Clear objectives, clear plan, clear signals: the secrets of presentation success 

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Clear objectives, clear plan, clear signals: the secrets of presentation success


Any presentation requires a clear strategy or plan to help you reach your objectives. The aim is not to spend twenty minutes talking non-stop and showing a lot of nice pictures. It is to convey a message that is worth hearing to an audience who wants to hear it.

However, how many speakers really hold an audience's attention? What is the secret for those who do? First, find out about the audience and what they need to know. Plan what you're going to say and say it clearly and concisely.

A good speaker uses various signals to help hold the audience's attention and make the information clear. One type of signal is to introduce a list with a phrase like There are three things we have to consider. The speaker then says what the three things are and talks about each one at the required level of detail. For example: There are three types of price that we have to think about: economic price, market price and psychological price. Let's look at each of these in more detail. First, economic price. This is based on production costs and the need to make a profit ... and the speaker goes on to describe this type of price. After that, he goes on to talk about the market price and so on.

Another signaling technique is to give a link between parts of the presentation. Say where one part of the talk ends and another starts. For example, a well organized presentation usually contains different parts and progression from one part to the next must be clear, with phrases like That's all I want to say about the development of the product. Now let's turn to the actual marketing plan. This technique is very helpful to the audience, including those who are mainly interested in one part only.

Another type of signaling is sequencing of information. This usually follows a logical order, perhaps based on time. So a project may be described in terms of the background, the present situation and the future. Key words in sequencing information are first, then, next, after that, later, at the end, finally, etc.

Still another technique which helps to emphasize key points is careful repetition. Examples are As I've already said, there is no alternative but to increase production by 100 per cent or I'd like to emphasize the main benefit of the new design - it achieves twice as much power with half as much fuel.

A final point concerns timing and quantity of information. Psychologists have suggested that concentration is reduced after about twenty minutes without a break or a change in activity. Furthermore, audiences should not be overburdened with technical details or given too many facts to remember. It is claimed that to ask people to remember more than three things in a five minute talk is too much. Some say that seven is the maximum number of any length of presentation. Any such calculations are probably not very reliable, but every speaker needs to think about exactly how much information of a particular type a specific audience is likely to absorb and to plan accordingly.



Exercise 3.The Main Body.


Read the following text and identify the following:

a) the relationship between the main body of the presentation and the introduction

b) a recommendation on one way to divide the main body of a talk.



The main body of the presentation contains the details of the subject or themes described in the introduction. All the above techniques are especially useful in making the main body easily understood. They help the audience to follow the information and to remember it. They also help the speaker to keep to the planned structure and to know exactly what stage has been reached at all times during the presentation. Clear structure doesn't just help the audience! In many presentations the main body can be usefully divided into different parts. The main parts, each with a main heading, are referred to in the Introduction (see Unit 2). Clearly there are many ways to divide the main body of a presentation and often different parts will themselves be divided into smaller sections of information:



Exercise 4. Listing Information.

Listen to two presentations of the same information about climatic change.

Which is easiest to understand: Example 1 or 2? Why?



Exercise 5.Now read the transcript of one of the two examples. Underline the words and phrases which list key information and give signals to the audience.


“...climatic changes in the Northern hemisphere may have been the result of three types of effect on the environment: first, volcanic activity, second, industrial pollution, and thirdly, transport. Let's look at these in more detail. First, volcanic eruptions. The 1991 eruption may have contributed to ozone damage causing the unusually high world temperatures in 1992. The second key area is industrial contamination. Industry puts important quantities of noxious gases and chemicals into the atmosphere. There are four important gases released by burning fossil fuels. These are CO2, SO2, CO and NO2. They contribute to the so-called 'greenhouse' effect and global warming. The second main area of industrial pollution of the atmosphere is the release of ozone damaging chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons and polychlorobiphenols. These are used in refrigeration, some manufacturing processes and in fire extinguishers. Finally, the third source of damage to the environment is transport. Car and plane engines are a problem because they release the so-called 'greenhouse' gases such as CO2.”



Practice 1

The information below is part of a Product Manager's notes for a presentation on an advertising mix for a new range of beauty products, with the brand name Cheri. He is talking to a marketing team set up to promote the new range. Use the notes to give a short summary of the information using listing techniques.


Begin as follows:

"Good morning, everyone. I'd like to talk about the advertising mix for the new Cheri range of beauty products. We are planning two categories of advertising, above-the-line and below-the-line, I'll talk first about ..."



Merchandising: Any direct efforts to encourage sales of a product, increase consumer awareness, etc.

Above-the-line advertising: Mass media advertising, such as television, radio and newspaper.

Below-the-line advertising: Forms of advertising at the point of sale or directly on the product, such as packaging, store displays, etc.


Now listen to a recording of a model presentation.


Practice 2

You are a design consultant working for Land Inc., a New York-based financial services company. The company plans to build new offices for its European headquarters in Brussels. There are three proposals for the design. Present an overview of each proposal to senior executives of the company.


a) Fox Lee Associates: British -$6.0m -conventional air conditioning and heating system -Neo-classical design b) Shikishima: Japanese -$8.5m -ultra-modern -solar energy-based heating and air-conditioning
c) Harald Khaan Group: American -$8.0m -20% more office space -low running costs, conventional heating - modern design -exceptional energy conservation  



Practice 3

Prepare an informal presentation on a topic of your own choice.

• It does not have to concern your work or studies but should be a topic which interests you.

• Think about having a clear introduction (see Unit 2) and a clear structure.

• Include visual aids (see Unit 6) if you like.

Give the presentation to your colleagues.


Exercise 6. Reading.


Read the following article and write its summary in 300 words.



The most important element of an oral presentation is, of course, the content and ideas you are trying to communicate. However, the communication of content is often impeded by a poor manner of delivery. 'Delivery' is the way in which you actually deliver or give your presentation.


Nervous Mannerisms

What do you do when you are nervous?

Everyone has different reactions to nervousness. By being aware of your particular nervous mannerism, you can work to overcome them.

Here are some common mannerisms exhibited when giving a speech.

Do you do any of them?

- Bite your fingernails

- Tap your feet

- Wave your hands/arms

- Play with your hair

- Move around a lot

- Speak too fast

- Speak too slowly

- Become stiff

- Shake/Shudder

- Play with objects in pockets, etc.

- Make strange facial expressions

- Say ?uh???uhm?

- Tap on the table/podium

- Repeat yourself

- Breathe heavily

- Sweat

- Giggle

- Pause inappropriately

- Clam up/Become speechless

- Shift your eyes

- Move your head around

- Gesture inappropriately


Most speakers are a little nervous at the beginning of a presentation. So it is normal if you are nervous. Pay special attention to the beginning of your presentation. This is when you establish a rapport with your audience. During this time, try to speak slowly and calmly. After a few moments, you will relax and gain confidence.


Audience Rapport

You need to build a warm and friendly relationship with your audience. Be careful to establish eye contact with each member of your audience. Each person should feel that you are speaking directly to him or her.


Body Language

What you do not say is at least as important as what you do say. Your body is speaking to your audience even before you open your mouth. Your clothes, your walk, your glasses, your haircut, your expression – it is from these that your audience forms its first impression as you enter the room.

All speakers feel a little nervous, at least when starting a presentation. That is quite natural. As the speaker, you are the centre of attention and you know that everybody is looking at you. What you need to communicate is a feeling of confidence and relaxation. Your body can help you to do this. The clothes you wear, the way you stand or walk, your facial expressions, your hand and arm movements – these are the language of your body, your body language.

Body language communicates at least as much as words. Even when you are not speaking, even before you start speaking, your body is communicating to your audience.

Actors use body language very effectively. They cannot act without body language. Every time you watch a film on television or in the cinema, you are watching actors using body language to convey a particular character, an emotion, a feeling, a situation.

So look on body language as a positive, powerful tool to help you in your mission.

· First of all, your appearance (clothes, hair etc)! It is essential that you dress appropriately and have well-groomed hair. Your audience will be distracted if your clothes are sloppy or flashy.

· Smile! When you enter, or as you are being introduced, smile warmly. Not too much! It should be a warm and sincere smile. You may feel nervous at this time. But this is when the audience is assessing and analysing you. So stand erect and remain calm.

· Do not lean on the podium or table. Leaning on a support suggests to your audience that you are weak or nervous.

· Continue to smile slightly at the beginning of your presentation. Then become gradually a little more serious as you tell your audience what you are going to talk about.

· Do not point your finger at the audience. This can seem very aggressive. If you want to use your hands, show your open palms with your hands spread wide. This is generally an appealing, positive gesture.

· Use occasional arm movements to underline important points. If you wave your arms around all the time, you will simply distract your audience. You will not communicate your real message. But the occasional arm movement can be useful in stressing something important.

· Look at your audience. Maintain eye contact. Make eye contact with every person in the room. Do not look only at one person. Look at each person individually, as though you are talking to that person as an individual. Would you buy a car from a car salesman who refused to look at you when talking to you?

· Do not walk around too much. It may make you feel better to walk up and down like a lion in a cage, but it is distracting for your audience. However, you can certainly walk a little, change your position occasionally, perhaps to make an important point or just to add variety to your presentation.

· Use your head! Movements of your head and expressions of your face can add weight to what your words are saying. When making a negative point, you can shake your head from side to side. When making a positive point, you can nod your head up and down. You can raise your eyebrows, for example, or remove your glasses for special effect or to underline a point.

· Control your voice! Speak slowly and clearly. To underline a special point, go even more slowly. Repeat a sentence if it is important. That's right. Repeat a sentence if it is important. You can also say the same thing again in a different way. Let your voice go up and down in volume (speak loudly, then quietly). And - sometimes - you can just stop speaking completely. Say nothing for a short time. A silent pause is a very powerful way of communicating.



Cultural Considerations

Try to learn about any particular cultural matters that may affect your audience. Cultural differences can often be seen in body language. To a Latin from Southern France or Italy, a presenter who uses his hands and arms when speaking may seem dynamic and friendly. To an Englishman, the same presenter may seem unsure of his words and lacking in self-confidence.


Voice quality

Your audience must be able to hear you clearly. In general, you should try to vary your voice. Your voice will then be more interesting for your audience. You can vary your voice in at least three ways:

- speed: you can speak at normal speed, you can speak faster, you can speak more slowly, and you can stop completely! Silence is a very good technique for gaining your audience's attention.

- intonation: you can change the pitch of your voice. You can speak in a high tone. You can speak in a low tone.

- volume: you can speak at normal volume, you can speak loudly and you can speak quietly. Lowering your voice and speaking quietly can again attract your audience's interest.

Style of Speech

A relaxed, extemporaneous style of speech and delivery will suit most formal and informal oral report situations. Effective speakers can deliver a presentation with great clarity yet with a relaxed and open manner. Extemporaneous speaking does not rely on a memorized text, nor is it a droning reading of a written manuscript. Instead, this style of speaking relies on visuals as cue cards. Let the main items on your overheads prompt you. If you have rehearsed your presentation, you will have a store of prepared but not stiff, memorized speech at your command. Extemporaneous speaking employs syntax close to that of conversational speech, without needless digressions or repetitions.

Extemporaneous speaking allows you to react to any audience interaction on the spot without fear of deviating from a memorized script.

1. Identify and try to avoid your verbal tics. All speakers have verbal tics, those phrases or sounds (for example, "okay," "umm," "and") that they insert during pauses or between sentences. Verbal tics, if repeated often enough, will annoy an audience and distract them from the content or argument you are trying to develop.

2. Speak clearly and loudly. If you cannot be heard you cannot communicate your ideas.

3. Modulate your voice to show emphasis. Oral communication does not have access to the rich store of typographical styles available to the writer to show emphasis. You can, however, show emphasis by stressing various words or by repeating key terms both in your visual materials and in your speech. In addition, varying your rate of speech will alleviate boredom and keep your audience alert.

4. Face the audience and establish eye contact with them. If you do not face the audience (and sometimes nervous speakers don't), most likely you will seem distracted; if you are facing the screen, you will not be audible. As you face your audience, establish eye contact with them.



Avoid excessive movement around the podium. Unnecessary movements can distract the audience's attention from the content of your presentation. Similarly, a stiff, rigid posture will distance some audience members. Adopt a relaxed yet inoffensive posture at the podium. Remember, the audience is more interested in what you have to say than in you.

· If you are delivering a formal oral presentation before a large audience, position yourself so that you do not obscure the screen behind you. Limit your range of motion, moving comfortably between the podium and the screen if necessary to underscore important items. Do not meander around in front of an audience.

· Hand gestures may be used to show emphasis, but as with verbal tics, be sure you are not indulging in nervousness by gesticulating unnecessarily.

· Always face the audience to maintain good eye contact and so that your voice will project into the room.

Audience Reaction

Remain calm and polite if you receive difficult questions during your presentation. If you receive particularly awkward questions, you can suggest that the questioners ask their questions after your presentation.



Language note

Main Body of Presentation


1. Beginning the main body "Now let's move to the first part of my talk, which is about …" "So, first…" "To begin with…" "I'd like to start by..." "First of all, I'll..."   2. Finishing a subject: "Well, I've told you about..." "That's all I have to say about..." "That's all (I want to say for now) on …" "We've looked at..."   3. Starting another subject: "Let's move to (the next part which is) " "Now we'll move on to..." "Now I want to describe... " "Let me turn now to..." "Next..." "Finally, let’s consider ... "   4. Finishing the main body of the presentation "Right, that ends (the third part of) my talk. " "That's all I want to say for now on ... "     Ordering: "Firstly...secondly...thirdly...lastly..." "First of that...finally..." "To start finish up..." Giving examples: "For example,..." "A good example of this is..." "Let me illustrate, … " "As an illustration, ..."  


Quick Communication Check


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