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Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
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Not everyone loves delivering speeches or presentations, so knowing a few tricks make it easier. In some instances, using power point or other visual aids is helpful. In other situations, an after dinner speech for example, the speech by itself reigns supreme. Look at your audience and the setting to determine the best forum for the delivery of the message. Some people appreciate using power point or some other visual prop to convey their message, while others find power point limiting for certain interactive seminars. If you are preparing for a presentation, this article may help. A few benefits of using Power Point: Power Point has many benefits, and the most obvious is there is less for the presenter to remember. The slides act as your teleprompter. Once you see the title of the slide, or the first line, it should start you on your story or point. If the idea of public speaking makes you want to be doing almost anything else, including swallowing ground glass, the power point slides can be comforting. Power point slides can help anchor you to the speech, give you a place to refer to if you get nervous or forget a point, and be a reference if you get a question that sidetracks you during the talk. One of the best aspects of power point is that it forces the presenter to get (and stay) organized. Some people claim they do their best speaking off the cuff, and they like doing a speech spontaneously. Honestly, this is only true for a very small percentage of the population. Most people do best when they think about their message, carefully craft their information, and then take that framework and organize it into a cogent presentation. Most terrific speakers write out their main points, expand their points with secondary points, and reiterate those main points throughout the dialogue with stories, ideas, or other information. Actually making the slides: Most people will listen to a percentage of what is said, but they will read and see what you have on the slides. Make the slides the points you want your audience to remember. The font size for the title of a slide should be no smaller than 36 point, and at least 28 point for major bullets. Presenters can use 24 point for indented bullets, but anything smaller tends to frustrate the audience because they can’t read it. One of the most irritating aspects from an audience perspective is illegible slides, and then they stop listening completely. You will know they have stopped listening if they start drafting their grocery store list. The font type should be normal and familiar, and most of all, easy to read for all audiences. Times New Roman, Arial, or Tahoma are all good standards. Some speakers use video clips of other speakers or humorous incidents to break up their speech. This makes me nervous for a few reasons. Video takes up computer space, it may not work with the audio visual support in the facility (particularly the sound), and most of all, people generally don’t want to watch a video of someone else if they came to see you. A few thoughts on the mechanics of a good power point:

  1. The rule of four. Keep your bullets on a slide to four or less. If there are more, no one will remember them.
  2. Use light on a dark background. Make sure the slides can be easily seen from the back of the room.
  3. Use upper and lower case letters. Thanks to email, ALL CAPITAL LETTERS is seen as shouting. Instead of CAPS, use bold, italics, size, or colors to emphasize points.
  4. Kill the animation! Yes, it is a cool feature. No, don’t use it. Flying in sentences word by word is not creating drama, it is creating annoyance. You cannot stop it once it starts, it takes time, and it is distracting at best. Excess animation can make audiences hostile. Most of us don’t need the help.

A few speaking Do’s and Don’ts:

  1. Never, ever, read the words on your slide from start to finish. You can emphasize a point, or you can get someone in the audience to fill in a word for you as you point to it on the slide. Most people can read faster than other people read out loud. They will get to the point before you do, and then you missed your opportunity to make a point.
  2. Never talk to the slide with your back to the audience!!!!! If your focus is on the slide, it is not on the audience. This is akin to a teacher who writes on the chalkboard and talks to the chalkboard at the same time. It is not effective.
  3. Open with something about the audience, focus on their problems and provide solutions, and close with something memorable. The opening slide should be interesting to the audience and give them an idea of what they can expect and why they should pay attention to you.
  4. Always know your opening and closing paragraphs verbatim. This is where people listen the most, so make them great. This is also where most presenters stumble. Knowing them word for word alleviates problems.
  5. All talks are about the audience, either providing information or motivating the audience or ideally, both.
  6. Give people a resource or a way to get more information from you. They need your contact information for future communications.

Better Speaking Tricks:

  1. Get rid of “and”, “uh”, “but”, “so”, “then”, and “hums.”
  2. Keep your hands out of your pockets.
  3. Make an effort to deliberately look at individuals in the audience. Make eye contact.
  4. Practice! Out loud! More than once! The whole presentation! Every joke and every gesture needs to be practiced.
  5. Spontaneity is great on vacation, not in a business presentation. Practice some more!
  6. Practice being loud enough to be heard.
  7. Use voice inflection to keep the presentation interesting.
  8. Know your material and be prepared to answer questions.
  9. When you pause for dramatic effect, freeze your body.
  10. Have fun! When you love your audience, it makes the presentation easy and enjoyable!


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