Presentation Confidence, Clarity and Conviction

How can you confidently prepare, write, rehearse and deliver your speech, presentation or public speaking program? That’s what you’ll learn from this resource.

You can speak with more confidence, clarity and conviction when you polish your presentation skills. These are skills that you can learn and improve if you’re willing to learn the techniques and practise the skills. Public speaking is a key leadership skill. If you want to develop your leadership qualities, be sure to improve your presentation skills.

Absorb the tips and insights from this website because they offer you a rapid route to more effective presentations. This means more success for you because better speakers become better leaders.

George Torok

First Thoughts on Your Presentation

Where Do You Start?

How can you get more done? By being a superior communicator. The secret of managing people is to master the art and science of communication. Superior communication skills are a combination of listening, negotiating and speaking.

Public Speaking, Presentation or Speech?

Deliver your message with impact. It is not just a speech or presentation. I use the words speech, public speaking and presentation interchangeably in this article. It is your message that is important. Your presentation is the vehicle for delivering your message and to create results. A successful presentation is one that moves people to action. You know it was a success if after you speak, they buy, work or follow. To do that requires skill. Devour this article because it will help you will capture the essence of superior presentation skills.

First Rule of Great Presentations

A great presentation does not just happen. It is planned, rehearsed then delivered with flair. A good presenter is one who learns the skills of presentations – not one who hopes for talent to carry them. Effective public speaking is a set of skills, not a talent. You can be a good presenter if you learn the skills for presentation success. You will be a great speaker if you learn from every presentation you deliver. Great presenters start as poor speakers – then they get better.

Learn from other Great Speech Makers

Who are the public speakers you admire? Ask yourself why you admire them. What techniques do they use in their speeches that you can use? What principles can you adapt to your presentations? It could be a great political leader, business executive or innovator. Whether it is a Nelson Mandella, Steve Jobs or Einstein – ask yourself, “Why does their delivery work so well? How can I use that technique or principle in my speech?”

Look for the skills they used and make them your own.

Presentation Skills Success

How to create, prepare and deliver a successful presentation

Preparing Your Presentation

Purpose of Your Presentation

Imagine that you have been scheduled to speak to a group. An important question for you to review is “Why am I delivering this presentation?”  Don’t answer, “Because I was asked.” Instead, ask why does this group need to hear from you? What message is so important that you must take their time to speak to them? You must be clear on the purpose of your speech before you can write it. Please don’t give a speech just because you are the boss. Don’t waste their time and embarrass yourself. Have something worthwhile to say. If you start by knowing what you want to happen then you will begin to create an effective speech.

Your Audience is the Reason You are Speaking

Understand your audience. What do they want? Why would they listen to you? If you want to reach them with your presentation you must reach them through their needs. While you are talking they are asking themselves, “What’s in it for us?” If you have not spoken to this group before, interview a few of them before your presentation. Mention the names of audience members during your presentation. That can help you connect better with the group.

Design Your Presentation Backwards

The most common way to write your speech is to start at the beginning and write to the end. That is not an effective way to write a speech. Instead, write the speech backwards. Start with the destination and work back to the opening. You will write your speech faster and clearer if you start with the end in mind. Know your purpose. Write the closing line that hammers home your message. Then write the points to support that close. Then write your opening that launches you into that presentation. “Designing your speech” is an important set of communication skills.

Presentation Structure

There are many presentation structures that you can choose from. When you speak to a business group the most effective approach is to state your conclusions first, the actions required then follow with supporting information. That would be an effective business speech.

The most boring and ineffectual presentation style to use with a business group is the scientific method that many of us learned in school. The scientific method starts with a problem, followed by a hypothesis, a method, results and conclusion. That sounds logical but most people in business today do not have the patience to listen to that litany. We want the answer first. Speak – don’t lecture.

Q&A Structure

Another simple presentation structure that works is to tell your audience that you will answer the most common questions you have heard. Then you state the question and answer it. This is one of the easiest ways to give a speech. It sounds like a conversation and you will find it easier to remember. All you need to remember are the questions because you already know the answers. The best speech feels like a conversation.

Pain and Relief

An effective sales technique is to first reveal or describe their pain, fear or problem. Then you offer the relief to the pain. The relief from pain and desire for pleasure are powerful motivators. Just don’t dwell on the pain too long. Remember the old Alka-Seltzer message and think ‘plop, plop fizz, fizz.’

Illustrating Your Main Points

Images help convey the messages. Images can contribe more to the success of your presentation than words. Images include photos, charts, sketches, cartoons and infographics. Text isn’t an image. Text on a slideshow still isn’t an image.

Telling Stories

Tell engaging stories. Paint word pictures that create images in the listeners’ minds. If they can see it they are more likely to understand and remember your message. The best public speakers are storytellers. Use stories and anecdotes to illustrate and reinforce the main points of your presentation. Learn to master the skill of storytelling. Notice how newscasters, entertainers and other speakers tell their stories.

The best stories are personal. Because they are yours – they are easier to remember and they make your presentation unique. We listen to stories. We hate lectures. If you forgot that lesson, just ask children. The way to find personal stories that can be used in your presentations is to write them down. Make a list of significant things that happened to you and those around you; the first time, the best, the worst, the biggest mistake, the best break, the greatest ah-ha, the funniest moment, the most frustrating incident, the dumbest thing you did, the most embarrassing moment…

The things that hurt you the most make the best stories to tell in your presentations. Rehearse your stories to edit them down into a short story that is easy to listen to. The hardest thing for you might be to leave out details. The hardest thing for your audience is listening to you describe unnecessary details. Just make the point.

Researching Your Presentation

Get your facts straight. Don’t stand there saying, “I think so” or “I’m not sure.”  Don’t lie and pretend to know something you do not. So spend time collecting and confirming your information. Too many public speakers are quick to present their opinions without providing clear substance. Avoid that trap.

Be careful of presenting hearsay as evidence – unless you preface it as that. You might interview customers for their comments or check with the front lines for their unofficial feedback. That is ok – but present it honestly. Do a quick search on one or a few of the Internet search engines to find some new insights on the topic of your presentation. These Internet ‘facts’ might not be confirmable so present them as what you found – ‘Stuff from the Internet’.

Test for Relevance

Review your speech for relevance to your audience. After every statement that you plan to make ask yourself, “So what?” Because that is what your audience will be asking. If you cannot answer this question clearly and succinctly – then rework it or remove it from your speech. What do you want them thinking, “Yeah right on!” or “So what?”

Remembering Your Speech

The best public speakers do not memorize their presentation. Instead, know your topic and the issues. Then make notes for yourself. But don’t read your speech. That is so boring. Instead, write keywords that remind you of your messages. Write your speech notes on index cards. That is much easier to handle instead of fumbling with a sheet of paper.

Rehearsing Your Presentation

Rehearse your speech on your feet at least three times. It is okay to rehearse parts of it in your car or sitting at your desk. But because you will deliver in on your feet – you rehearse the speech on your feet. It feels different when you speak on your feet. Get used to the feel of delivering your presentation. The best way to reinforce a set of skills is by repeating the pattern the way you plan to deliver. Golfers and musicians rehearse their patterns so the skills of the big day are natural to them.

The Fear of Public Speaking

Studies show that our number one fear is the fear of public speaking. Hard to believe but it is more prevalent than the fear of death. If you have a fear of public speaking or feel some anxiety you are not alone. Even great speakers like Churchill experienced this fear. But he worked on his delivery skills so he could deliver even when he was nervous. I am a professional speaker who has spoken to audiences all over North America yet I also experience speech anxiety. The fear of public speaking might be with you forever. But your audience does not need to know.

Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

In most cases, the symptoms of the fear are not noticeable to your audience. You might feel terrified but your audience doesn’t need to know. There are several ways to get past speech anxiety. Focus on the success of your presentation. Before you step up to speak take a couple of slow deep breaths. Speak slowly. Don’t let it run away from you.

Delivering Your Presentation

Last Minute Details before You begin Speaking

Get into the room before your audience arrives to check the setup and get the feel of the room. This helps to make it your room. Walk around the room and sit in a few different chairs to take in the feel of your room and how your audience will see you. Check your equipment and put on your busiest slide to check for readability. Drink a glass of lukewarm water to hydrate yourself because public speaking dehydrates you.

Emergency Preparation

Check the exit doors and paths from the building. If an emergency occurs the audience will look to you, the speaker, for leadership and maybe their lives. Be prepared to tell people how to leave the room and building. If it becomes necessary – do it in a calm, commanding and confident voice. Public speaking carries the responsibility of leadership. Everything you do while speaking will be better if you prepare the skills to deliver.

Your Confederate

Always have at least one confederate. This is a simple yet important secret to presentation success. Your confederate should sit near the back of the room so they can survey the room, help late arrivers and do things without disturbing the audience. They will take care of the lights, handouts, ushering people to their seats and even ask a planted question. It is their job to head off problems before they erupt. They should know how to work the lights and who to call when problems arise.

Eye Contact

Talk directly to people. The best presentation is delivered as a conversation to every person in your audience one person at a time. If you want to be believed – talk to every individual – looking him or her in the eye.  Don’t make the big mistake committed by many novice public speakers  – staring at the spot on the back wall. This one technique is a powerful element of successful presentation skills.

Emphasizing Key Points

If you want people to remember something – repeat it at least three times during your speech. The first time they might hear it. The second time they might mull it over. The third time it might stick. “I have a dream”. Do you know how many times Martin Luther King repeated that phrase in his famous speech? (8 times)

Establishing Rapport

Talk about things to which your audience can relate. Don’t talk down to them and don’t baby them.  To build rapport with your audience they must relate to you. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. But show how you are like them. Be human. Expose a flaw. Show that you are not perfect. If you pretend to be perfect they will hate you – and not listen.

Stay on Time

Start your presentation on time and finish on time. If you start all your meetings and presentations on time people will learn to show up on time. Do not repeat yourself for latecomers. If there is a small group at starting time then be prepared to ‘start’ with a discussion instead of your speech. Those that are there will believe that you started on time and those arriving late will seat themselves quickly feeling a bit guilty for being late.

Finish on time – even if it means leaving something out. For that reason – always get your important message out early. Never delay the key message to the end of your speech. They might be asleep by that time. Position a small clock where you can see it so you know where you are in your presentation. Don’t commit the sin of asking, “How are we doing for time?” You should know – you are the speaker.

Deliver Your Speech with Credibility

If you are the CEO, President or the boss – you have credibility by position. You might lose your credibility by committing presentation sins. You can enhance your credibility by the sources of information you quote. You can quote from a publication they read and respect. You can quote from a well-known and respected person. You can quote from some member of your audience – remember your research?

You can also imply credibility by waving a source document or book as you speak. Notice how preachers use this technique by holding the bible.

Help Your Audience Remember the Important Parts

Repeat the points you want them to remember. Use an anecdote or story to illustrate the point. Pause just before and after you state the key points.

We find it easier to remember images and feelings. If you want your audience to remember the key points of your presentation attach those points to images or emotions. Men tend to connect visuals with memory while women tend to connect emotions with memory. Be sure to address both needs in your presentations.

Look Your Best

Smile. You look your best when you smile. You look most trustworthy, friendly and confident when you smile. We do not want to listen to a speaker who is frowning. Don’t grin like a fool all the way through your speech. Instead, smile before you start. Smile when you say something important. Smile when you end. Make it a warm friendly smile. When you smile you look confident and help to improve the confidence of your audience. Smile.

Sounding Your Best

Drinking water before you speak will lubricate your throat. Breathing deeply and slowly will allow you to project your voice and pause when you want to – not when you need to. Speak slower that you normally speak. The audience needs to hear you, think about it and internalize it.

Try these simple exercises to get your voice in shape before you speak. Yawn. Yes, yawning relaxes your vocal chords and opens the voice channel. The second trick is to hum. Humming seems to set up a resonance within your vocal cavity.

Using Equipment and Technology

If you are using a computer projector and PowerPoint in your presentation then avoid the mistakes committed by many presenters. Ensure that your slides enhance your points. Don’t make the common mistake of designing your presentation around the slides. Instead, first, create your presentation then decide how to illustrate your points. You might have sat through some horrible PowerPoint Presentations. That happens when speakers attempt to hide their lack of presentations skills behind a PowerPoint slideshow.

Ensuring Success in Your Presentation

Your audience does not know your script. Be ready to adapt your presentation to the audience and conditions. Be prepared to leave something out. It might be tough on you but your audience does not know what you left out or forgot. Instead, focus on them and your message. If they get it then forget the rest of your speech.

Correcting Things that go Wrong

If you look and sound calm the audience does not know that anything is wrong. They might even think that you planned the interruption. When things go wrong, smile, pause, breathe and sound confident. Adapt your presentation.  Never appear to panic. Instead, focus on your message and what you want them to do.

Handling Q&A

At some point during your presentation, you might offer to answer questions from the audience. Never do this as an afterthought. Don’t make the mistake of delivering and finishing a spectacular speech then opening to questions.  That is a weak way to close. Instead, before you finish your speech, announce that you will take questions for x minutes. Then close off the questions and finish with your closing statement. That way you get the strong close you planned – not the answer to a lame question.

Tame the Hecklers

How do you handle hecklers? Prepare yourself for the worst questions. Write down all the possible objections and your answer to each. Rehearse the answers when you rehearse your speech. Answering questions well is a crucial part of your presentation skills. No matter what happens – remain calm. The worst thing for you to do is to react. Instead, respond and guide the audience back to your message. If you have established rapport with your audience they will be on side with you. Don’t alienate your audience by appearing angry or out of control.

If a heckler makes a negative comment you can respond with, “Thank you for your opinion” and move on.  Don’t let yourself get dragged into a dirty argument. Don’t give the heckler credibility.

Finish Your Presentation Strong

End your presentation with a strong message. You can choose from several techniques. A call to action is one of the best endings to get your audience into action immediately after your speech. Other endings you can use include a rhetorical question, a positive statement, or a famous quotation. But never end with, “Well that’s all folks.” That is an extremely weak ending. Instead, end on a positive action-generating note.

Post Presentation Review

Review Your Presentation and Grow

Ask a trusted colleague to attend your presentation and give you constructive feedback. Be specific in what you ask from them; e.g. “How well was my point illustrated? Did my humor work well? Did I connect with the audience?” When you ask specific questions you will get specific answers. The most important question you can ask yourself is, “Did I make happen what I wanted to happen?” If the answer is yes – it was a successful presentation. Did they buy, were they convinced, did they march in the direction you pointed? That is the measure of a successful speech. That is the purpose of your presentation skills in action. Also look at where you might still improve your skills and plan to work on this before your next presentation.

When a person compliments you on the presentation be gracious and ask him or her, “What was the best idea or strongest message that you will take away and use?”  You might be surprised at what they ‘heard’ versus what you ‘said’. The fastest way to improve your presentation skills is to review every presentation you deliver. What worked well? What could you change?

Leverage Your Presentation

Make your presentation more than an event and part of the process. Summarize key points and questions from the presentation in your newsletter and send a note to everyone. Perhaps the speech would make a good article with some editing. Speaking is only one part of your overall set of communication and leadership skills. These skills are meant to help you get done what you need to get done – by you and by others.

Your Next Presentation

File your notes from the presentation so you can refer to them the next time you present. Include in the file your comments about what you thought worked well and what you need to improve. Include suggestions to yourself on what to try differently next time. Remember the great masters of sports and music are continually improving their skills. They never sit back and rely on talent alone.

Closing Words of Encouragement for You

Public Speaking is a set of skills. It is not about talent. It is a set of techniques practiced, rehearsed and delivered. You might never deliver the perfect speech but you can deliver a powerful and effective speech. I know many wonderful presenters – but I do not know one who believes they delivered a perfect presentation.

The skill of public speaking is both an art and a science. The more you learn and practice the science the easier the art will work for you. You can be a powerful and skillful presenter. But it will take time, practice and energy. And those are the elements of greatness.

For more success with your presentations:

  • Speak often

  • Speak effectively

  • Speak with confidence

  • Speak to make things happen

  • Speak imperfectly – and speak again

Presentation Skills Success

How to create, prepare and deliver a successful presentation