Public Speaking & Presentation Skills

Presentation Skills determine the effectiveness of one's expression of interest. People with good presentation skills are able to express themselves more comfortably and confidentially. On the other hand poor presentation skills may spoil a good idea and pose a huge barrier to effective communication.
A good presentation should take into considering the following:
  • Establishing the purpose
  • Developing the thesis
  • Analysing the situation
  • Analysing yourself as the speaker.
  • Analysing the occasion.
  • Structure of the presentation
Establishing a Purpose
The first step in planning any presentation should be to define your purpose. A statement of purpose describes what you want to accomplish. Then, after you have spoken, the same statement helps you know whether you have achieved your goal. There are two kinds of purposes to consider: general and specific.
  • General Purpose
Giving a presentation without recognizing, focusing on, and remembering your objective is the equivalent of dumping the contents of your briefcase all over your boss's desk. You don't speak to fill time by reeling off fact after unorganized fact nor to show beautiful pictures that take the breath away, or to impress the audience with your wit and skill as a dramatic speaker. You don't give speeches to win speech-making awards. You are there to make the best of an opportunity, just as you do in any other aspect of your business activities. There are three general purposes.
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  • To inform: The goal of an informative presentation is either to expand your listeners' knowledge or to help them acquire a specific skill. Teaching a group of product managers about new developments in technology, training a new sales representative, or giving a progress report on regional sales to a senior sales manager are all typical examples of informative talks.
  • To Persuade: Persuasion focuses on trying to change what an audience thinks or does. Selling is the most obvious example, but there are others as well. A union organizer will try to persuade a group of employees to vote for a union, while a management representative might try to persuade them not to. An accountant might try to convince management to adopt a different procedure for reporting expenditures. A marketing manager might try to convince sales representatives to be more enthusiastic about a product that has not sold well.
  • To Entertain: Sometimes a speaker's goal is to help the audience have a good time. The welcoming speaker at a convention might concentrate on getting the participants to relax and look forward to the coming events. After-dinner speakers at company gatherings or awards dinners usually consider themselves successful if their remarks leave the group in a jovial mood.
  • Specific purpose
    If you think of a speech as a journey, your specific purpose is your destination. Stating the specific purpose tells you what you will have accomplished when you have "arrived". A good specific-purpose statement usually answers three questions: 
    Whom do I want to influence?
    What do I want them to do?
    How, when, and where do I want them to do it?
    Your purpose statement should combine the answers to these questions into a single statement: "I want (who) to (do what) (how, when, where)."
Here are some examples of good purpose statements: 
  • "I want the people who haven't been participating in the United Way campaign to sign up."
  • "I want at least five people in the audience to ask me for my business card after my talk and at least one person to schedule an appointment with me to discuss my company's services."
  • "I want at least five people in the department to consider transferring to the new Fort Worth office."
  • "I want the boss to tell the committee that he's in favour of my proposal when they discuss it after my presentation."
Like these examples, your statements should do three things: describe the reaction you are seeking, be as specific as possible, and make your goal realistic.
  • Describe the Reaction You Are Seeking: Your purpose statement should be worded in terms of the reaction you want from your audience. You can appreciate the importance of specifying the desired results when you consider a statement that doesn't meet this criterion: "I want to show each person in this office how to operate the new voice-mail system correctly." What's wrong with this statement? Most important, it says nothing about the desired audience response. With a purpose such as this, you could give a detailed explanation of the whole system without knowing whether anyone learned a thing! Notice the improvement in this statement: "I want everyone in this group to show me that he or she can operate the voice-mail system correctly after my talk." With this goal, you can get an idea of how well you've done after delivering your presentation.
  • Be as Specific as Possible: A good purpose statement identifies the who, what, how, when, and where of your goal as precisely as possible. For instance, your target audience (the who) may not include every listener in the audience. Take one of the statements we mentioned earlier: "I want the boss to tell the committee that he's in favour of my proposal when they discuss it after my presentation." This statement correctly recognizes the boss as the key decision maker. If you've convinced him, your proposal is as good as approved; if not, the support of less influential committee members may not help you. Once you identify your target audience, you can focus your energy on the people who truly count. The best purpose statements describe your goals in measurable terms.
  • Make Your Goal Realistic: Presentational speaking is like most other aspects of life: you usually don't get everything you want. The available time, the characteristics of your audience, and the subject itself can limit what you can realistically hope to accomplish. Thus, your purpose statement should be attainable. For example, a sales representative selling expensive office equipment shouldn't expect to make a sale the first time she calls on a purchasing officer; instead, her purpose might be simply to get an appointment to make a presentation. Similarly, a department head training a group of new employees shouldn't expect to teach them the operations of the whole department in the first half hour (unless the operations are very simple); at the outset, he might select a few basic principles that he could expect them to learn and use for the first few days or weeks.
Developing the Thesis
The thesis statement sometimes called the central idea or key idea is a single sentence that summarizes your message. Once you have a thesis, every other part of your talk should support it. 
The thesis gives your listeners a clear idea of what you are trying to tell them:
  • "We're behind schedule for reasons beyond our control, but we can catch up and finish the job on time."
  • "Our new just-in-time order systems help us make sure that our supplies are not dated or shelf-worn, but we must monitor the inventory daily."
Presentations without a clear thesis leave the audience asking, "What's this person getting at?" And while listeners are trying to figure out the answer, they'll be missing much of what you're saying. 
The thesis is so important that you will repeat it several times during your presentation: at least once in the introduction, probably several times during the body, and again in the conclusion. 
New speakers often confuse the thesis of a presentation with its purpose. Whereas a purpose statement is a note to yourself outlining what you hope to accomplish, a thesis statement tells your audience your main idea.
Analysing The Situation
A purpose statement describes the end you want to achieve, but it doesn't describe how you can reach your goal. The means is the presentation itself the ideas you use and the way you express them. Before you plan even one sentence of the actual presentation, you have to think about the situation in which you'll speak. A presentation that might fascinate you could bore or irritate the audience. You can make sure that your approach is on target by considering three factors: yourself as the speaker, the audience and the occasion.Asking yourself a number of questions about your listeners will shape the way you adapt your material to fit their interests, needs and backgrounds. 
  • What are their positions?
    Begin by considering the job titles of the members of your audience. If audience members are specialists in engineering, finance, or marketing, for instance, they'll probably be interested in the most technical aspects of your talk that pertain to their specialties. On the other hand, an audience of non-experts or generalists would probably be bored by a detailed talk on a subject they don't understand. Surprisingly, most managers fall into this category. Even an executive who came up through the ranks as an engineer takes a different perspective upon becoming responsible for an entire job. The details that might once have been fascinating are now less important perhaps still interesting, but not suitable for an overall view of a project. "Just give me a quick description, a schedule, and the dollar figures" is a common attitude.
  • What are their Personal Preferences?
    The personal idiosyncrasies of your listeners are just as important as their job titles. Some people insist on a formal presentation, while others are much more casual. Some audiences appreciate humour, while others are straight faced. Some people hate to waste time on casual conversation and digressions, while others are willing to work at a more leisurely pace. Knowing these preferences can make the difference between success and failure in a presentation.
  • What Demographic Characteristics are significant?
    A number of measurable characteristics of your listeners might suggest ways to develop your remarks.
    • One such characteristic is gender. What is the distribution of men and women? Even in this age of relative enlightenment, some topics must be approached differently, depending on your audience's sex. For instance, if you were trying to promote an equal opportunity program in your company, you might have to prove to male management that there was discrimination against women; the women in the company would probably already be aware of it.
    • A second demographic characteristic is age. A life insurance salesperson might emphasize retirement benefits to older customers and support for dependent children to younger ones with families. A speaker promoting a company health plan would discuss different activities with listeners in their twenties and thirties than she would with employees who were nearing retirement. Cultural background is often an important audience factor. You would use a different approach with blue-collar workers than you would with a group of white-collar professionals. Likewise, the ethnic mix of a group might affect your remarks. The point you make, the examples you use, and even the language you speak will probably be shaped by the cultural makeup of your audience.
    • Another demographic factor is the economic status of your audience. This factor is especially important in sales, where financial resources "qualify" potential customers as prospects for a product or service as well as suggest what features are likely to interest them. In real estate, for example, well-to-do customers would certainly be interested in different properties than less affluent ones. They might also be more concerned about the tax consequences of a sale and less concerned with monthly payments than with the interest rate, at which the mortgage is written.
  • What size is the Group?
    The numbers of listeners will govern some very basic speaking plans. How many copies of a handout should you prepare? How large must your visuals be to be seen by everyone? How much time should you plan for a question-and-answer session? With a large audience, you usually need to take a wider range of audience concerns into account; your delivery and choice of language will tend to be more formal and your listeners are less likely to interrupt with questions or comments. A progress report on your current assignment would look ridiculous if you delivered it from behind a podium to four or five people. You would look just as foolish speaking to a hundred listeners while reclining in a chair.
  • Why is the Audience there?
    Just like speakers, audiences have reasons for attending a presentation. Sometimes these reasons are straightforward; for example, the members of a sales force will attend a sales meeting to learn about the company's new products and how to sell them and so increase their commissions. Not all audience purposes are as clear, though. If the sales meeting is being held in Miami or Hawaii, some attendees could be most interested in the idea of an expense-paid vacation. Many attendees might assume that all the information presented at the meeting will also be provided in written form and will not listen carefully to the presentation. This doesn't mean that you should give up when you face an audience with ulterior motives. Rather, it means you need to find creative ways to achieve both the audience's goal and yours.
    If the computer service representatives you're addressing are hostile to the new computer system, they may attend the training session only because they're required to do so. Before they'll listen to your instructions on how to operate the system, you will need to convince them that the system has advantages for them, such as saving them time and making their job easier. If you don't do this, they may eventually make errors and blame them on the system. Sometimes you can develop an approach that satisfies all your listeners. Like those teachers who reach the greatest number of students, you can learn to be entertaining and informative at the same time. But you can't please everyone all the time. If some of your listeners want to hear about the new product line and some want to hear, in detail, why last year's line failed, you will probably have to make a choice. At such times, your decision should be based on who you are most concerned about reaching.
  • What does the audience know?
    A group of experts doesn't need the background information that other audiences would require. In fact, these people would probably be bored and offended by your basic explanation. It's also important to ask yourself what your listeners do not know: uninformed people or non-experts will be mystified (as well as bored and resentful) unless you give them background information.

    Also, ask yourself what misconceptions your listeners might have about the topic you're discussing. A potential customer might think that his current insurance coverage is perfectly adequate. Your boss may think that the obsolete equipment that's slowing your productivity is perfectly fine. When misconceptions like these exist, be sure to clear them up early in your presentation or even beforehand, if possible.
  • What are the Listeners' Attitudes?
    You need to consider two sets of attitudes when planning your presentation. The first is your audience's attitude toward you as the speaker. If listeners feel hostile or indifferent, your approach won't be the same as the one taken if they are excited to hear from you. In addition to listeners' feelings about you, the audience's attitude about your subject should also influence your approach. Do your employees think the benefits of the new pension plan are too far in the future to be important? Does the sales force think the new product line is exciting or just the same old wine in a new package? Do the workers think the new vice-president is a genius or just another figurehead? Attitudes such as these should govern your approach.One way to discover the attitudes of your audience and to gain the audience's approval of your idea is to meet with listeners before your presentation. With this sort of preparation, you can make whatever adjustments are necessary to win over the key decision makers before you begin your formal presentation.
Analysing Yourself as the Speaker
No two presentations are alike. While you can learn to speak better by listening to other speakers, a good presentation is rather like a good hair style or sense of humour: what suits someone else might not work for you. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to try to be a carbon copy of some other effective speaker. When developing your presentation, be sure to consider several factors.
  • Your Purpose
    The very first question to ask yourself is why you are speaking. Are you especially interested in reaching one person to one subgroup in the audience? What do you want your key listeners to think or to do after hearing you? How will you know when you've succeeded? 
  • Your Knowledge
    It's best to speak on a subject about which you have considerable knowledge. This is usually the case, since you generally speak on a subject precisely because you are an authority. Regardless on how well you know your subject, you may need to do some research on the latest trends and analysis in that sector.
  • Your Feelings about the Topic
    An old sales axiom says, "You can't sell a product you don't believe in." Research shows that sincerity is one of the greatest assets a speaker can have. When you are exited about a topic, your delivery improves: your voice becomes more expressive, your movements are more natural, and your face reflects your enthusiasm. On the other hand, if you don't care much about your topic (whether it's a report on your department's sales, a proposal for a new program, a product you're selling, or a new method you're explaining) the audience will know it and think, "If the speaker doesn't believe in it, why should I?"
Analysing The Occasion
Even a complete understanding of your audience won't give you everything you need to plan an effective presentation. You also need to adapt your remarks to fit the circumstances of your presentation.
  • Facilities: Will you be speaking in a large or small room? Will there be enough seating for all the listeners? Will the place be brightly or dimly lit? Will it be well ventilated or stuffy? Are chairs movable or fixed to the floor? Will there be distracting background noises? Questions like these are critical, and failure to anticipate facility problems can trip you up. For example, the absence of an easel to hold your charts can turn your well-rehearsed presentation into a fiasco. Lack of a convenient electrical outlet can replace your slideshow with an embarrassing blackout. Even the placement of doorways can make a difference. Most experienced speakers won't settle for others' assurances about facilities; they check out the room in advance and come prepared for very possible disaster. 
  • Time: There are two considerations here. The first is the time of day you'll be speaking. A straightforward, factual speech that would work well with an alert, rested audience at 10 A.M. might need to be more entertaining or emphatic to hold everyone's attention just before quitting time. Besides taking the hour of day into account, you also need to consider the length of time you have to speak. Sometimes the length of your talk won't be explicitly distracted, but that doesn't mean you should talk as long as you like. Usually, factors in the situation suggest how long it's wise for you to speak.
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Structure of a Presentation
Most effective presentations follow a well-known pattern. "First tell them what you're going to tell them; then tell them; then, tell them what you've told them." In outline format, it looks like: 
  • Introduction: A good introduction should accomplish the following.
    • Capture the listener's attention
    • Give your audience a reason to listen
    • Set the proper tone for the topic and setting
    • Establish your qualifications
    • Introduce your thesis and preview your presentation
  • You can open the presentation in the following ways:
    • Ask a question. Asking the right question is a good way to involve your listeners in your topic and establish its importance to them.
    • Tell a story which is short, relevant and concise.
    • Present a quotation. Quotations have 2 advantages. First, someone else has probably already said what you want to say in a very clever way. Second, quotations let you use a source with high credibility to back up your message.
    • Use humour. The right joke can be an effective way to get attention, make a point, and increase the audience's liking for you.
  • Body
    This is the gist of the presentation and therefore its most integral part. Keep in mind the following:
    • There must be a strong coherence between the various parts of the main body.
    • There must be a sequential flow of ideas/points.
    • There must be a definite structure to avoid random treatment of content.
    • Try to make the main body interesting by including relevant examples and cases.
    • Establish and maintain eye contact. A speaker who talks directly to an audience will be seen to be more involved and sincere. Be sure your glance covers virtually everyone in the room. Look about randomly; a mechanical right- to-left sweep of the group will make you look like a robot. If the audience is too large for you to make eye contact with each person, choose a few people in different parts of the room, making eye contact with each one for a few seconds.
    • Stand and move effectively. Having good posture doesn't mean being rooted to the ground. Moving about can add life to your presentation and help release nervous energy. You can approach and refer to your visual aids, walk away and return to your original position, and approach the audience. Your actions should always be purposeful.
  • Conclusion A conclusion has two parts: a review and a closing statement.
    • The Review should contain a restatement of your thesis and a summary of your main points.
    • A strong closing statement will help your listeners to remember you favourably; a weak ending can nullify many of your previous gains. Besides creating a favourable impression, the closing statement will give your remarks a sense of completion. You shouldn't leave your audience wondering whether you've finished. Finally, a closing statement ought to incite your listeners, encouraging them to act or think in a way that accomplishes your purpose.

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