effective communicator — both one-on-one and in front of groups to promote the interests of your organization.
To speed up the process of becoming an excellent speaker, consider enrolling in Toastmasters International’s program if one is available locally. This is a worldwide non-profit organization that offers hour-long weekly group meetings devoted to improving one’s skills in public speaking, conducting meetings and leadership. Its website is


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