Delivering the Presentation

Preparation Immediately Prior to the Presentation

Finalising arrangements. There are many details to be attended to immediately prior to the presentation to ensure that all goes well. As you will be the person who will suffer most if something goes wrong then it is advisable to leave nothing to chance!

  • Make sure that your presentation notes and visual aids are in the correct order for the presentation. Also ensure that your visual aids are in the correct format for use in the venue. For example, if using a computer-based application, is the software you used to prepare the materials compatible with the software available on the computer equipment available at the venue?
  • Visit the venue at least 30 minutes prior to the talk to ensure that everything is functioning correctly, that you can use the equipment provided, that the seating arrangement for the audience is appropriate, and that the venue is as comfortable as possible (eg check lighting, ventilation or heating, and so on).
    • Seek technical assistance if necessary to repair equipment or to seek assistance with its use.
    • Sit in a few strategically placed chairs around the room to get an idea of the presentation area from the audience's perspective. Use this as a basis for deciding where you will stand during the presentation so as to provide the audience with the best view of you as the speaker and so you will not obstruct the audience's view of any visual aids used.
    • Can you see a clock from where you will be speaking? If not, then ensure you have access to a watch to enable your talk to be timed.
  • Ensure that you understand how your talk fits in with the overall program. If there are other speakers, what is the order of presentation and when will you be required to present?
  • Is your presentation being introduced by a session chair or an MC (master of ceremony)? If so, ensure that you introduce yourself to this person prior to the session commencing so that they know who you are and can ask you any questions if necessary (they may need to know the focus of your discussion or details of your background to enable them to introduce you – it is advisable to always carry a brief summary of your curriculum vitae with you which can be referred to if required).
  • Ensure that you are dressed appropriately; and get yourself into a positive frame of mind.

Overcome anxiety. Stage fright is extremely common and most speakers have to use some strategies for overcoming it.

  • Good preparation is an important aspect of building confidence in the speaker – if you know your topic well and have rehearsed your presentation thoroughly then this goes a very long way to warding off pre-presentation jitters.
  • Just prior to the presentation take a few deep, slow breaths – this will help to relieve tension – or find a quiet spot and practice relaxation techniques. If you are still nervous then briefly tell your audience this – you will be surprised how much empathy and support this will generate. Remember that an audience is made up of individuals, many of whom will share the same anxieties over public speaking as you do. Overall, the members of the audience will want your talk to succeed and will be more than prepared to support you in ensuring that this occurs.
  • Ensure that a glass of water is available to you during the presentation in case your throat gets dry.
  • During the presentation avoid actions such as holding up pieces of paper that may disclose shaking hands to the audience, or distracting actions such as fidgeting with a pen.

Employing Good Presentation Technique

Oral presentations can occur in a wide range of contexts and for a range of purposes so it can be difficult to provide a general list of rules that covers all occasions. However, the following is provided as a guide:

  • be confident and enthusiastic. Promote enthusiasm for what you are about to say; and 
  • adopt a relaxed upright posture throughout. Never slouch. A lectern can be used, if available, and can provide welcome support, particularly if the speaker is a little nervous or inexperienced.

Try not to remain fixed in the one spot, but don't pace up and down either – something which an audience can find extremely distracting. An occasional step can be used to emphasise a point, provide animation, maintain attention (and relieve tension).

  • Don't read from your paper. Use your written notes/palm cards as prompts.
  • Pace your talk for greatest effect. Pause to allow the audience time to take in new points and to absorb the contents of visual aids. Don't rush through points  at the risk of leaving your audience behind.
  • Speak clearly. At all costs avoid, 'ers', 'ums' and 'ahs' when speaking. 

Talk naturally, using simple language and short sentences.

  • Project your voice. Ensure you can be heard by everyone in the audience, but do not shout as this can be extremely annoying to the audience over an extended period, and tends to preclude the effective use of intonation.

Talk to the audience, not the ceiling, floors or walls. Face the audience as much as possible even when using visual aids that may be projected behind you.

  • Speak at a comfortable pace. Oral presentations generally require a delivery speed that is less than the speed of normal conversation. Avoid speaking too quickly – which commonly occurs if the speaker is nervous - but neither should the speech be too laboured. Adjust your speed down if you feel that you are not getting through to the audience or if you are jumbling words.
  • Vary the tone of your voice. (Tone is the quality in your voice that expresses feeling.) Vary the tone to give life to your talk – express warmth and sincerity or allow yourself to reveal how you feel about certain points. Remember that speaking in a monotone is monotonous for an audience. Use your voice to add emphasis to an important point. Use inflections and emotions in your voice. Show a genuine interest in your material.

Avoid speaking in a high pitched voice which will soon irritate an audience. A high pitch is often due to shallow breathing brought about by nervousness. Deep, steady breathing and a deliberate attempt to lower the pitch will help to reduce nervousness. A low pitched voice is pleasing to the audience and is comfortable for the speaker. A variation in pitch can be useful to add emphasis to a point – but should be used sparingly.

Use pauses effectively. Inexperienced speakers think of pauses as a failure in fluency and try to avoid them. In fact, pauses are a major device used by experienced speakers to provide emphasis. Pauses in the correct places can help the audience to better understand the meaning of what you have to say. A long pause can also be used to give emphasise to a point by allowing it to sink in.

  • Use gestures to emphasise your points, but don't overdo this. Natural gestures will add a further dimension to your presentation but their overuse can readily distract or annoy an audience.

Avoid actions such as wringing the hands, putting hands in pockets or swaying backwards and forwards that suggests that you are nervous and not in control. Also avoid annoying habits such as continually tapping a pen on a lectern, waving a pointer about, or jangling money in your pockets.

  • Maintain eye contact with your audience. This not only helps to maintain the rapport between the speaker and the audience but it will enable you to gauge how the talk is going and to make changes if necessary. Maintaining eye contact with the audience will also help you to avoid common problems such as labouring over the written notes, or muffling your speech by ‘speaking to the lectern' or ‘speaking to the projector screen'. A good technique is to divide your audience into three sections (left, middle and right) and look at representatives from each for periods of a few seconds in turn. Alternatively, you may prefer to sweep your gaze across the room as you speak.
  • Pay attention to the audience. If they appear not to be following your talk then take action to remedy this – for example, by slowing your pace, by putting particular emphasis on important points, or reiterating important statements.
  • Use visual aids effectively.

Stop talking when a slide is first displayed to allow the audience to adjust to it and to soak up its contents.

Ensure that the audience can see your visual aids – don't stand in such a way as to obscure their viewing by parts of the audience.

When finished with a slide, remove it so that it doesn't serve to distract the audience. Projectors should be turned off during periods when no slide is being shown. (This removes both light and noise distractions.)

  • Regularly monitor the clock (or place your watch on the lectern) and keep to your time limit. If you find that you are falling behind then you should modify your talk rather than go over time to any considerable degree.