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Presentation Skills, Back to Basics by Cathy Bolger, PhD
"It's not what I say, but how I look when I say it."—Mae West
There are many high tech methods to razzle-dazzle your audience. However, don't forget that your voice and body language will send over 80% of the message. In other words, if you don't have good presentation skills, you'll be less successful getting your message across.

Eye Contact
Two common habits can work against you. First, if you look over the heads of your audience, you may lose connection with them. Also, turning to look at a screen while you are talking breaks connection. To correct this, always face you audience when you speaking. Deliver a thought to one person, then move to another for the next thought. Eye contact is often identified as the most important presentation skill.

"I am very cautious about taking training classes so when I say the presentation class was great, that is a huge compliment. I learned so much and you were inspiring. Thanks for assisting me in improving my presentations."

Participant from an aerospace company

"I had to give a 2 hour presentation to the customer yesterday... I was told by the customer that I made the material seem interesting and gave an excellent presentation. One of the main reason's I think it went so well was some of the skills I learned in your class so I just wanted to say thanks."

Daniel Williams
Systems Engineer
BAE Systems

The audience has to hear you. Project! I have often encouraged presenters to pretend they are shouting. The audience doesn't hear shouting, but rather energy and commitment. In addition to voice projection, presenters must also speak clearly with voice emphasis to support the message. In summary, speak loudly enough to be heard, clearly enough to be understood, and varied enough to be interesting.

Presenters should "stand up straight," with feet planted shoulder width apart. Any movement should be purposeful, such as moving toward the audience to make a point.

Gestures are an extension of words. Make them big, and then arms should rest comfortably at the side. I sometimes instruct presenters to visualize a grapefruit under each arm. The grapefruit should drop when the gesture is made. A current Toastmasters video recommends at least two gestures per sentence. When using AV equipment, resist the temptation to cling to, or play with anything in your hands. Use it then set it down.

Visual Aids
Effective use of visual aids can positively impact communication. If the audience members both hear and see your message, they are more likely to pay attention and retain the information. Two keys to effective visual aids are represented by the acronyms KIS and KILL.

  • KIS: Keep it simple. Include just one idea per visual. Abide by the 6 by 6 rule—no more than six lines per visual and no more than six words per line. The speaker then fills in information and context.

  • KILL: Keep it large and legible. The audience has to be able to see and read the words on your visual.
Color and graphics also add interest and are believed to aid retention.

After thorough preparation, the effective communicator will look at the audience, speak loudly and clearly, make large meaningful gestures, and assume good posture. In addition he or she will effectively use visual aids that are simple, large and legible.

Recommended References:
Browse Amazon Books Campbell, Michael G., Bullet Proof Presentations. Career Press, 2002.

Cathy Bolger, PhD is a San Diego-based consultant specializing in Presentation Skills, Meeting/Facilitation Skills and Leadership.

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