Professional Presentation Skills – Part Five

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By Peter Mosley

(Links to previous parts at bottom of the article)

Preparation

How much time goes into researching, writing, and preparing for a speech?

According to an article I read, it takes clergymen about seven hours to prepare a 20-minute sermon. Terry C. Smith, a presentations expert and author of the book Making Successful Presentations, says that to give his best effort requires one hour of preparation for every minute he will talk.

Of course, the time you must spend to prepare your talk depends on several factors: your experience and skill in public speaking, your technical knowledge of the topic, whether the assistance of a company technical writer is available, and the importance of the talk. Also, it takes considerably less time to brush up an old presentation than to create a new one. The point, however, is that preparing a memorable address requires many hours–much more time than inexperienced speakers ever dream would be required. Plan your schedule accordingly so you can give your talk the attention it deserves.

In a 20-minute, 2000-word presentation, there are limits to the amount of information that can be transmitted. To ensure a meaningful, informative talk, focus on a narrow, specific subject rather than a
broad-based area.

A speech is just that … speech. And writing a speech is not the same as writing for the printed page. Words intended to be spoken must sound like conversation, or else the talk will seem stiff and stilted. To ensure a good talk, read your rough draft aloud, first to yourself, and then to others. Rewrite any sentences that sound awkward or unnatural until they roll off the tongue (and into the ear) smoothly and naturally.

A little humor can help lighten a heavy technical talk and prevent your audience from drifting off. But overdoing the humor can ruin an otherwise fine presentation and erode the speaker's credibility.

The best way to handle this is to pepper your talk with tidbits of warm, gentle, good-natured humor but
to avoid jokes, unless you are a natural-born comedian and have training. Do not use off-color humor at any time, because what is funny to one person is offensive to another. Never lead off with a prepared joke. If it fails, it turns off the audience, and you look like a clown.

Bonus Tips

  • Don't say "absolutely" or "that's exactly right" when a simple "yes" will do. "Second of all" is another questionable phrase that adds unproductive syllables.
  • Provide your own written introduction. The person introducing you will appreciate it and you'll know it's accurate and appropriate for your talk.
  • Don't drink coffee or soft drinks before speaking. They cause sibilance (a hissing sound) in forming certain words, especially words with "s" beginnings and endings.
  • Carry visual aids and Power Point decks in several formats. Thumb drives, CDs, overheads, and flip charts, so you'll be prepared for any situation when you travel.

 

Here is Part One

Here is Part Two

Here is Part Three

Here is Part Four

 

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