Posts filed under ‘Speaking in Business’

Fearless Speeches: The Five-Step Guide to Public Speaking

By Josh Neal

Everyone is staring, waiting for you to speak. Your hands are sweaty, your mouth is dry and your mind is blank. Your nerves have gotten the best of you, and all you want to do is run and hide.

You wonder why public speaking causes you so much anxiety and cannot understand why you have been plagued with this irrational fear. However, you are not alone. In fact, the fear of public speaking is often ranked higher than death.

I remember my first professional presentation; I was so worried I couldn’t sleep the night before. Now I can give presentations without a sweat. How did I eradicate this fear? By following these five steps: knowing your audience, knowing your information, creating an outline, practicing and remaining calm. Follow these steps, and you will be able to give a fearless presentation as well.josh

Know your Audience

Understanding your audience and their expectations is the first step to successful public speaking. I have found that defining the audience helps with gauging how professional or relaxed the presentation should be. Having a definitive audience will also help you in creating a message directed specifically towards them. Additionally, knowing your audience beforehand will make you less nervous while presenting.

Next, define specific expectations of your audience. If you don’t understand what your audience hopes to gain from your presentation, you cannot gauge its success. Whether I am presenting in a classroom or a boardroom, I always reach out to get a grasp on what my audience is expecting. Reaching out to someone ahead of time and asking what an efficacious presentation would entail shows that you care and helps you understand your audience.

Know your Information

Having a well-rounded knowledge of the topic you are speaking about will help to ease your nerves. You don’t have to become an expert, but make sure that you know enough about the information to answer any questions your audience may throw at you.

The most impressive presentations I have ever given involved statistical insights that really drew my audience in. The audience was impressed that I knew the topic well enough to state real numbers, and it made the speech more memorable. Using statistics or pertinent examples will improve your presentation by adding credibility to what you are saying.

Create an Outline

One of the biggest mistakes people make when giving presentations is that they try to memorize everything they are going to say. A single slipup can throw you off for the rest of your presentation. That’s why creating an outline with cues is much more effective.

Include the main logical and structural components of your presentation in your outline. I typically create a bulleted list of everything I want to talk about and link these components together in a sequence to create the most effective outline. Following this outline will give you ease of mind and make your presentation flow smoothly.


Everyone has heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect;” well, in this situation it does. I always present to a group of friends or colleagues, and ask for feedback beforehand to polish my presentation. A polished presentation will really resonate with your audience.

However, I make sure not to over practice. Too much practice can make you seem robotic while presenting and make your presentation seem less authentic. Therefore, I typically practice my presentation about three to five times beforehand.

Remain Calm

As my professor once told me, “When you are swimming with sharks, don’t bleed.” Becoming flustered or nervous can lead you on a downward spiral and make your presentation flop. Before presenting, try using power poses or eating dark chocolate to lower your cortisol levels. Encourage yourself by thinking, “I can do this; I know the material and I am ready to present this information.”

Following these five steps will provide you with all of the tools necessary to have a successful and fearless presentation. Now go and conquer your fear!


November 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm 3 comments

Presenting Can Be a BREEZE: Try These 6 Easy Steps!

By Katie Grad

“Who’s next?” Everyone knows it’s coming, but why is being the next person to speak so scary? In my current BUSI 401: Management Communication course, I still remember the first impromptu speech I ever gave. I felt so nervous and scared, but now as I have progressed in the course, I finally have discovered presenting does not have to be so intimidating.

By learning the easy mnemonic, BREEZE, you will be able to practice your presenting skills and overcome your presenting fears. BREEZE: Body language, relevant stories, elimination of “verbal clutter,” eye contact, zeal, and effective gestures are all critical in presenting and have helped me fine-tune and improve my presentation skills.

B – Body language

Legs quivering? Hands shaking? Heart beating so fast you feel you may pass out? All of these are signs of nervousness and happen to the best of us, but it is important to improve.  Body language plays a very important role in business communication, accounting for roughly 55% of what people perceive (Mehrabian, see image). Mehrabian

One of the biggest issues I struggle with is nervous fidgeting and moving my feet. If you suffer from a similar habit, try putting aluminum foil underneath your feet—I know it sounds crazy, but it can help!  According to Sharon Cannon, Kenan-Flagler Clinical Associate Professor of Management and Corporate Communication, “if you hear it crinkle, you will become more aware of your fidgeting and will take conscious steps to correct it.” Rather than fidgeting, try standing steady with a wide base and with your toes pointed forward, all of which signify confidence. However, moving across the room, especially at transition points, can keep your audience engaged and interested in you and your presentation.

R – Relevant stories

Show don’t tell!  Incorporate relevant stories with the STAR method—Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Stories and examples provide the audience with concrete, visual images, which help them better understand your argument. When thinking of memorable stories to include in a presentation, always keep the audience in mind. For example, if you are trying to get your colleagues to donate to an animal shelter, appeal to pathos by telling a story that will tug on their heartstrings about an experience with your dog. However, never lie or make up a story because your audience will be able to see right through you—always stay truthful.

E – Eliminate “verbal clutter”

“Um, like, so, ah, ya know.” All are examples of the dreaded space fillers people use in presentations. Although breaking this habit may seem impossible, I promise you can do it with patience and practice. When I recently met with a Kenan-Flagler Business Communication Center consultant, Phil Matta, he showed me a game that I found invaluable because it finally made me aware of my tendency to say “um.” Therefore, I recommend the following exercise: give a friend or partner a random subject (can be anything, i.e. purple socks) and see how long the person can spontaneously speak without using his or her “trigger” word. Pass the object back and forth as you each practice avoiding  your trigger words. The goal is to speak without clutter for 30 seconds.

KatieWant more help? Have no fear…there’s an app for that! It’s true: an app called “Um Counter” enables you to count the number of times you use a filler word. In my last five-minute presentation, I said “um” 27 times! Now, I can take steps to reduce that number and track my progress.

So, you may be wondering: Why do we even use verbal clutterMost people say these words because of nerves, but others feel obligated to fill an awkward silence or gap in their presentation. Instead of using verbal clutter to fill the space, take the time to pause, breathe, and think of what you are going to say next. Also, to avoid blanking when you first begin your presentation, I recommend planning out the first 20 seconds; however, remain genuine. This tactic will help you feel more comfortable and ease the tension for both you and your audience.

E – Eye contact is crucial

To captivate your audience, make eye contact with multiple people in the room, NOT just one person in the center of the room. If you focus on one person, you can make that person feel picked on or uncomfortable, which is not what you want to convey.  Instead, choose people located in every section of the room so that you cover the entire space. I like to think of it as having “mini” conversations with various members of your audience. This strategy enables you as a speaker to connect on a deeper level with your audience and get them engaged in what you are saying.

Z – Zeal matters

Leave your audience wanting more—whether it be at the beginning or the end of your presentation. Begin with a hook, an interesting, captivating opening that gets your audience interested in what you are about to talk about. According to William Baker in Writing & Speaking for Business, a surprising statistic, a rhetorical question, a quotation, a personal story, or an interesting image can all help you perk the interest of your audience.  Use this opportunity to set the stage for the rest of your presentation, in regard to your tone, as well as build a relationship with the audience.  Similarly, leave your audience with a “call to action”—make them feel real emotion and want to join your cause, invest in your company, or donate to your charity.  

E – Effective gestures

Rather than make awkward small gestures or play with your jewelry, use hand gestures to your advantage! Use them to help underscore and punctuate your most important points. For example, in his book William Baker suggests that when listing three things, accompany the three points by “one, two, and three fingers” like you are checking off a checklist.  Finally, if you choose not to use hand gestures at any time in your presentation, put your hands by your side in a neutral position, so you guarantee that you don’t accidentally distract your audience.

If you follow these six steps, I am confident you will breeze by your peers and deliver an outstanding presentation!

November 9, 2015 at 4:42 pm 7 comments

RELAX: How to Communicate Effectively

By Austin Grillo

Its five minutes before that big presentation. Your heart is racing. Your hands start to sweat. What if the audience thinks you’re stupid? You’re debating leaving the room and going home where nobody can see you.

You’re having classic symptoms of Glossophobia the fear of public speaking.  You and 75% of all Americans feel the same way. How can you stop these nerves from overtaking your ability to speak?

I too used to get unnecessarily nervous about presentations and interviews. By learning to rehearse often, show emotion, loosen up, understand the audience, and gain experience, I have vastly improved my presentation and interviewing skills, and you can, too. The mnemonic device R.E.L.A.X. will help calm your nerves so you can give a stand-out performance.

R – Rehearse

As you’ve heard since you were a child, practice makes perfect.  The first step to performing well in all walks of life is preparation. Also, the best way to eliminate nerves is to know your material. Be sure to rehearse before the presentation or interview until you know the material better than the back of your hand.  Some people are under the impression that by “winging it” they can give a great presentation.  From personal experience, I know that rehearsing sufficiently is the only way to succeed in a presentation setting, and by “winging it,” you are only setting yourself up for failure. NO MATTER how nervous you may be, if you’re an expert on the topic of your presentation, you will get your point across successfully.

E – Emotion

If you are authentically passionate about your topic, you will succeed.  By showing passion, the audience will respect what you are saying, and you will feel confident about what you have to say.  Showing that you truly care about what you are saying will bring about a positive energy that will translate to the audience and make for a great presentation. Though preparation is essential, when you are passionate about your presentation, you will be able to improvise and add details.  Bill Clinton, one of the greatest presenters of all time, doubled the number of words in his 2012 Democratic National Convention speech with improvisation because of his intense passion. Clinton’s passion is what makes him such a great communicator, and you should try to emulate his passion to succeed.

L – Loosen Up

When presenters are nervous they tend to speak too quickly and jumble words together.  When you stumble over your words, the audience will pick up on your anxiety.  If you too get anxious, remember to speak in a deliberate, relaxed voice.  Many presenters think that pauses are awkward and take away from the presentation, but calculated causes are essential for effective delivery.  I used to talk too quickly and stumble over words until I made a conscious effort to relax and slow my speech to the right tempo.  By slowing the tempo, I improved my presentation skills drastically.  Not only will stating your words deliberately make you appear more confident, but you’ll have more time to think about what you are going to say next. Lastly, speaking deliberately will cut down your use of filler words such as “um” or “like.”

A – Audience

The audience wants you to do well. The reason they are listening to your presentation is because they want to hear what you have to say. A great way to get over the nerves of public speaking is to connect with the audience. By making the presentation more conversational and less formal, the pressure in the room dissipates. Often, storytelling makes you sound more conversational. Telling a story does not require much effort.  In the end, the audience will more likely remember the story you told than the facts and figures in your presentation.Connecting with the audience in this way will decrease anxiety and make for a better presentation.

X – Experience

Just like practicing a presentation will improve your ability to talk about that topic; speaker
gaining experience by doing many presentations will make you a better presenter. By presenting often, you will gain confidence and have fewer anxious thoughts beforehand. By giving more and more presentations, you’ll learn what you need to do to deliver a successful presentation.

By remembering to R.E.L.A.X., you will be well-equipped to give a great presentation or interview.  Now go out there and own that audience!

December 5, 2014 at 8:51 am 1 comment

Watch What You Don’t Say

By Carly Duvall

According James Pennebaker’s research, women use an average of 16,215 words per day whereas men use an average of 15,669. Given the sheer number of words we use, you might think that nothing else could be done to ensure clear communication. However, especially in a business setting, we need be careful about not only which words we choose to say but also mindful of what we don’t say.

Watching what we don’t say? That’s right. Over half of all human communication is nonverbal, which means we send out more information with our gestures, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and style of dress than we do with the actual words we use (Figure 1).nonverbal In addition to nonverbals being a huge part of how we communicate, research shows that when someone sends out conflicting verbal and nonverbal messages, the listener will almost always believe the nonverbal message over the verbal one. Darlene Price, author of Well Said!, says some studies show nonverbal communication can have between a 65% to 93% greater impact than actual spoken words.

Given the importance of nonverbal communication, people need to step back and evaluate their nonverbals to ensure that they are communicating exactly what they mean. Becoming aware of and improving nonverbal communication will help in countless circumstances in the business setting: during interviews, meetings, and presentations and when establishing strong client relationships. Two easy ways to improve nonverbal communication and display more confidence in the work place are through practicing good eye contact and using effective gestures.

Practicing Good Eye Contact. Utilizing effective eye contact throughout a conversation or presentation is an easy way to improve your nonverbal communication. In many cultures, eye contact signifies confidence, as you are actively engaging with others rather than being submissive and looking at the ground or at your notes. Whether you are the speaker or listener, eye contact is an important part of a conversation as it lets the other person know that you are paying attention and acknowledging what he or she is saying.

Be mindful of your eye contact, however, as it can create some unintended negative effects. If, for example, you are giving a presentation and focus in on one person, you may come off as intimidating and make the person you are fixated upon feel very uncomfortable. Whether you are maintaining eye contact in a conversation with one person or several others, be sure to act as naturally as possible. Don’t be afraid to blink or look away every once in awhile, as you don’t want anyone to feel like he or she is being stared at.

Using Effective Gestures. The phrase “actions speak louder than words” contains some truth. As previously stated, research shows that when someone sends out conflicting verbal and nonverbal messages, the listener will almost always believe the nonverbal one. This finding indicates the power or “volume” of our nonverbals. Given that your body sends off thousands of messages through its conscious and subconscious gestures every day, becoming aware of these gestures and working to master them is another way that you can improve your nonverbal communication.

One effective way to use gestures is as a visual aid to underscore what you are verbally saying. For example, you can use your hands to signal something going from beginning to end, or you can use them to help punctuate a point, adding emphasis to your spoken words. However, be careful that your gestures aren’t distracting. Excessively using your hands or fidgeting can make you appear overly nervous or divert people’s attention from what you’re saying.

All in all, considering that over half of human communication is nonverbal, remember to watch not only what people are saying verbally but also what they aren’t saying – or what they’re saying nonverbally. Practicing good eye contact and using effective gestures are just two ways to improve your nonverbal communication. To learn more techniques for improving your nonverbal communication, check out Jacquelyn Smith’s “10 Nonverbal Cues that Convey Confidence at Work.”

December 3, 2014 at 8:45 am 4 comments

A Tour Through the Art of Persuasion

By Andrea Gawkins

Do you want to persuade your boss to use your ideas? Do you want to persuade your parents to buy you a new phone? Do you want to master the art of persuasion? If you answered “yes” to the first two questions, then you must say “yes” to the third. Using impactful persuasive techniques can help you become an effective writer and presenter. It definitely helps me as an Undergraduate Business Ambassador as I conduct tours and persuade prospective students. Thanks to the seven logically persuasive tools provided by the Kenan-Flagler Business Communication Center, we get insight into how good business writers like Warren Buffet persuade with: statistics, history, analogy, example, comparison or contrast, consequences, and authority. I’ve described my Undergraduate Business Ambassador experience to demonstrate the benefits of using these seven persuasive tools.

Statistics. Use numbers! Adding quantitative data to your writing and presentations adds realism for the audience. After reading or hearing many words, your readers or listeners will remember a spark of numbers. Most importantly, presenting statistical data raises your credibility through the primary or secondary research you conduct. Take advantage of statistics you discover as you prepare your paper or presentation. As stated in the Kenan-Flagler Business School Business Writing Conventions and Expectations, about “70 percent of the population values quantifiable data as their way to understand their environment.”

Did you know the Kenan-Flagler Business School is ranked as a top-10 undergraduate business program in Bloomberg Business Week? As I give tours to prospective students and families, I always include our current rankings to emphasize our prestigious program. We take pride in all of our rankings, which also includes the MBA and Masters of Accounting results, since they show that the Kenan-Flagler Business School offers the best of the best in more than just one program. 

History. Some people believe history will repeat itself, which explains the significance of adding historical facts to a persuasive argument. Writing or speaking about previous events and their subsequent consequences can connect others with the current issue you address. Your audience will consider the historical fact you just presented and what might happen in the future — which aids your persuasive pitch. The art of persuading others is so powerful that teaching persuasive strategies started centuries ago with Aristotle in ancient Greece — signifying its importance.

Let’s look at the name “Kenan-Flagler” and discuss the two individuals responsible for the prestigious program we know today. I’ll bet you didn’t know Henry Morrison Flagler partnered with John D. Rockefeller to found the Standard Oil Company. Also, Mary Lily Kenan’s great-great-grandfather, James Kenan, helped construct Old East, the beautiful building on North Campus. Using our founders’ histories in my tours helps to show that the rich roots of our business school date back many years. 

Analogy. Mastering effective persuasion is as difficult as completing endless amounts of chores; however, once you do so, the result is quite enjoyable. Using analogies can help your audience relate to your topic — especially if the subject is complex. Additionally, if you are presenting on two topics that differ, try an analogy to help your audience understand the occasional similarities your topics share.

Using an analogy during a tour comes in handy when describing the undergraduate business school’s application process. The application process to become a Tar Heel is to swimming as the application to become a Business Administration major is to completing a triathlon. The UNC application might require many essays and letters of recommendation, but in order to receive acceptance into Kenan-Flagler, one must show college leadership and academic excellence. Hence, a triathlon is harder than just swimming a few laps. A student must show he or she is a well-rounded college student who really wants acceptance to the Kenan-Flagler Business School.  

Example. Saying “for example” occurs quite often in conversations. Explaining with examples enables you to illustrate your persuasive methods, and this approach helps your audience understand when this topic or event might actually happen. For example, if you are presenting about ways to create an appealing PowerPoint, use your own PowerPoint as an example to show the various visually attractive techniques Microsoft offers.

As a current student in the business school, prospective students and parents want to hear specific examples about Kenan-Flagler’s engaging professors and professional career focus. A typical example I use is the Capital Markets Lab, which demonstrates students are able to transfer textbook knowledge to reality. To show our diversity, I explain Café McColl’s atmosphere, which bustles with diverse people from all walks of life. I hope my tour group can see the reasons we enjoy attending this business school.

Comparison or Contrast. Using Venn diagrams in school helps easily illustrate the similarities and differences between topics. Take this same approach when discussing items from the same class as you attempt to persuade your audience. As you convince people your paper or presentation is effective, try comparing a previous successful project that used the same organization. If you are helping people with their persuasive writing and believe their approach is poor, mention others who used that same structure that failed to persuade their audience.

I use a comparing and contrasting technique on a tour when I am asked why I chose to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and why I majored in Business Administration. Just as I did when deciding on where to go to college, I compare and contrast the Business Administration major to others. Business is very different from the science and medical majors. The prerequisite classes are more focused on math such as accounting in Business 101. Additionally, business differs from economics because you must apply to become a Business Administration major. However, they might seem similar since both focus on the economy. I verbally construct a Venn diagram of the Business Administration major versus other majors. This technique helps persuade those students who are still unsure because they might not know the exact differences between the Economics and Business Administration degrees.  

Consequences. If you do not use these seven persuasive tools, you will not capture your audience’s attention, which will greatly affect your outcomes. Using consequences in your writing or speech shows the audience what will or will not happen if they do or do not take your message seriously.

As an Undergraduate Business Ambassador who is representing our business school, I will not talk poorly of other degrees or business schools. However, discussing job placement and campus recruiting can fit into this consequences section. As a professional school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Kenan-Flagler Business School focuses on high-job placement with more than 90% of our students employed following graduation. Not all departments can boast this percentage. As you can imagine, discussing this topic usually persuades parents very easily.

Authority. Some of the most powerful speakers in the world use these same seven tools to persuade their audience to follow them. Martin Luther King, Jr., is one authority who motivated his audience during his “I Have a Dream Speech” by describing the positive opportunities that would come with ending segregation. When you cite a famous speaker or writer, you strengthen your credibility.

Occasionally, I will mention a well-known alumnus of Kenan-Flagler Business School to either relate with my tour group or show what our business degree can help them accomplish. Mentioning Hugh McColl, Jr., who completed his B.S.B.A. in 1957 and served as the chairman and CEO of Bank of America Corporation can illustrate the long-lasting quality of education you receive from the Kenan-Flagler Business School.Jeff Saturday To discuss someone more relatable, I talk about Jeff Saturday, former Indiana Colts Center (pictured on the left), who combined his 1997 B.S.B.A. with football to become a quality leader on the field.

These seven tools help me give the best tours and persuade prospective students to further pursue admission to the Kenan-Flagler Business School. Therefore, you should use these seven persuasive tools to strengthen your arguments in both written and verbal forms. Next time you prepare to persuade your audience, try using some statistics, historical facts, analogies, examples, comparisons or contrasts, potential positive or negative consequences, and an authority. I guarantee you will achieve your desired results.

December 1, 2014 at 3:44 pm 4 comments

It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s An… Impromptu?

By Lulu Zhong

Like all superheroes who struggle with their own form of kryptonite, most people have their own weaknesses when it comes to business communication. If you’re anything like me when it comes to public speaking, the stress and anxiety that comes with delivering presentations and speeches can feel pretty overwhelming. Having delivered four impromptu speeches in my management communication course, I’ve discovered that mastering skills of talking on your feet can ultimately boost confidence and help tremendously in improving communication in and outside of a professional setting.superhero

My first impromptu speech experience at school went a little something like this: my hands were stiff next to my body, I spoke too fast, and I began to ramble and repeat myself because I blanked. While in reality the speech lasted a total of less than a minute, it felt like an eternity standing in front of others talking about something I had zero time to prep for.

Speaking on the spot in front of a group of people is not an easy task, and often times can feel like a fighting a losing battle, but the experience of giving impromptu speeches is valuable practice that every individual can gain from. Although impromptu speaking may appear to be an arch nemesis for some, with these few tips, the process will hopefully seem a little less daunting.

Prep with a power stance. All superheroes have a signature pose, so why not make one too? It may sound weird, but it really does help. As social psychologist Amy Cuddy discusses in her Ted Talk, your body language can truly shape who you are. Nonverbal gestures have just as much impact as speaking when giving any kind of presentation. Steady eye contact, balanced hand movement, and limited fidgeting are all cues that can help keep an audience engaged. Simply changing your body to be more open and holding this position for two minutes can increase self-confidence and help overcome some last-minute nerves.

Use your powers to generate sticky ideas. Although you may not have superhuman strength, the ability to fly, or lightning-bolt speed, you do possess a set of your own superpowers and abilities you can use when presenting. In Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made To Stick, they cover six steps for creating SUCCESsful, memorable ideas:

  • Simple. One-sentence statements can often be the most profound. Keep your ideas succinct so that your audience can understand what you’re talking about.
  • Unexpected. Grab people’s attention through surprise. This element is what will help violate people’s expectations and leave them wanting to know more.
  • Concrete. Clarity is key when speaking to anyone, whether if is your classmates, your boss, or even a recruiter. Explain your ideas and answer questions with concrete examples and clear images for people to relate to.
  • Credible. What are the sources you are citing from? Don’t make assumptions without backing them up with something. The audience needs to know reasoning behind your presentation.
  • Emotional. Appeal to the pathos. Think about it – when giving a toast at your best friend’s wedding, are you going to give a list of reasons why you love him or her, or make your friend laugh and cry from funny memories you’ve shared? People can relate better to ideas when they feel something.
  • Stories. Storytelling is a great way to convey your ideas and get reactions from an audience, especially in interview settings. Answering questions with stories can appeal to emotion — making your interview memorable. 

Seize the opportunities to practice. Superheroes are not those to sit back and watch. They take action – and so should you. Apply this proactive approach to many impromptu-speaking scenarios. The more opportunities that you take to work on delivering impromptu and the more steps you take to improve speaking on the spot in public settings, the easier it will be to communicate effectively and increase confidence. The next time your boss asks you to deliver a presentation or you receive an e-mail to sign up for a mock interview, seize the chance to work these skills.

Ultimately, impromptu speaking is an integral part of everyday life in business communication. Interviewers will ask you tough questions you haven’t prepped for, bosses will ask you to present your work to clients on the spot, and your teachers may even ask you to discuss certain topics front of your peers. Instead of turning to fear, focus and think about your ideas. While the impromptu speech may seem scary at first, by following some of these mechanics, soon you’ll gain more confidence and realize the true superhero within.

November 28, 2014 at 8:15 am 9 comments

Have a Pitch for Shark Tank? Here’s How to Nail Your Next Oral Presentation

By Mateen Alinaghi

You have the perfect idea that could make a killing. You even have a pitch lined up with some of the world’s top venture capitalist firms, but as the pitch approaches, you realize you have never given a public presentation, and the anxiety begins to rush in. Oral presentations can be stressful from planning to delivery, you will find many nuances that can make or break your presentation. Crafting an oral presentation is an art that involves extensive planning and practicing; becoming an effective oral presenter requires analyzing, preparing, and delivering.


Before you fire up PowerPoint and start creating your presentation, analyze your audience and your goal for the presentation.

Audience. Your audience ultimately determines how successful your oral presentation will be; therefore, effectively understanding and analyzing your audience helps predict how they will react to your presentation. Begin by thinking about who your audience really is so you can establish a connection with them:
  • Who is the audience?
  • Where are they from?
  • How large is the audience?
  • How old are they?
  • What is their occupation? Educational Background?
  • What position do they hold in the company?
  • What is their cultural heritage?

As you examine the audience’s relationship with you, think about how the audience members’ attitudes could affect the way they perceive your message. For instance, on ABC’s Shark Tank, entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas often fail to receive funding because they pitch their idea without understanding who the venture capitalists are. Ultimately, knowing your audience enables you to create a stronger message.

Goal. Your presentation must have a purpose or a message you want the audience to remember. Learn to state your goal in one sentence and state your purpose in the beginning of your presentation to prepare your audience for the ideas to come.


Separate preparation for your presentation into organizing and creating phases. Organizing involves gathering your thoughts and doing outside research on your topic, while creating involves developing your presentation into a reality.

Organizing. Create an outline to help organize your thoughts and deliver a logical, well-structured presentation. William Baker in Writing & Speaking for Business (2012) demonstrates how to effectively organize any document or presentation. Begin by choosing a (a) top-down or (b) bottom-up outline. A top-down outline features an overall structure, while a bottom-up outline features many ideas that you later place into a list of broader categories.

In addition to an outline, you want to create a pattern to follow throughout your presentation. Baker’s OABC pattern includes an opening hook, agenda, body, and closing. Your opening and key message should feature a hook. The agenda is optional but should be a quick overview of what your body will contain. For the body, simply develop each point you highlighted in the introduction. Finally, feature a “call to action” in your conclusion. For instance, if you’re giving a pitch, ask for an investment from potential sponsors.

Your presentation should have three main points, with each point featuring supporting evidence that helps develop your message. Research has shown that the brain finds it easy to remember “threes,” and an audience can absorb more information if you stick to three main ideas. Supporting evidence can include: statistics, cases, and other relevant data. Always include stories and examples, as they will provide concrete models that supports your main point (Heath & Heath, 2008).

Creating. Communication is both visual and verbal, so include visual aids with your presentation. In fact, the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text! An audience member is more inclined to remember and comprehend a graph that shows revenues increasing compared to a line of text. Slide decks can serve as an effective visual aid; however, most people do not know how to effectively utilize slides. Slides should serve as an aid to the audience — and not a tool to help you remember your content. Proper visual design matters as much as content as it helps capture your audience’s attention. Garr Reynolds, slide deck guru, outlines ten design tips on his blog. To summarize:
  • Keep it simple
  • Limit bullet points and text
  • Limit animations
  • Use high-resolution graphics and adhere to the rule of thirds
  • Have a consistent theme
  • Use graphs, charts, and images (avoid tacky clip art)
  • Learn proper colors to use
  • Choose sans serif fonts 

Once you have spent enough time creating a beautiful presentation, be sure to sit down and rehearse. Always bring a few hard copies of your presentation on the day you present in case technical issues arise.


Delivering your speech can be stressful, and most people fear any form of public speaking; however, your delivery will give your audience an impression of your credibility and competence. verbalDelivery consists of both verbal and nonverbal portions. Research shows that 93% of communication consists of nonverbal and nonverbal cues (Merhabin & Ferris, 1967). Merhabin & Ferris also found that from the 93% of verbal and nonverbal cues, verbal cues contributed to 38% of communication, while other visual cues involved 55% (Figure 1).

Verbal. Verbal cues primarily involve your voice. Baker outlines how your pitch (high or low), rate (speed), volume (loud/soft), and tone (vocal attributes) all impact voice quality. “Perfect” voice delivery consists of varying each aspect of voice, but audiences generally prefer the following:

  • Use a low pitch and avoid using a nasal tone
  • Speak loudly and clearly
  • Slow down nerves make you speak quickly
  • Apply silent pauses to emphasize points
  • Speak with energy and avoid a monotonic voice

Like most oral presentation skills, good voice quality is hard to master for first-time speakers and requires practice.

Nonverbal. Nonverbal cues are often the hardest part of your presentation skills to master since most of the time you do not realize the mistakes you are making. When presenting in front of your audience, keep the following nonverbal tips in mind:

  • Maintain strong eye contact with your audience
  • Keep facial expressions relaxed and smile
  • Use hand gestures to animate your speech and project credibility and competence
  • Rest hands at your sides when not using gestures
  • Hold strong, straight body posture and don’t sway back and forth when presenting
  • Utilize your floor space and stand in front of the podium; own the room (Figure 2).space

Presenting for the first time can be a daunting challenge, but if you analyze, prepare, and deliver, you can quickly become a master. Tweak these steps to fit your needs; they provide a general framework for delivering great oral presentations. Now get out there and nail your presentation!

Mehrabian, A, & Ferris, S. R. (1967). Inference of attitudes from nonverbal communication in two channels. Journal Of Consulting Psychology31(3), 248-252.

November 20, 2014 at 5:01 pm 1 comment

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