October 5, 2010


We all have our unique speaking styles. Here are some guidelines for effective communications.

1. Body Language

Do not cross your arms, put your hands in your pockets, turn your back to the audience. Do not put yourself between any audience member and the screen. Smile as much as possible – not an artificial smile, but a genuine smile. If you are not enjoying your presentation, do you think the audience should? Your attitude is infectious, so be enthusiastic, if not passionate, about your presentation and let it show in your voice and body movements.

2. Talk To All Audience Members

Do not speak to just a few audience members. Make eye contact with the entire audience by periodically scanning all audience members. I remember a presentation where the presenter decided to present to one audience member. He stared at him for the entire presentation – obviously he had read somewhere that if you are nervous when speaking, pretend there is only one person in the audience and focus only on them. This made for a very uncomfortable situation for everyone and distracted from the presentation itself.

3. Humour

Humour should be used if it supports your key messages. Most attempts at humour are met with an uncomfortable silence, because they are outside the context of the presentation topics. If you want to try adding humour to your presentation then at least make the humour relevant to the content – why tell a golf joke when your presentation is not about golf? Another guideline for those that want to add humour; everyone in the world already knows every one-liner uttered by Yogi Berra – so at the very least be original.

4. Discomfort

Do not point to a particular audience member. Have you been pointed out during a presentation where the speaker asks you a direct question – like, “When is the last time you had to deliver a presentation”? Ouch! Better for the speaker to state the obvious answer instead of asking a question. For example, the speaker could say “We have all delivered many presentations.”

5. Voice

Change the tone and volume of your voice. This is not easy because many speakers slip into a monotone sometime during their presentation. This requires practice and a conscious decision to vary your voice.

6. Apologizing

Do not apologize for anything. Do not say “I am sorry this room is too warm”. This is not in your control. Apologizing for things outside your control is one thing, but apologizing for things that you have done is unacceptable. At a recent presentation, the speaker showed a graph measured over the last years from 1999. When the speaker finished explaining the data, he looked at the slide and said “Oh, the data for 2006 is missing. I better add that when I get back to my office”. That makes the audience feel unimportant.