Preparing a Power Point Presentation

Powerpoint cover slide for one of our  courses
Powerpoint cover slide for one of our courses

As we all know, there is nothing more dull than a poor Power Point presentation. So, here are some hints on how to liven up your presentation.

First, ask yourself  about the audience.  Here are some questions I posed to myself for a client presentation in front of an audience of about 100 people:

What do I know about the audience?

  • Why is the audience there? This audience was participating in an annual meeting, so some  members were more vested in what I had to report than others.
  • What is your purpose? Mine was to demonstrate the value of my public relations program.
  • Are you part of a larger program or the main attraction? My presentation  was part of an overall meeting with other presenters preceding and following mine.

Given the above, I knew that I had to make my presentation engaging as well as informative.

My solution:

  • Grab audience attention by starting with a video clip or visual. The combination audio/visual speaks action.
  • Build suspense. Rather than start at the beginning of the report , I used an excerpt and said, “We’ll tell you more about it later.” This creates a sense of anticipation
  • Spice up the slides with visuals and colorful charts. There were a lot of statistics to report. To add interest, I used visuals and colorful charts.
  • Minimize slide content. To keep the pace moving, limit the text on each page to no more than three major points, avoiding long explanations.

Originally posted August 10, 2010.

Ten Speaker Tips From the Opera Stage

Speaking Advice from a famous Artist’s Manager: Ken Benson

Ken Benson

Ken Benson recently presented a master class to opera students at Hunter College.  Mr. Benson is a respected expert in the opera world and a long-time artistic manger.  Mr. Benson was with Columbia Artists Management for 25 years and serves as the in-house consultant to Masters’ students of Vocal Arts at the famed Juilliard School of Music.  Some of the advice he gave young singers applies equally well to speakers.

1)      Don’t be perfect, be expressive.

2)      Know your special qualities and strengths.

3)      Know when something fits yourpersonality-wise.

4)      The first phrase (or sentence) is the most important.

5)      It’s not the quantity (or how long your presentation is), but the quality.

6)      It’s all about how you use words.

7)      Make the speech or presentation your own.

8)      Be genuine and authentic.

9)      Take the audience with you, and create a transformative experience.

10)   Be prepared.

The Speaking Style of Bill Gates

Bill Gates_WikipediaA recent article in Forbes  lauded the speaking style of Bill Gates, and how he has been able to communicate complex ideas in an understandable way.

Gates knew it would be nearly impossible to encourage stakeholders to take action—or donate their wealth—if he failed to grab their attention and to persuade them to sacrifice for the greater good.

Among the takeaways to help you “grab attention”and “persuade”:

  • Use the “Rule of Three,” and keep your presentation to three major points.
  • Use visuals.  You don’t have to employ fancy graphics; a simple line drawing or chart can do the trick.
  • Use a creative attention-grabber that will surprise the audience.  It can be a prop, an anecdote, a short video, etc.

And here’s my own two cents: Wherever possible, strive to banish buzz words, corporate speak, and jargon from your presentations.  In other words, do as Bill Gates does, and keep it simple.

Presentation Planning: Five Questions to Ask

Before you begin planning your presentation, here are five helpful questions to ask yourself. Answering these will help you more effectively target your presentation.

  • What do you have to say that will interest others?Number 5 for blog
    Everyone has something interesting to say: an experience, particular field of expertise, a hobby.
  • Who are you talking to?
    It’s important to know your audience, their educational level, and biases (if any).
  • Why is your audience there?
    Have they come for a specific purpose? It may be an awards dinner, a banquet, a political discussion, an educational forum, a sales presentation.
  • What is your purpose?
    Your goal can be to inform, educate, entertain, sell a product or service, or challenge your audience on a specific topic.
  • How much time do you have?
    The less time you have to speak, the more important it is to edit your presentation down to its core. If you feel you have been allotted too much time, try adding more examples to bolster your main points. Or open your presentation up for questions and answers. If in doubt, remember that it’s better to leave an audience wanting more than overstaying your welcome.

Photo: Russ Morris via flickr

Is Perfection Killing your Public Speaking?

Speech Bubble_oopsIn one of my public speaking classes we had a spirited discussion about perfectionism and how the quest to be perfect can derail your public speaking.

One student reported that she was so nervous after stumbling on a word – which was basically inaudible to most present – that she fixated on that one moment for the rest of her presentation. That’s not unusual. Another expressed disappointment with herself because she was nervous in her final presentation. Yet another student said he was haunted by the prospect that he couldn’t live up to his family’s lofty expectations for him.  perfectionism and how the quest to be perfect can derail your public speaking.

What did they all have in common? The quest for the perfect can lead us to magnify our mistakes in our mind. It can also lead to closing up for fear that you’ll make a mistake or be less than perfect.

Perfection is rarely human, and sometimes we set the bar for ourselves too high. We have to meet unrealistic expectations, and, in doing so, set ourselves up for failure. To paraphrase Samuel Beckett, “Fail. Then fail better.”

Don’t hold back; rather, punch through the barriers you’ve set for yourself. If you stumble on a word momentarily, don’t let it be a roadblock on your path to good public speaking. Like a little pebble in a path, kick it aside and continue on. Resist the urge to fixate on it and turn it into an insurmountable boulder. Your audience will have long forgotten about it, and most of all, will usually appreciate you for having that most treasured of qualities: fallibility.

What We Can Learn from President Obama: Public Speaking and The State of the Union

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the elections coming up, there’s a lot of focus on the speaking styles of the presidential candidates.  Earlier in the year, I analyzed the President’s State of the Union Speech from a presentation perspective.

(Need a reminder?  Check out the speech on YouTube.)

No matter your political persuasion, the State of the Union address was a study in great public speaking.  Not only did the president have a commanding presence.  He captivated as he delivered his vision for America with a sense of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement. In fact, when asked to rate his speech, I gave it a 90 out of 100

Below, I’ve listed some attributes of his State of the Union speech, from which we can all learn.  But what about that remaining 10 points out of a perfect score of 100?  Not even the president is perfect, so I’ve also listed a couple of cons.  See below for my pro and con observations.

The Good


President Obama acknowledged all sides of the room, alternately facing center and then to one or the other side of the room.

His voice was expressive, as he used a palette of tone, color, dynamics (loud and soft), and rhythm in his delivery.

He paused after sentences so the audience could digest what he had to say.

He conveyed a sense of urgency, not only in his remarks, but in his voice, and stressed important words.

He sounded confident, decisive and authoritative.

The Speech itself

The president used easy-to-understand language that resonates with most people.

He backed up and illustrated his points with specific examples and anecdotal examples of real people benefitting from government programs.

Obama used catchy phrases, such as “We need to turn government from an unemployment system to re-employment system.

  • The speech employed  active verbs, talking about specific actions the president  is taking
  • The presentation itself was well crafted, and segued smoothly from one subject to the next


  • Too long
    • Dwelt too long in a couple of places
    • Slightly repetitive

Punch up your presentation

Many of us are faced with the same situation.  You have to give a speech or presentation on a subject that is inherently dull.  How can you add interest and excitement?

Here are five ways to spruce up a dull presentation:

  • Change the pitch and dynamics of your voice to add variety to your sound. Speak higher and lower, louder and softer.
  • Vary your rhythm.  Decide when to slow down or speed up.
  • Add emphasis and strategic pauses.  For suspense or questions, pauses work well.
  • Use anecdotes.  Explain your points with a personalized story.
  • Involve the audience.  Ask rhetorical questions.

These hints are sure to add variety and punch to your presentation.

Do you have any thoughts to share?