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Present Like A Pro. What Not to Do When Giving a Talk.

Updated on April 22, 2017

Some people love the sound of their own voices and the thought of getting up to give a talk or presentation is a good or even welcome one. For others it chills the marrow.

However it's becoming increasingly difficult to get away from giving presentations if you want to maintain a healthy career progression. It's often expected at interview or as an effective communication tool to let the world outside your department know what great work you're doing.

To be seen as an engaging speaker, to whom an audience will listen and take heed, avoid these deadly sins.

I'm writing this hub in a note-to-self way as I'm speaking at a national nurses' meeting in September!

1. Don't let the audience miss the point.

If someone's made the effort to come and hear your talk or presentation (even if they didn't have a choice) it's important that they leave feeling that they've learned something/been entertained or will do something positive because of what you've said.

This will depend, partly, on the way you present your talk at the outset. Tell the audience what you're going to tell them. Traditionally a PowerPoint slide with the points you're going to cover and what you hope to achieve is a good way of doing this.

However, because your talk isn't about you at all (it's about the audience), another important aspect of this is knowing who you're talking to. What age are they? What job level, social group and sex? The language you use will be quite different if you're addressing a group of senior managers or new recruits to the company. You might even choose to wear different outfits for each group - more relaxed for the latter than the former perhaps.

2. Being muddled in your message.

If you're confused about what you want to achieve and what your message is, then the audience will be too.

List the points you want to make and ask yourself why they're important - would anything be lost if you missed them out? And then, in your own mind, summarise them into an 'elevator speech'. If you were in the elevator at work and a colleague asked you what your talk was about, could you tell him/her in the time it takes to ride between floors?

Keep your slides clean, with plenty of white space. If there's too much on the slide and you have to reduce the size of the font to smaller than 26 point, consider splitting the information over 2 slides or getting rid of any unnecessary text or pictures.

Follow the KISS principle - Keep It Short and Sweet. Death by PowerPoint is a gruesome way to go.

3. Don't read from notes.

Having your nose in a set of notes will not only mean that your speech isn't spontaneous and natural, but also that your voice becomes a monotone (ie boring) and possibly muffled because you’re not looking at the audience and projecting towards them.

  • Have bullet points on your slides that will remind you of what you want to say. If you're not using slides or a visual aid and need a prompt, then put bullet points on small cards and use them sparingly.
  • Use pictures with or in place of text. After all, a picture tells a story and may be more memorable, especially pictures of people.
  • Keep graphs to a minimum. Medical people are terrible for overloading their presentations with complicated graphs and then referring to their notes to explain them. I speak from audience experience when I say 'please don't!'

Smile and look at the audience.   What's the worst that can happen?
Smile and look at the audience. What's the worst that can happen? | Source

4. Not looking at the audience.

This point (sin) leads on from the one above. You're there to make a point to the audience so look at them as you do so. Make eye contact as you speak, and let your gaze rest on each person for a few seconds before moving on to the next. This is something Ron Hoff suggests in his book 'I Can See You Naked'. It makes a connection between you and each audience member so that they remember what you're saying, as if you were saying it to that person alone.

Smile if it's appropriate too. All this eye contact and smiling can seem a bit daunting if what you actually want to do is run and hide, but ask yourself what's the worst that can happen? Someone might smile encouragingly back, or nod in agreement with your point. And if you can see audience feedback (such as looks of confusion) you'll know whether to change tack or ask them if something needs to be explained. They'll thank you for that.

Don't be boring!
Don't be boring!

5. Speaking in a monotone.

Again, if you're looking at notes and not looking into the faces of your audience this is something that can easily happen.

Practise your talk and record your practice sessions so that you know what your audience is hearing. Where can you change the intonations, inflections, rhythm and musicality of your voice to make it more interesting?

Only 7% of your message is determined by the words you use, but up to 38% of it is conveyed in the tone of voice. To improve your chances of being listened to, adopt a confident, upright body posture (even if you don't feel it, 'fake it til you make it') and feel the passion for your topic. Passion and confidence are killers of the monotone.

7. Speaking too quietly.

Your voice recorder will be handy for getting the vocal volume correct too. Many places have microphones but a strong voice that you control is a more powerful ally than a microphone and will carry more gravity with the audience.

If an audience can't hear you or don't believe your message because your voice is weak their attention will drift very quickly.

  • Speak more slowly than you want to
  • and practise dropping your voice.
  • Project your voice to the back of the room as you speak.


Practise is key - your first talk/presentation will be 1000 times more nerve-wracking than your second, third and fourth.

Remember your talk is about your audience, not about you, even if you've been asked to talk about yourself and your trip up Everest. Use the right language for the audience, look at them and respond to their non-verbal feedback. If they're putting their coats on, are they cold or about to leave? If they're yawning, are you being dull or is the room too hot? If they look confused, ask what's confusing.

Adopt a confident stance, smile, be passionate and engage with the audience. And expect a standing ovation!


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    • Bud Gallant profile image

      Bud Gallant 6 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

      Another excellent hub. There's great advice in here. I'm still a bit nervous speaking to groups, so I found this to be particularly useful. Thanks!

    • Temirah profile image

      Temirah 6 years ago

      Your teaching will always be valuable where ever you are. Good luck with your travels.

    • Alladream74 profile image

      Victor Mavedzenge 6 years ago from Oakland, California

      @Temirah .Was actually planning to teach presentation skills but I am leaving the UK soon so will have to plan for later.

    • Temirah profile image

      Temirah 6 years ago

      Hi Alladream, voice training is a good idea. More drama teaching in schools would help kids to be more confident and to use their voices to better effect. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Alladream74 profile image

      Victor Mavedzenge 6 years ago from Oakland, California

      Good tips here Temirah. I think the KISS rule is important in two instances

      -Keep It Short andSweet

      -Keep It Simple ,Stupid!

      My worst nightmare when attending a presentation is all your don'ts especially speaking too softly.Its helpful to engage a theatre student/professional actor for an hour to get some voice training-it goes a long way!

    • Temirah profile image

      Temirah 6 years ago

      Thanks froch - I love Dale Carnegie's book (it's on my list of books to take to a desert island!) and will add it to the hub - good thought.

    • froch profile image

      froch 6 years ago from Tychy

      Very good hub. I can say that it is good idea to read Dale Carnegie's "How To Win Friends and Influence People". I know that this book isn't presented in Hub but it is worth of mark.