Top 5 Oral Presentation Tips

Inspired by this post from @jonburg, here are a few tips for making more interesting presentations in 2009.

1. Avoid filler words. Commonly abused (read repeated over and over and over again) words: really, like, um, you know. How to avoid them? Know your shit! If you know your material backwards, forwards and sideways, you’ll have far more to say than what’s on the slides and thus will not need to fill at all.

2. Avoid cliché phrases. One example: I don’t know how many times I heard a variant of the Thomas L. Friedman’s phrase “The earth is flat” in presentations. I don’t think it particularly demonstrates either intelligence or well-roundedness in the speaker and that it almost never enhances and argument or makes a talk more interesting. IMHO, you are better served with a quote (and a reference) such as “Contrary to Friedman’s ‘the earth is flat’ theory” rather than “We all know that the earth is flat, so…”. The former sounds researched, the latter sounds more pretentious and “me too”.

3. Get a gadget. I love my Logitech USB Presenter tool (Model R-RB5) with a slide changer, talk timer and built-in laser pointer – and it works with both MacBook Pros and Windoze laptops. One tip though (conferred on me by annoyed listeners!): don’t move the laser point around frequently during presentations as it becomes a distraction rather than a way of directing attention to a point.

4. Keep it short and to the point. No one likes to hear a speaker spout off at the mouth for an indeterminant amount of time. Most points can be made in half an hour. Beyond that, folks – particularly large audiences – will lose focus and drop their attention. Plan for less blah-blah and more Q&A.

5. Be passionate. The more passionate you are about your subject, the more your audience will try to share that enthousiasm. The more bored and nonplussed you sound, the more the audience will tend to tune you out.

Have a fantastic 2009 everyone. Well try to anyway…

6. Added thanks to a comment below from Jeff Zemsky: Know your audience! This one is critical as getting a sales presentation when you expect a technical one or vise-versa is incredibly annoying and a waste of time. Your content may also differ depending on how many folks there are and how large the room is. You can get away with smaller fonts with a smaller audience but never, ever with a large audience in an auditorium. There are probably also versions necessary for whether you are speaking to fellow employees, business partners, existing customers or potential customers. Unfortunately, the only “library” I know of for Powerpoint is Sharepoint so other than having a mongo PPT with Custom Slideshows, (and since my company does not have Sharepoint Server anywhere that I know of), I tend to make separate versions for various audiences as necessary.  It is a painful exercise as things can get out of sync but I haven’t stumbled on a better way. I am as always open to suggestions though!


About mfinocchiaro

IT Architecture Guru for large PLM software company but dabbling in Web 2.0 and other stuff.
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4 Responses to Top 5 Oral Presentation Tips

  1. jon burg says:

    Great post. Love your point about passion. To me, presentations are all about inspiring via passion. Anything that gets in your way shouldn’t be there. Tell you story, make them believe, give them the gift of knowledge and get them involved.

    Great post!

  2. simonr says:

    All good points, but can I be a pain? 🙂

    While I fully agree with you for points one and two (who wouldn’t!) the devil is in the details. The question people need answering is HOW to do this… it’s pretty much a given that they should be doing so! 🙂

    As a trainer ( I find that this is one of the things I’m most often asked to ‘cure’ and it’s unfortunately one of the trickiest. The quickest tip I can give is to remember that fillers tend to come from when your mouth has run away from your brain and you’re stalling for time while you think of what to say next. The key lies in knowing what you’re going to say before you open your mouth! 🙂

    But don’t worry too much, a lot of research now suggests that some fillers actually *increase* the level of retention of information of the audience. I’m guessing that this is because it gives them time to catch up with what the speaker is saying, mentally… unfortunately just because they remember more of what’s said it doesn’t mean they don’t think the speaker was poor! 🙂


  3. Jeff Zemsky says:

    Great points and good refresher.

    One other thing I would add is know your audience. Don’t plan on spending time on corporate financial details if the group came to hear technical solutions and vice versa. The greatest presentations will bomb if they are not audience appropriate.


  4. mfinocchiaro says:

    @Simon Great points! Not a pain at all! I agree that knowing your shit is a prereq for public speak.I usually practice at least mentally and run through my slides 5 or 10 times before presenting them. Since they are mostly my own, I tend to know them by heart but more to your point, when I have to add and present someone else’s slide(s), the tendency to hem and haw is much greater.
    I guess that I just find it particularly annoying in myself and other speakers and perhaps other folks are less distracted by this.
    Thanks for the comments!

    @Jeff I totally agree and will add it to the original post. Totally true that misaiming on the content can really backfire! Thanks!

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