Giving an Effective Presentation

On digestion of this outline, you should be able to:


Definition of terms

SEX - Sphere of Experience

A variety of factors - such as age, education, skill level - affect effective communication: transmitter and receiver are often not on the same wavelength. You are in danger of speaking down to your audience if they know more than you realise, or you can talk above their heads if you assume they know more than they do. Length of words, sentences and paragraphs should be changed to suit the level of knowledge known or estimated.

Levels of Comprehension

The study level means the audience needs some help - which is why you are there! If they operate at the comfortable level for too long they will get bored - it means they already know all about the subject. If they operate at the impossible level for too long, you will lose them, for you may as well be speaking in a foreign language. Remember that your audience will operate at different levels at different times - you will not have all the members operating at the same level as each other all the time - if they are, it may mean they are all bored or all confused!

Transitional Devices

Words and phrases in a written or oral presentation that help the reader or listener move smoothly from one point to the next.

  • First, secondly, third, 4th, next ...
  • For example, for instance, let me illustrate ...
  • Consequently, meanwhile, afterwards, similarly, likewise ....
  • As I have just explained, The previous two points, In other words ....

Verbal presentations require:

If you wish, you may write a paper and then read it out, but you will gain more kudos from giving a more professional delivery.




You, as the transmitter, must first attempt to find out the nature and level of knowledge of your audience. What is their Sphere of Experience - know more than you do, as much, or less than you do?



This is an example of SEX in relation to vocabulary - your inner spheres are constantly expanding. Think of our growing awareness of time as we grow older - and experience the different levels: we know the next event happens after a sleep, a day, a week, a month, a year, a decade ... When can you really understand the latter - when you are 10, 20, 30, 60? Think how your SEX have grown in relation to money - you now appreciate the enormous cost of buying a house, whereas once you could only contemplate the cost of a car, a new toy, an icecream - can you really appreciate what a large sum such as a million or a billion means unless you have experience of what it buys?

Your audience will have different SEX in relation to your subject, its jargon and concepts. If you cannot find out beforehand, perhaps you should ask some direct questions at the beginning - but make sure you have a flexible presentation and are able to lift or drop the level appropriately.

What levels of comprehension will they be operating at - comfortable, study or impossible? Will they all be at the same level or will they be a mixed bunch? Will they be expecting a short, humorous, informal talk, or a long, serious, detailed presentation?


Mills & Boon


A management text book


Aristotle in the original

People like to start with what they feel comfortable and lead on to a study level - where they feel they are learning something. They do not want to operate at the impossible level for very long - maybe enough to give rise to a question - Would you please clarify/elaborate on ... Ther's one point I didn't quite catch ..... So, find out what they know and raise it briefly in your introduction; then move on to higher levels; and in your summary, make them think they have been operating at the comfortable level all the time!

If you cannot find out the answers to these initial questions, then you will have to make some educated guesses, prepare to be flexible, and wish yourself good luck! But, make sure you ask these questions before you start planning your presentation and try to find the answers from someone who knows.



Having established the aim of the presentation and the background to it, pass the same information on to your audience at the beginning: who you are, and what you are going to talk about.

Develop the talk as you would a written assignment - a logical sequence of points and a liberal sprinkling of transitional devices. Summarise regularly as you talk, for the audience cannot turn back a few pages to check on anything that is not clear. A listening audience needs to have everything explained in words of one syllable - slowly, clearly and with adequate use of visuals.

Decide the form that your script is going to take -

You do not want to read the content word for word, but neither do you want to lose your place, or forget essential points. Whatever system you choose, remember to

The introduction and conclusion should be chosen with great care, for, as with written presentations, the former is essential to grab your audience's attention, and the latter is important to leave them feeling pleased and satisfied with what they have heard:

Beware of humour. If you are an extrovert and can tell a good story, then try to do so. But not many of us have this ability - humour which falls flat puts you under a dreadful disadvantage: humour which offends, and that means anyone, is very unprofessional. If you are not absolutely certain that your story will be inoffensive, do not tell it.

Try to use personal anecdotes, your own or case histories, if your subject lends itself to them; you sound more convincing because you really know what you are talking about, and the audience can usually relate to them because they have had similar experiences. However, do not make up anecdotes and pretend they really happened to you - On my way to this presentation today, I met a little old lady .....

Each to his own, but beware of getting your audience offside - they are on your side to start with, even before you have opened your mouth, but once you have lost them, it will be very hard to get them back.


Visual Aids

The principles of using visual aids in a verbal presentation are little different from those in a written work: make them


c l e a r e r

simpler, and

more colurful !


Some time before you are due to present, set your visuals up at the front of a room of similar size to the one you will be using, and then go to the back to see if you can read them:

Never photocopy a page from a book - nobody will be able to read it; summarise the information or copy the page onto several overheads -

it is better to use 5 overheads in big print for 5 points rather than try to cram them onto one overhead.


Check beforehand that all the equipment you need is in the actual room you are going to use, in working order, and that you know how to use it properly. Find out from where in the institution you may borrow such equipment if it is not available in the room. Make sure there are spares available for equipment which might need them! Take your own whiteboard markers and pens, perhaps even a spare OHP lamp? I once went out in the middle of a severe winter's night for a presentation; the presenter intended to use a carousel slide projector with an audio tape, but he had forgotten the power lead; we waited for 30 minutes while someone tried to find a spare - then he was forced to talk to us with no visual aids - what a disaster for him amd for us!

Use a variety of aids to keep the audience attention at a high level - black and white boards, posters, photographs, overhead transparencies, charts. Practise writing on the boards so that your writing can be read clearly from the back row, and plan how the finished board will look; make sure the pictures are big enough, or numerous enough, for all to see.

Do not show any more information than you need at the time - cover up that which is not currently required and practise different ways of revealing it at the right time. For obvious reasons, graphic design is just as important here as elsewhere, as is the professional approach to the finished product. There are little tricks for pointing to specific items on an overhead such as putting a marker pen on the projector at the right place - remember that a nervously shaking hand will be a major distractor when it is enlarged on the screen! Laser pointers are excellent - but the same applies: switch it on and point to the item, then turn it off if you are nervous - we don't want the audience moving their heads around as they follow the dancing red dot!

Production of visuals is not difficult, but it can take time, and there are some techniques to make life easier. The easiest visuals are simply summaries of your main points, the headings of your notes - do them on the computer or use a texta [with careful lettering]. If you can produce some clip art, charts, spreadsheets, so much the better - but remember the guiding principles - bigger, clearer, simpler, more colourful. I am sure you have witnessed a detailed spreadsheet being put up and then those simple words - As you can all see ...

Do not hand out material for the audience to read whilst you are talking. They cannot read and listen effectively at the same time - if you show an overhead, or a photograph, for example, pause and let them digest the contents; this is also a good opportunity for you to check your place, calm your nerves, and see what comes next.

If you have a handout with more details, announce that it will be available at the end of the presentation. If you must hand out material during your talk, give them time to read it and ask questions before you proceed. Never ever give your audience a handout, put a copy of the same on an OHP, and then proceed to read it to them!



Speak slowly and distinctly - use eye contact to give the impression of a personal relationship, and to make sure they are not going to sleep! In this regard, make sure the room is well ventilated, and give the audience a chance to move and cough occasionally - I have known lecturers who told us all to stand up, put our hands above our heads, turn around, and sit down again, but you probably will not have to resort to these measures. And sometimes it can break the flow - you have to get them back on track again.

Speaking of which, keep track of time -

Whatever the system, you do not want to waste your preparation efforts by cutting out important points or by seeming a donkey because you suddenly treble your rate of delivery - or that other donkey who suddenly goes very slowly because there are another 10 minutes left.

Use variety to keep them awake and concentrating. The span of concentration of a child is only 10 minutes - for adults, it is 5 minutes! Adults cannot concentrate for more than 20 minutes unless they are very motivated - so

If you can involve your audience, at some stage,in all four activities, then their interest and retention rates will be much higher.

Do not ask open ended questions - Who can tell me ... ? - because the chances are that no one will be game to answer. Ask questions directly of particular people - dwell a pause, and if the answer is not forthcoming, ask someone else. Never let a member of your audience get embarrassed, for the rest will sympathise with that person rather than with you.

Do not worry about your personal habits unless you think they may be distractors, barriers to effective communication. There is no need to stand stock still - feel free to move around or to wave your hands about: but keep an eye out for audience reaction. They should be concentrating on what you are saying, not wondering how long it will be before you fall off the dais! Ask someone to watch you rehearse, or arrange to be videotaped, if you are not too shy. Try not to be selfconscious of your movements - an audience needs to feel rapport with a speaker, and someone who is relaxed is better than someone who gives a polished but stilted performance.

Speaking of which, you are giving a performance, so make sure that it is a good one, and professionally done, This means taking time to prepare, and being prepared to put in your best effort. Actors have rehearsals, timing, cues, scripts - so should you.


Questions and Answers

Be courteous, concise and careful. Many people will be too nervous to ask questions, so encourage them; others may be afraid of making fools of themselves by asking stupid questions - so answer everything pleasantly and encouragingly. [That's a very interesting question ... ]

Do not get carried away when you are ad libbing and not tied down by a script. Be prepared to take questions on notice and respond to the person after the presentation rather than try to pretend you know more than you do

Do not put all your information into the presentation - save something for dessert. If there are questions, you will not be stumped for answers; if there are no questions, you can add some extra information and thus avoid the embarrassment of a pregnant silence - Are there any questions ? ........................ ! Some speakers have been known to plant questioners in the audience - it saves the embarrassment of either no questions or questions you cannot answer! And it gets the Q & A session off the ground.



When it is all over and everyone has left, ask yourself whether or not you achieved your aims. If you are really brave, ask someone else the same question - not whilst the audience is still present for they may not be game to give you the bad news.

Would you do the same presentation in exactly the same way if you had to give it to a different audience - to the same audience at a different time - to a larger or smaller audience? You should be able to suggest changes, subtle or otherwise, for changes of time, place or audience, and you may realise that some visual aids worked better than others, some anecdotes aroused more reaction, some points need elaboration, you spent too long on others, you had not grasped the SEX of the audience etc etc. Even if this [presentation is a one off, never to be repeated, you should still perform an evaluation - it will help make your next presentation better, wherever or whenever.

You can always improve your presentation/performance, so make sure that you make even embarrassing incidents work for you. Adopt a positive attitude - not that was so awful, I'm never going to give a speech again, but rather well, that wasn't so bad but I could improve it by ... Always write notes on your script to show where changes need making for the next time - it may be a different subject, or audience, but you can learn from each performance.


In summary - PUDAL :


Plan with care and effort

Use visual aids

Deliver clearly and with variety

Ask for and answer questions

Learn from every experience.



Answer these question before you step up to speak:

Don't forget the Visual Aids


Any other points I need to answer?

Go to the Bibliography

Return to List of Outlines

Email any queries