Create a shared meaning between the you, the speaker, and your audience
Having the knowledge and skills to effectively design and deliver a dynamic presentation is essential in the academic and professional world, regardless of field. Most colleges and universities require students to complete a public speaking course. In addition, many large organizations send employees to training course to develop their skills in this area. Why is it so important for college students and employees to be effective in this context?
The bottom line is that presentations are used to create a shared meaning between the speaker and the audience. Whether it is to inform peers of the results of your course project, communicate changes in the organization, provide updates on projects to your boss and co-workers, persuade the organization to invest in new technology, convince the city council to reduce waste, or recognize the accomplishments of a valued employee, the goal of a presentation needs to be accomplished. By using strategic design and delivery techniques, you increase your chances of accomplishing your goal. In addition, your successful efforts will leave others with a positive impression of your communication and leadership skills.
While there are a tremendous number of resources available on the internet to assist individuals wanting to increase the effectiveness of their presentations, the following checklist provides the basic things you should consider. This checklist contains items that are included within UMN Crookston’s Public Speaking course (SPCH 1101).
1. What are the logistical considerations/constraints of the speaking event?
If you don’t know the answers to the questions below, ask the person inviting you to speak. Although the following is not an exhaustive list, it may help you determine other questions you want to ask:
- What is the occasion/event that I’ll be speaking at (purpose)?
- Where is the presentation located?
- How many people will be in the audience?
- What is the start time for my presentation?
- How much time do I have to speak? Does that include time for questions?
- What should I wear?
- Do you want me to use presentation aids?
- What type of presentation aid would you recommend for this audience
- What technology is available for me to use (screen, projector, computer, etc.)?
- If I have handouts, how many copies should I make?
- Will there be someone available to help if I need assistance with set-up, technology, etc.?
2. Know your audience.
The more you know about your audience, the more you can tailor your presentation to them, thus making it more relevant and increasing your likelihood of accomplishing your goal. If you don’t know the answers to the questions below, ask the person inviting you to speak. Although the following is not an exhaustive list, it may help you determine other questions you want to ask:
- Who will be in the audience (position, demographics, etc.)?
- How much to the audience know about the presentation topic?
- What is the audience’s overall attitude towards the topic?
3. What is the purpose of the presentation?
The answer to this question will help you determine how to organize your presentation as well as choose the appropriate content. If you don’t know the answers to the questions below, as the person inviting you to speak. Although the following is not an exhaustive list, it may help you determine other questions you want to ask:
- Is the purpose to inform the audience?
- Is the purpose to persuade the audience?
- Is the purpose to deliver a presentation at a special occasion (toast, recognition, award, etc.)?
- Do you have suggestions on what content the presentation should contain?
4. Create a speaking outline with appropriate content.
Creating an outline will help you gather your thoughts and put structure of the content you want to deliver. If your presentation is not organized your audience may have difficulty understanding your content, and you will be less likely to accomplish your goal. Remember that audience members will not have a written manuscript to refer to if they get lost during your presentation. Based on the purpose, constraints, and audience of your presentation, consider including the following items:
- Attention catcher – get their attention with a statement, quote, startling statistic, story, etc.
- Speaker credibility – tell the audience why you are credible to speak on this topic (education experience, interest, etc.).
- Listener relevance statement – tell the audience why this topic is important to them.
- Thesis statement – tell the audience what your presentation is about and what you are trying to accomplish.
- Main points and sub-points – each main point should include information that supports the thesis.
- You may want to include research to support your efforts. If you do include outside research, you need to orally cite it in order to enhance your credibility and give credit to the original sources.
- Each main point should be balanced: i.e. you should spend roughly the same amount of time on each main point.
- Between your main points, you should include transitions that help the listeners understand how the ideas relate to one another.
- Thesis restatement – remind the audience of your presentation topic and purpose.
- Main point review – remind the audience of your main points (in the order in which they appeared in your presentation).
- Clincher statement – leave the audience with something to think about regarding your presentation.
5. Effectively deliver your presentation.
Along with content and structure, delivery can either enhance or detract from achieving your goal. We have all attended presentations in which the presenter’s delivery style either enhanced our learning or was so distracting that we stopped listening. The following lists several basic things to consider when delivering your presentation:
- Wear appropriate and comfortable clothing.
- Maintain good eye contact with your audience during at least 90% of your presentation.
- Use the space provided – don’t just stand in one spot.
- Use hand gestures that are appropriate.
- Use your voice and facial expressions.
- Portray confidence.
- Smile when appropriate.
- Eliminate distracting behaviors (repetitive gestures, chewing gum, verbal tics, etc.).
- Don’t just read your speech off of your paper, outline, or note cards; speak in a conversational style.
- If using a PowerPoint slideshow:
- Face the audience and not the screen.
- Don’t read off the screen.
- Ensure that your slideshow is visually pleasing – easy to read with few distracting elements.
- Ensure that your slideshow is free from errors.
6. Practice, practice, practice.
An important component of effective presentation delivery is practice. Determine the practice method that works best for you (in front of a mirror, in front of a friend, in the room where you will be delivering your presentation, etc.). Consider practicing several days before delivering your presentation. The more you practice, the more confident you will be with your content, organization, and delivery methods.
7. Dealing with speech anxiety.
Almost everyone experiences some level of speech anxiety when delivering a presentation. Effective presenters are those who use that energy to help them in their efforts. Consider the following when managing your speech anxiety before and/or during your presentation:
- Practice helps lessen speech anxiety.
- Don’t let negative self-talk undermine your efforts. Instead, turn those negative messages – like “I’m going to embarrass myself” or “I’m going to fall” – into positive messages – like “I’m going to be successful” and “I am poised and self-confident.
- Visualize your success.
- Remember to breathe.
- Pretend you’re confident.
- Remember that your audience wants you to be successful.
- Drink water prior to delivering your presentation to avoid a dry mouth/throat.
- Remember that the audience will likely not notice your anxiety.
Whether you are a college student or a working professional, this checklist outlines basic strategies you should consider when designing and delivering an effective presentation. In addition to this checklist, you are encouraged to investigate the many resources and tools in the library and on the internet that can aid you in your efforts. Similar to other skills (athletics, singing, acting, canoeing, etc.), the more experience you have delivering presentations, the more effective you will be.
By Kevin D. Thompson, Ph.D.
Last updated October 2016 by Allison Haas, M.A.