"I like my presentations crisp like my lettuce."

source: Sandwich, with toothpicks driven through it, speaking to individual opening refrigerator during TV commercial for Florida Orange Juice


Never shy away from giving a presentation. Presentations are a chance for growth. You have to become nervous in front of an audience, often of your peers. Presentations build confidence. They allow you to organize thoughts and sell ideas to audiences. No higher compliment occurs than your being asked to give a presentation. Someone wants to hear your good ideas. You are the spotlight.

Students constantly come in my office asking for ideas on giving presentations. They say they are nervous in front of an audience. You should accept the fact you are nervous; that shows you are prepared. It is what Dorothy Sarnoff calls racehorse nervousness. You want to get the presentation under way.

If you had enough money for investing in one or two books on presentations, I would recommend the following:

Hoff, Ron. I Can See You Naked. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel,
a Universal Press Syndicate Company, 1992.

Boylan, Bob. What's Your Point? New York: Warner Books, 1988.

Enthusiasm Becomes the Key

One secret will always help you in giving a presentation. Present yourself enthusiastically. Stand up in front of your audience and show you care about what you are saying. Don't speak in a monotone. Express your ideas with punch. Your words and the choice of your words will carry that punch. Make your audience want to hear your next remarks. You don't have to shout to have enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a state of mind. You need to sell ideas. The presentation is not a persuasive speech, but it has elements of persuasion. You are presenting information, but can't you present your information enthusiastically?

Write Your Purpose with Purpose

All presentations need purposes. You need to use powerful verbs to get your goal across. Do you want to amuse your audience? Do you want to surprise your audience? Do you want to make a friend of your audience? Michael Kahn in Persuasive Speaking makes those various points. Let's take a presentation about the City of Berlin. I should write my purpose for speaking about that city by carefully defining my purpose and my audience:

To inform and let the audience of armchair travelers appreciate a City of Contrasts, Berlin

Notice how I have tried to use power verbs (inform and appreciate) to bring home my goal. Then, I have defined my audience as armchair travelers. Is your audience food servers? Is it lawyers? Is the audience managers? What is your audience? Write your purpose around that audience, and you will do a better job of giving your presentation.

Work on Those Opening Lines

When preparing for a presentation, first consider the opening lines and the closing lines. You want these lines to become memorable. Years ago I had the privilege of taking a seminar entitled "Power Presentations." In the seminar Brenda Krantz, a well-known seminar presenter, talked about the need for grabbing your audience from the first time you utter words. She wants those first few words to mesmerize the audience so it wants to hear your purpose and what you intend to cover. Normally, I would have given a presentation about my trip a few years ago to Berlin, Germany by stating:

Today I would like to talk to you about my trip to Berlin. It was an exciting trip, and I am glad to have gone.

How dull! Picture yourself communicating with your audience. Place them in the position you are considering. Make the visual images real:

Picture yourself riding on a two-decker bus through a bustling metropolis. Suddenly you move from modern complex to graying buildings that appear left from another era. Your guide points out that the holes in the buildings are marks of bullet holes left from World War II. Welcome to the City of Berlin.

Now, you have made your listener appreciate your imagery. You have placed the audience in your presentation. You have made them want to hear the rest of your remarks. Now, you can talk about purpose and what you intend to cover. Presentations should provide a certain air of drama. You should want to hear the next line.

Storytelling Brings Presentation Alive

The New York Times (Business Section, August 1, 1999, p. 4) featured an article about how consultants are charging their clients big bucks to teach them how to tell a story. The clients give dry, long-winded technical and abstract presentations that often put their listeners to sleep. Politicians and powerful speakers in religion and the arts have known for years the power of a story. In business contexts the personal story is rarely heard.

Karen Berg, a communications consultant charges around $3-4,000 per session to teach executives how to tell stories. These stories can enliven sales presentations, training sessions, and dry, technical speeches. According to Ms. Berg, anything you can do to enliven the speech with a story that engages the mind's eye proves fruitful. Your listeners will remember your visual images. The time-honored storytelling was used by Disney CEO, Michael Eisner, when he introduced the annual report. He, instead, talked about the seasonal changes as seen from his office window. Because audiences are "time starved," according to Karen Berg, we should help their stress levels and short attention spans.

People who deal with facts and figures in presentations are not easily persuaded to Ms. Berg's point of view. Too many people think stories have to be about their grandmother or grandfather. Computer Sciences and Executive Communications Group of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, adopted their consultant's recommendations about storytelling. Susan Nurre, A Dallas-based management consultant, tells how she related more to her mother-in-law by learning a few words of Farsi. Ms. Nurre believes in "speaking the client's language." Executive storytelling can gain customers. You tailor your executive storytelling. It possesses strategic development and intent. The executive's dedication to the product, service, or company can be shown by well-planned storytelling.

Closing Lines Also Require Effort

When you have summarized what you have said to your audience, you want some memorable lines to close your presentation. These memorable lines could be a quotation, a statistic, or simply a motivational device for your audience. Let's go back to that presentation about visiting Berlin. I had to find some way to close the presentation and let people know the importance of what was seen. Therefore, the closing went something this way:

Yes, visit Berlin, this city of contrasts. Don't just stay an armchair traveler where you only see the sights on TV. You will then feel and appreciate America more.

Use Silence to Your Advantage

When you can't think of your next thought, that is the time for silence. Instead of saying "you know" or "and uh," pause until your next thought comes. Your audience (within a reasonable time) will wait for your golden words of wisdom. Use silence to your advantage.

Don't Forget Body Language

When you stand before a group and deliver a presentation, you are judged immediately on your appearance and your voice. Therefore, stand before your group with confidence. Don't slouch. Modulate your voice and deliver your words with impact. You don't have to be a Billy Graham, the world-famous evangelist, to make your message heard. For the men, don't put your hands in your pockets. Also, for the men, be careful about jingling change in your pocket that detracts from your presentation. For the women, don't jingle your jewelry or tap your foot. If, at all possible, don't stand behind a lectern and deliver your message. You have lost part or most of your audience. Get out there and face the crowd. Stand up straight and walk from side to side of the room at appropriate times. People who have studied presenters suggest you keep your audience interested by occasional pacing. Also, you do not appear to be a wooden Indian standing in front of your audience.

When you stand in front of your audience, think about what to do with your hands. You do not want to assume the fig leaf posture because you have no place for your hands. Think about operatic singers and how skillfully they find a place for their hands. If it comes natural to gesture with your hands, go ahead of do it. Practice any gestures you find awkward. You audience will like your expressiveness if that comes naturally. Kennedy, the famous president, practiced for hours just the right gestures so he could deliver his first inaugural speech so the gestures worked well.

Visual Aids Cannot Be Ignored

You decide to use transparencies. You have prepared the transparencies at the local discount office supplier. You are ready to use the transparencies on the screen. You have never used an overhead projector before. Obviously, your first step is to practice using the equipment. Make sure the transparency is properly placed, not upside down or the wrong way on the glass. Next, adjust the transparency so it sufficiently covers the screen. Move the cart or whatever the projector sets on close and farther back until adequate distance is established for the audience. When you give your presentation, don't stand in front of the screen and block your audience's view. When you use a pointer, stand to the side of the screen so that all audience members from all sides of the room can view your presentation.

Avoid talking to the glass of the overhead projector. Your audience is in front of you. Please communicate with them. You are naked in front of your audience. Don't lean on the glass of the overhead projector or place books or materials on the glass. When you place your transparency on the glass, make sure it is not upside down. Nothing distracts an audience more than seeing the data backwards. You have to then apologize for the data not being visible.

Sometimes we find warnings about visual aids. I found such a warning in the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. In viewing the terrible Holocaust and its aftermath I came across these words:

The power of a demagogue's spoken words are reinforced by potential visual symbols.

Just as our thoughts affect our language, so language can be used to affect our thoughts and eventually our actions and behaviors.

It sounds like Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propagandist talking, doesn't it? Still, we have to realize Hitler manipulated the media for his own ends through Goebbels and others. Hitler, for example, was quoted as saying to win people's minds: "I know that men are won over less by the written word than the spoken word. That every great movement on this earth owes its growth to great orators and not to writers."

Slides Present Their Own Problems

Let's say you want to give a Powerpoint Presentation on something with colored slides. What are some of your considerations? First, you have to plan your presentation. It does not hurt to write a script or a storyboard about how you want the slides to appear. You, of course, need a header slide if you are using Powerpoint or an appropriate presentation program. I would not have more than three-five ideas on the slide. Otherwise, the slide becomes too busy, and you are asking the listener to read too much. Present your ideas in a parallel fashion. If you are talking about the crowds at the largest computer show in the World, express these ideas, perhaps, in this way:

Now, you have four ideas you can present in parallel fashion to your audience. Most of the words are either noun phrases or short messages. You can elaborate on each idea and put some of your own thinking in front of your audience. You have the beginnings of a presentation. Whenever ideas strike you (in the shower, shaving, whatever), find time to write them down. You never know when a creative thought is going to envelop you.

Memory Plays Tricks during Presentation

Memorizing your presentation can create some major problems. You don't want your presentation to sound memorized. Also, you may forget your lines somewhere in the middle, and the audience realizes the presentation is memorized when you don't recover. Lately, I have been reading some books about Successful Presentations for Dummies and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Speaking in Public with Confidence that suggest memorizing the first two or three lines of your beginning and your ending. That is not a bad idea, because it gives you a chance to connect with your audience at the beginning and the end. You should still be warned that it must not sound memorized.

Focus on the Individuals

When you first present, you need to focus on one face at a time. Continue focusing until you are talking to the audience of individuals. Avoid focusing on an intimidating face that will make you more nervous. Your audience needs to know you believe in what you saying and can communicate. The audience now realizes you understand them as individuals. My students talk about the importance of eye contact they have learned from their speech professors. You need that eye contact to make your message carry weight. We're next interested in stage presence.

Presence Causes the Audience to Notice

Ron Hoff in I Can See You Naked devotes an inset to the issue of presence. It is not something you are born with. You have to act confident. Nothing is tentative about your movement or your posture. It is a bit of magic as you move into an audience. Watch a magician sometime on TV and how that individual mesmerizes the audience by the stage presence. The audience believes you have stage presence. It is a personal magnetism that grips an audience. All of us can learn that presence.

Charisma Conquers All

That stage presence is often called charisma. Burt Decker, the famous communication expert from San Francisco, discussed in the classroom videotape, constantly refers to "first brain." As I understand the concept, he means how the force of the speaker's personality firsts hits your brain. You experience the charisma of the individual. Think about charisma. John F. Kennedy had charisma when he spoke. We will remember forever in our history books the words, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." His masterful delivery or charisma helped ensure those words would be remembered forever.

Decker gives another charisma example with Norman Schwarzkopf, hero and general of the Gulf War. The news media carried his stirring remarks at the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991. His charisma carried the day. How is your charisma as you prepare for a class presentation or a company get-together?

Plant Those Flags

When you give a presentation, you want memorable points and moments to be remembered. You do that, according to Ron Hoff, by planting flags. You might say:

For the bottom line we need to . . .

This point needs to be remembered . . .

Now, let me apply that point to your bottom line . . .

As you plant these flags, your audience remembers these points. Ron Hoff in I Can See You Naked also discusses the need for lists. He recommends you tell your audience that lists are coming. They can then take notes. Maybe it is our high school education that prompts us to get out a pen and paper or the laptop and take notes.

Distractions Affect Your Audience

After listening to numerous presentations, I have concluded we need to become aware of our own actions. Look out for the situation where you are rattling your presentation cards with your rubber band. It distracts your audience and suggests you are nervous. Make sure you stand sufficiently away from the screen so that audience can see your excellent visuals. Remember, your audience wants to see your eyes.

Think What You Are Going to Say

A certain becoming modesty does not hurt during a presentation. You don't want to say to your audience: "I want to inform you about . . ." No one wants to be told how to act or conform. Unfortunately, the word, "inform," connotes that type of action. Never talk down to your audience. It will sense that you are superior to the words you are speaking. Never cross your arms together that indicates you are aloof from your audience. Suppose a speaker starts a sentence by saying: "Now I want to tell you what you are expected to do in the next few months . . ." The audience immediately bristles at the thought that it doesn't have a brain in its head. Look out for word traps in giving your presentations. Practice humility.

In a recent Miss America Pageant one of the hosts, Meredith Vieira, mispronounced the word source and said sauce. All I ask as a listener is to correct any mispronunciation of words when given. We cannot afford as anchors, presenters, or hosts to not correct our words. The audience (public) expects that effort from a presenter.

Pointing to Information Requires Finesse

All kinds of good books on presentations exist. A gentleman by the name of Mira has written Speak Smart: The Art of Public Speaking. He apparently has his own consulting communications firm, Mira Communications. He has advised, according to the description on the back of the book, countless Fortune 500 companies about their needs for giving presentations. The section of the book that caught my interest concerned how to point to a visual. Thomas Mira offered this advice:

  1. Tell the audience what you want them to find.
  2. Turn and find it yourself.
  3. Point at it while still looking at it.
  4. While you are still looking at the point, tell the audience what they are looking at.
  5. Recapture the audience's attention by looking back at them.
  6. Drop your hand.

Mira's advice seems such common sense. Yet, how many presenters actually practice the steps he is describing? One other piece of advice from Mira wouldn't hurt: "It is not just what you say that counts--it's how you say it. If you mean what you say, say it like you mean it."

Plan Your Presentation Software

Presentations put together with software like Powerpoint do not just happen. You have to plan the color backgrounds. You have to plan how much you place on each slide. You need a header slide. You need to place keywords and clip art where appropriate. You need to vary your clip art and establish a common theme. Never place your keywords in all capital letters. Think of your audience and its ability to read capital and small letters. Presentations should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Check your grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Make sure your presentation software ideas are memorable.


Guffey makes quite a point of talking about the joining of categories in presenting data within a table. What does she mean by the joining of categories? Can you provide an example that has the joining of categories? Why might you decide to join categories in presenting your data through the Considerations?

Introduce Your Speaker with Three Points

Years ago when I served as National Vice President of the Association for Information Systems Professionals (AISP), one of our advisers suggested we should always find out three points about any speaker we had to introduce. These three points might include background, hobbies, marriage, or interests. These three points should be used as a basis for a quick introduction. An introducer should never spend more time introducing the speaker than the presentation takes. People often become longwinded when they have to introduce speakers. The next time you have to introduce someone at a professional meeting or an organizational meeting, talk to the person beforehand and be ready to give a quick introduction.

Prepare for Worst; Expect the Best

Some of you may be asked to give presentations in hotels, business conference rooms, or other venues. Prepare for the worst, but expect the best. Do not expect the convention or conference planners to have everything ready. You may have sent your multimedia or audiovisual requirements ahead of time. Still, on the day of the presentation, problems may start occurring. What are you going to do if the hotel staff neglected to provide your VCR and television for your morning presentation? What are you going to do if no table or several extension cords were furnished for your presentation? What are you going to do if the bulb blows in your computer data projector or your slide projector?

You may be saying that these problems will never occur. Never is a long time. Prepare to talk to the hotel staff about your multimedia requirements. Arrive at least 30 minutes early to inspect the room and its audiovisual problems. If possible, attend a session of another speaker in the room where you are scheduled to speak. Observe the problems you may encounter. Check how switches on overhead projectors, VCRs, and slide projectors operate. Talk to the conference planners about your concerns. As with the Boy Scouts, you need to prepare for the worst. Some fine speakers who give presentations all the time carry their own equipment for the problems we have talked about.

Lin Kroeger Offers Questions When You Are Persuading

You should check out The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Presentations by Lin Kroeger, a New York-based consultant who has helped Fortune 500 managers and executives improve their speaking and presenting skills. In that book Kroeger offers a series of questions that should be answered before you persuade people to accept your ideas:

  1. Why should I listen to you?
  2. What is going on?
  3. What should we do?
  4. How do we do that?
  5. What will doing this cost us? What resources must we give to this?
  6. What benefits will we receive?
  7. How do I know we'll receive those benefits?
  8. What could go wrong?
  9. What do you want me to do? Why?
  10. What do you want from me right now?

I liked the book because it has such practical ideas. Little advice insets are provided throughout the book. Three excellent ones (Kroeger, pp. 95, 99) are included to cause you to think:

Topic statements can be deadly!
People like to solve problems. Describe a problem.
Brainstorm all the possible objections and risks.

Kroeger suggests we come up with 15 ideas we would like to present (15 facts). These facts can be placed on Post It notes or whatever form you prefer. Then, you hone your facts. You do not present more than five ideas per slide or transparency. Even colors should be considered in honing that presentation. Kroeger recommends black, blue, dark purple, bright green, and red. Red should definitely not be used if you discussing statistics or financial figures.

Kroeger Stirs Controversy with Handout Advice

Lin Kroeger spends a great deal of time discussing the merits of passing out handouts ahead of time. She does suggest that handouts with three slides per page allow the audience to take notes. Certain people will not listen to you whether you pass out handouts ahead of time or not. The general rule in the past was to avoid handouts until your presentation was completed. Kroeger recommends you may want to consider how much you prefer your audience taking notes with your handouts as you speak. If you want the audience to take the handouts with them, you may place the papers in the back of the room or some suitable location. You may remind the audience the handouts are available at the conclusion of the presentation.

You Become the Expert

For years I have recommended Ron Hoff's book, I Can See You Naked, as one of the best books on giving presentations. His humorous thoughts, along with his practical advice, have made his book a Must Have in the list of books for your company library. Hoff has collected some of his best sayings into a newer book, Do Not Go Naked into Your Next Presentation. He offers 50 nuggets of advice destined to help any presenter. In the next paragraphs I will select certain sayings and sage thoughts to help you in your next presentation.

When we say you are the expert, that point is well taken by Mr. Hoff. You would not have been chosen to give the presentation if people did not think you were an expert. Think about that point. You know more about your report than anyone else in the room. You have studied the subject somewhat thoroughly and should be able to give a worthwhile presentation. The next time someone asks you to give a presentation, be flattered. You are the expert at that moment.

Peggy Noonan Discusses Speech Writing

Peggy Noonan, former speech writer for President Ronald Reagan and George Bush, has authored an informative book about preparing that all-important speech. In Simply Speaking Ms. Noonan takes her years of experience in the White House and condenses pertinent points for doing a good job. She agrees with her former boss, Ronald Reagan, that a 20-minute speech is about all anyone can stand. She further reiterates this point by stating: ". . .the more important the message, the less time required to say it." Peggy strongly recommends writing all the remarks you intend to say. We cannot all be like Ronald Reagan where a few note cards with major points can be shuffled to adjust to any occasion. If you are comfortable with humor, go ahead and use your wit. The audience will become closer to you.

The Pack Animal Carries Only So Much

If you noticed the last State of the Union Message President Clinton gave, he covered the waterfront with important ideas. It is hard to remember what was particularly significant in that speech. Ms. Noonan suggests winnowing down the ideas to the essential points. She tries a terrific analogy where you place goods on a pack animal. If you pack enough goods on the animal, the animal may die of exhaustion. Her concern is limited to how much can be packed: "A speech about everything is a speech about nothing." Think of two or three major ideas for your analytical report presentation.

Tie Your Ideas Together

To me the most important advice Peggy Noonan gave concerned the Tell 'Em, Tell 'Em Once Again, and then make sure they are told. She reported we need to repeat ideas with different words at certain points in the presentation. Announce your subject early when you give your purpose. Repeat the idea in the middle of the speech. Tie the idea together at the end of the speech. Care about your audience. Show with your words you care. Ms. Noonan uses words effectively to convey her point about what happens if something goes wrong in the speech: "If you falter, alter." You know your audience and what it can handle.

Words Become Sayable

You hear a speech differently from a memo. According to Noonan, the words have to be sayable. She illustrates this point with a speech she wrote where the words, muscular altruism, were inserted. John Sununu, the Chief of Staff for President Bush, objected to this wording because it sounded like muscular dystrophy. Words create different meanings in different people's minds. Noonan believes you only have the sound of what you are saying.

Peggy Noonan Cracks Shell of Simplicity

You should know the name of Peggy Noonan. She has already authored two books, including her newest mentioned earlier, Simply Speaking: How to Communicate Your Ideas with Style, Substance, and Clarity. In this book she has detailed the importance of simplicity in giving a presentation. Every speech requires a purpose. You think and write. Put down your points as you go.

Keep your sentences sayable, as mentioned earlier. Listen to the words you want to speak You don't have to bore your audience with long-winded presentations. Paint a picture as you converse with your sentences. In one of the chapters Noonan compares some of the great speeches of Abraham Lincoln. She shows how Lincoln used simple words, such as his Fourth of July speech: ". . . and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh, of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are." Noonan particularly liked the simplicity of "and so they are." Those words said the whole message. That's what you should do with your presentation. Speak the words that make sense to your audience.

The Articulate Executive Strikes with P-O-W-E-R

Occasionally, you find a reference that summarizes all we need to know about making a fine presentation. Granville Toogood in The Articulate Executive (1996)summarizes his beliefs about giving a presentation with the acronym, POWER. The letters break down this way: