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Making Effective Oral Presentations

Ever notice how some people seem to have a gift for the spoken word? Their ability to deliver a message in a clear and interesting manner seems to come as natural as breathing. 


While the ability to articulate ideas in a way that engages others is an art, those of us who feel they lack that natural flair can still make effective oral presentations by following these simple guidelines: the 4S approach. Oh, and don't forget to practice, practice, practice!


Strategy. Planning is the primary element to developing a presentation that will communicate to the audience the exact information intended, and there are three steps in planning a strategy:

  • Selecting a topic. When possible the speaker should select a topic with which he is familiar because it provides a sense of comfort and creates a more credible presentation. However, if the topic has been chosen – say, by the boss -- plan on doing some research, either on-line or by talking to people familiar with the subject.
  • Understanding the purpose. People give speeches to motivate, inform, persuade, or teach. Presenters need to know their role in order to adopt the appropriate approach.
  • Designing the message. The audience needs to understand and be receptive to the message; therefore, the presenter needs to know their knowledge level and how open they are to hearing the message.

Structure. The effectiveness of a presentation is based on the ability to manage the flow of ideas in a logical manner. The presenter can help the audience to relate and understand their thought process by:

  • Introducing the topic. This introduction should include an opening statement of intent (what), the benefits of the discussion (why), how the presentation is organized (how) and any ground rules regarding asking questions or making comments.
  • Organizing the body. Make it logical so that it flows progressively from point to point. Provide problems and solutions, simple and complex thoughts, and reasoning to keep the audience engaged.
  • Encouraging the audience. An important part of developing a presentation is deciding how much audience involvement is desired. If participation is important, be sure to use leading questions to introduce or summarize sections and include visual aids.

Style. Just as important as what is presented is how it is presented. A presenter's personal style can be enhanced if they:

  • Use their space wisely. Standing stiffly at a podium and delivering a speech is likely to put the audience to sleep. It is important to move about the room, use natural gestures, and make eye contact.
  • Convey enthusiasm. Not overtly, but through changes in tonal quality, facial expressions, and body language. Keep the volume conversational.
  • Provide variety. Mix it up. Alternate between moving and standing still, speaking and doing, and humor and sincerity.

Supplement. Naturally, there may be questions and even challenges from the audience. Being prepared to handle them is important.  Remember to:

  • Prepare. Practice with others so they can provide a critique and point out areas of discussion.
  • Be calm. Do not become defensive or react negatively. Be candid, be firm, be succinct, and be willing to say if you don't have the answer, but be sure to get back to them with a response.
  • Maintain control. Don't let the audience dictate the pace or the topic. Be flexible, but firm.

Being a great public speaker takes time and practice. However, by using these steps even the novice can give themselves a shot at making an effective oral presentation.

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