TNA2.2 Dissemination/Presentation skills

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Presentation skills training, 10-11th July 2012

Malcolm Love, SplendidThingMedia

Before the talk

  1. Preparation – create the talk the way it will be delivered – verbally. Work from your slides, or written talk, then refine by practicing the delivery out loud. The slides should match the talk, not the other way round. Keep text on slides simple and short.
  2. Visualisation – visualise giving the talk in detail, the stage, the setting, the audience. Giving the talk itself will then start to feel like familiar ground from the start
  3. Inspiration – one tip is to play your favourite inspirational music to yourself just before you go on stage to get into an upbeat mood.

Body Language

This section has tips for using body language to convey confidence from the outset. -

  1. First moments - Once in front of the audience, take a moment to plant yourself physically on the stage in a relaxed way, take a look at the audience calmly, concentrate on breathing steadily, then start.
  2. Glass box – When first on stage, the natural tendency is to occupy a small physical space when you first start, as if you are inside a glass box or column. Break out of the box!
  3. Eye contact – Gently establish eye contact with the audience. Don’t fix on just one person but meet all eyes. For a large audience, pick out people in different sections of the crowd.
  4. Nerves – try to avoid signs of nervousness eg wringing hands, pacing, rocking on your feet etc
  5. Keep breathing! One tip is to concentrate on breathing just before your talk to centre yourself and help you project your voice to the back of the room – eases tension around shoulders, throat, chest.
  6. Microphone – for a podium mike, keep it between your mouth and where you are looking in the audience or you will go off-mike. For a radio mike, make sure you have somewhere to wear the transmitter eg waistband, pocket.
  7. Hand gestures – these help to guide the audience to the important parts of your talk. They provide emphasis, colour and interest if used well. They help the audience visualise what you are describing if you use representative gestures ie mime what you are talking about. Don’t overuse gestures however or it is tiring, for you and the audience. It’s ok to have your hands by your sides sometimes.

Presentation style

  1. Tell a story – take the audience with you – paint them a picture in words
  2. Irreverence – a touch of irreverence in your talk will go down well with the audience, don’t take yourself or the situation too seriously
  3. Clarity – don’t confuse the audience – keep your narrative simple
  4. Mistakes – if you treat them as important, so will the audience. If you make a mistake, just move on.
  5. Relaxed – everyone is more relaxed discussing something sitting round their kitchen table. Mentally place yourself in that sort of relaxed situation.

Telling a good story

Good stories, whether films, books or talks have similar elements in common

  1. Originality / freshness
  2. Takes you to another place
  3. Creates the right atmosphere
  4. Draws you in from a strong start
  5. Includes characters you care about
  6. Gripping plot – you want to know what happens next
  7. Suspense OR surprise (difficult to have both)
  8. A satisfying ending

<STORY ARC DIAGRAM> There are 2 types of stories when it comes to a presentation – a report, and a pitch. A report is a straightforward narrative describing your work. A pitch is a story that you tell where you want something from the audience at the end eg to use grid services, buy something, provide something, fund something.

A pitch should present the problem, then offer the solution. There is often one key slide or moment in the talk which is the crux of the talk. This is the key point that people should take away with them.

Level of detail

A news story has a pyramid structure. The title will tell the full story in a nutshell. The first paragraph will also tell the full story, but with slightly more detail. Each following paragraph tells a bit more of the story – but the story will still be intact if the paragraphs are cut from the bottom of the piece upwards. <PYRAMID>

A presentation should contain the level of detail that it needs for the audience. Pull out the key details that matter. Use facts judiciously, because the audience will only remember a small percentage afterwards. <START-FINISH DIAGRAM>

Top tips from top presenters

  1. Stop pouring! The audience has a limited capacity to take in new material. When the glass is full, stop pouring! Pace out how much information to deliver over the time.
  2. Keeping the audience’s attention. Everyone has a natural attention cycle – strong at the start of a talk (primacy), lapsing in the middle then recovering towards the end (recency). You can stimulate this cycle by introducing deliberate changes, distractions and surprises at regular intervals – this restarts the cycle. Examples include a change of pace (up or downbeat), a demo, a different medium eg video, an anecdote.


  1. Be obsessed with the audience – ie know your audience really well and what will engage them and grab their attention – their fears, worries, issues. Imagine you are talking to a particular individual who represents that audience to you eg a family member, colleague, friend.
  2. Don’t expect perfection. Giving a talk is not like crossing a rope bridge where any mistake leads to instant disaster. It is more like a series of stepping stones – be very sure of the first ‘stepping stone’ in your talk, then step through them. If you miss one or mess one up – just go to the next.
  3. A strong start. Be as sure as you can of your first few lines, so that when you are on stage you can get through them when your mind is on other things – this is not the time to wing it!
  4. A strong ending. The ending of your talk should achieve something. What do you want the audience to do after they have heard your talk?

SUMMARY: Structuring the talk

  1. An engaging, attention grabbing start
  2. Sign post where you are going in the talk ie coming up next, what you will broadly cover
  3. A pivot point – the key moment that the audience should remember
  4. Don’t give away the punchline too early! Keep the conclusion a secret until the right moment
  5. Build suspense, or use surprise
  6. An effective ending – which encourage the audience to do something

Dealing with question and answer sessions

  1. Take over chairing the Q&A session yourself to maintain control (even if you are not the official chair)
  2. Reflect questions back to the audience if you are not sure – you are not necessarily expected to have all the answers
  3. Look after the audience – don’t let someone monopolise the Q&A, cut them off politely but firmly once they have had a reasonable chance to have their say
  4. Body language – if all else fails, try using pleasant words (thank you for your question), but with strong body language – use your hands in a ‘pushing away’ gesture to signal that their contribution is no longer welcome

Tips for good slides

  1. Slides that build gradually using animation can be effective – don’t start out with too much on the slide
  2. Use lots of images to get points across, as well as text
  3. Develop the presentation first, then do the slides to match
  4. Keep the text simple and short
  5. Don’t read the slides out verbatim

And finally, dealing with nerves…

  1. Be prepared, prepare your talk by delivering it verbally
  2. Use a ‘stepping stone’ framework to recover from mistakes
  3. Focus on breathing – keep centred
  4. Visualise yourself delivering the talk
  5. Find your inspiration eg music, mental dialogue
  6. Use nerves constructively – keep a controlled energy
  7. Dress rehearsal – be comfortable and confident in what you are wearing for the talk.