A student writes RWU for advice on how to give an effective presentation for class. He was offered the following advice:

Dear Student:

Thanks for writing RealWorld University. Per your request, here are some pointers to keep in mind as you prepare and deliver your next presentation:

1. Remember, it’s called “PUBLIC” speaking, not “SELF” speaking, so focus all your energy and attention into the message, not yourself. In other words, lose yourself in the message to a point that you can see and hear yourself giving your talk. As long as you are self-conscious about how you look, sound, and come across, your message will suffer.

2. In corporate humor, but carefully. While you’re outlining your presentation, if you think of something funny, put it in (but only if it reinforces your point). Use anecdotes, not jokes — leave that to the professionals.

3. Keep it interesting. Talk about things your audience is familiar with. Get them involved by asking them questions and getting them to participate (but always stay in control). Use examples and stories that they can relate to. Always try to give people a reason to listen. Which leads to my next point…

4. Use a lot of support for your presentation. If you’re giving an informative talk, demonstrate your points physically, visually or emotionally. If you’re giving a persuasive talk, support it with facts, statistics (not too many), and data that might be somewhat shocking to them. Tell stories that will bring your message alive. Use comparison and contrast, analogies and metaphors, and anything else you can think of to get your point across.

5. Structure your talk. Make your presentation easy to follow by telling them how many points you will be making (no more than 3 to 5). Verbally hold their hand through your presentation. You know your talk is well structured when you forget a point or place, and the audience can remind you.

6. Keep practicing. I’ve given over 300 presentations (maybe more), and I still practice and rehearse before I get on stage or even step into the classroom. You’re never to good not to practice. Know your presentation inside out (but without memorizing it word for word — that’s a no no).

7. Have a strong introduction that will grab the audience by the throat, and don’t let them go until you’re done. That was the most important lesson I ever learned about public speaking. Don’t ever start a presentation by saying hello or introducing yourself (save it after you’ve grabbed their attention). Let the first words out of your mouth be interesting (a story, a poem, a question, a quote, a prop, etc.). You will have the audience eating out of your hand when you learn to master this.

8. Explode with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious, but so is boredom. And you won’t get the audience excited about your message unless you’re excited about it first. Fall in love with your message, and get pumped about it. The way you get excited about a presentation is to learn something that most people don’t know, but should. It’s your job to share your findings with them, knowing that the information could possibly change their lives. Now, isn’t that exciting?

9. Keep eye contact. Don’t rely on your notes, rely on your knowledge and preparation. The more you look at your audience, the more you engage them and bring them into your presentation (also, it’s harder for them to fall asleep during your talk). Don’t stare (that will make you nervous), just glance at the entire room.

10. Close as strong as you opened. Review your 3 to 5 points and then close with something they will remember: a strong quote, a strong call for action (challenge them to do something), a poem, a story, a dramatization, etc. Most people will only remember the beginning of you presentation and the end, so make both memorable.

Here are some additional tips for you:

  • Memorize your introduction and your conclusion (they’re the most important parts of your presentation).
  • Realize that most people will be shocked by a good presentation rather than a bad one, so you have nothing to lose.
  • Imagine the kind of speaker you would want to see and hear, and be that kind of speaker.
  • If you follow these tips and keep them in mind as you prepare and give your presentation, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the results. As always, live purposefully.

    Professor Martin.

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