How do you give an effective presentation?

That’s the question we asked Sandra Sheerin, founder of Public Speaking Ireland. Sandra is a specialist in the field of Public Speaking, Presentation Skills, and Communications training.She has delivered speeches, talks and presentations for many years in both Ireland and the U.S. in the area of Communications and Learning and Development. Here’s what she had for us.

To begin with, there are two parts to every presentation: the content and the delivery. When you break each one down and prepare it before you deliver it, your presentation will be smooth.

A. Content:

It’s important to organise your content so that it has a natural flow and organisation to it. Consider the rule of  3: the three basics are introduction, main body, conclusion.

1. Introduction

Begin with a strong starting point. This will help give the audience a feel of your presentation’s direction and will help you ‘break the ice’. Because it’s so important to get off on the right foot, there are a number of different ways to kick off. Here are 8 of the best.

1.) Strong statement: relating to your topic that grabs the audiences’ interest and curiosity

2.) Quotation: this can be a quote from a well-recognised person that relates to your presentation. ie if you are talking about something from the airline industry, a quote from Richard Branson is a good way to begin.

3.) Statistic or hard-hitting figure: a really strong statistic that highlights the overall point you are making can bring the audience in and get them interested in listening to the rest of what you have to say.

4.) Anecdote or personal story: if you have something to share with the audience that is part of an experience you had related to your topic, then you can start with that. Generally it breaks down the barriers with your audience and you can appear quite credible and trustworthy based on your personal knowledge of your subject.

5.) Testimonials: if you are selling a product or service that you want each audience member to buy in to, then testimonials can be a good starting point.

6.) Dramatic incident: if something happened recently in either your own industry or the field that you are highlighting to show the audience the importance or relevance of, you can add it in – but just be sure it is relevant and timely.

7.) Question: you can pose a question to the audience to get their brains thinking about your subject. But again, make sure you realise that you will probably not get an answer back and allow for that. The purpose of questions is to open up your presentation by getting the audience to really think about what you are about to share with them.

8.) Joke: be very careful when trying to be humorous and starting with a joke – the last thing you need is to see that tumbleweed going by within the first 30 seconds of your presentation. However, when a joke is fitting and delivered well, you have a better chance of getting that buy-in from your audience.


2. Main Body of Content:

Remember the rule of 3? Arranging your main body into 3 parts is extremely helpful to both you and your audience. Too many speakers will put up a very lengthy list of items they will cover for the audience, which can be overwhelming and make the audience feel as though the presentation is going to be a long one.

By breaking it down in to three sections, you make it much easier for you to deliver, and your audience will be very grateful that you are giving the information in a well-organised and arranged manner.

3. Conclusion:

Too often presenters fail to wrap up their final point. Remember, the last thing you say is usually the first thing your audience remembers. So, if you have one or two important points you want to make sure the audience leaves with, the conclusion is where you should be restating them.

Your audience will also thank you for giving them a finishing point to finalise the presentation. When they hear the words ‘Just to finish up’ or ‘One final point I just want to make’, they sit up and listen carefully as they realise that this might be something important they do not want to miss.

For the presenter, it gives them an end point to the presentation that they are confident in where they finish up.

B.  Delivery:

Once you have the presentation’s content arranged, the next part will be preparing yourself in how to deliver it. If you have not given many presentations before, this can be quite intimidating and nerve-wrecking; however once you are aware of what your speaking and presenting style is, then it becomes much easier.

There are two main aspects to delivering and communicating your words – through your Visual (Body Language) and Vocal (Sound of Voice)

1. Visual:  (Body Language)

This includes everything from your head movements, eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures and lower body movements.

Unfortunately, many speakers feel they have to mimic other ‘motivational speakers’ to try and get their message across. In reality, the best way to deliver your content with body language, is to be as relaxed and comfortable in yourself when speaking.

What this means is, if you are a person who naturally speaks with hand gestures, then do it. If you like to move around and use the space in front of you, do that also. The worst thing is to try and hold your hands glued together if you are more of an expressive person. The feeling is not natural to you and if it feels awkward to you, then you are not concentrating on your words and your audience will also feel you are not in your comfort zone.

2. Vocal (Sound of Voice)

This includes everything from the pitch, tone, rate, volume, speed, enunciation, pronunciation, articulation, pausing, intonation, emphasis and projection.   

If your speaking style is more soft-toned, you should keep that natural soft tone in your voice as it will come across more sincere than trying to stretch your vocal cords to be more ‘powerful’. Think Bill Clinton – one of the world’s highest paid speakers who doesn’t feel the need to ‘shout’ his message out to audiences, but instead uses his natural speaking voice with lots of pauses to put his listeners at ease and he always gets his point across.

Girly reading glasses optional.

As with any presentation, talk or speech, the two most important things to remember are to work on getting your content flowing so that it makes sense and each part is linked to the next; then identifying your own style of delivery so that you come across as genuine and more importantly, as yourself.

As we’ve discussed before, the old adage of ‘practise, practise, practise’ is always true. The more times you deliver, the easier it becomes.

Thanks again to Sandra, we’d recommend checking out publicspeaking.ie for more.


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