Giving presentations

The ability to give an effective presentation to a group depends on careful attention to the following:

  • the language of presentations
  • being prepared
  • having knowledge of the audience
  • demonstrating confidence
  • how to stand / body language
  • appropriate volume and tone
  • where to look while presenting / eye contact
  • use of visual aids, particularly PowerPoint
  • planning your presentation
  • introducing your presentation
  • the pace of your presentation
  • demonstrating knowledge of the topic
  • three stages for each major point: introduce – present – review
  • writing on a whiteboard
  • using a pointer or light
  • humour
  • concluding your presentation
  • taking questions.

We will now briefly look at each of these points and consider what you might include on making presentations in your programme. Remember, the main focus of this work will be practising presenting in English; however, you will also be developing their professional presentation skills at the same time. Considering, and then agreeing, the main elements that are important when presenting will, in itself, present the participants with excellent opportunities for English language practice.

Here is a list of the main characteristics of any presentation, whether one minute or 20 minutes.

The language of presentations

The presenters need to use appropriate language for presentations and so this has to be practised with the trainer initially.

Be prepared

The presenter needs to go into the presentation very well prepared. There is no value in going in without making very sure that all the information needed is at the finger tips of the presenter. Where business is concerned, this may well require the presenter to have a lot of financial detail, or perhaps the detailed outline of an advertising campaign ready to present in a very clear, concise way. It is important that all the pages and figures and slides needed are clearly numbered, or labelled in some other way, and can be picked out at the right moment.

Know your audience

It is important that the presenter is very clear about the audience so that s/he does not tell them what they already know or, alternatively, does not present at a level that is too advanced for the audience. Before any presentation, the presenter needs to ask him/herself, What do they already know? What do they need to know? The approach taken will vary significantly, depending on the audience. For example, a marketing manager is likely to approach his topic in different ways when presenting to a) fellow marketing managers and b) junior marketing staff.

Be confident

Presenting with confidence is very important, and particularly so with business people. They often tend to be quite competitive in some ways and it is important that any presentation that they do is done with style and confidence. One helpful tip here is to be absolutely sure about the presentation steps, and especially the first minute. This is often the most nerve-wracking time for people unfamiliar with presenting and so it is best to be absolutely sure what they are going to do and say in the first few minutes. In addition, it is very helpful to have a glass of water nearby in case the presenter’s mouth is dry, or simply for a slight pause. The speaker needs to reassure themselves that they have the right to be giving that particular presentation because they have something quite specific to say (that other people want to listen to) and they also have recognised skills in that particular area.

Be aware of how you are standing

Some presenters may feel confident, but their body language may demonstrate tension. Some presenters set up regular body movements, for example, stepping backwards and forwards, or rocking backwards and forwards as they speak. This can be very disconcerting for listeners. All presenters need to think carefully about how they are standing and to monitor their movements all the time. Standing in front or a lectern or a table can be helpful.

Use appropriate volume and tone

The presenter’s voice should be neither too loud nor too soft. The speaker should not sound patronising, aggressive or hesitant.

The pace of the presentation is very important; less experienced presenters or more nervous presenters will invariably speak too quickly or sometimes too slowly. Presenters need to speak at a measured pace with a clear voice so that everyone can hear what they are saying and they also have the time to absorb new information. Going too fast is a classic mistake so it is important to encourage your participants to take things at a more measured pace.

Look at the audience – make eye contact

Some presenters are unsure where to look and may end up presenting to one of the lamp shades on the ceiling. A better approach is to look directly at different members of the audience, one at a time. The presenter should not keep their attention focused on one particular individual, or on one side of the audience. Directing the presentation to one side of the room is a common mistake and it can be quite disconcerting for the audience. The presentation needs to be directed to the whole audience, not just a few.

Use visual aids and, perhaps, PowerPoint

As part of your English training course, you may find that your participants need to learn how to use a range of different audio-visual aids and this will also give you an excellent chance to practise listening skills. One of the most useful presentation aids is PowerPoint and your participants may wish to become more familiar with this programme, so be prepared.

This needs to be done with particular care and is likely to provide you (as the trainer) with opportunities to provide listening activities using some commercially prepared tapes where experienced presenters talk about what they do and how they do it. A range of different activities can be carried out using these tapes including listing, ordering, blank-filling, true/false questions, half-sentence linking, sentence completion and general discussion.

Introducing the presentation clearly

The start of the presentation is very important and one element of this is telling the audience precisely what they are going to be listening to. This may sound simple, but it is important to spell out the main steps of the presentation.

In this presentation, I would like to outline a new advertising campaign and provide five reasons why I believe it will benefit our company. I will divide the presentation into three sections. Section 1 will …….. .

Demonstrate knowledge of the topic

All presenters need to be able to demonstrate that they have a particular message that they are putting across to the audience and that they are familiar with the general area they are talking about. This can be demonstrated in a number of ways, including by making reference to others in that particular field, to books written on the subject or to other specific programmes, policies or even advertising campaigns. Demonstrating a clear understanding of the area will give the audience greater confidence in what the speaker is saying because they will be aware that he or she is knowledgeable, and what he or she is saying is worth listening to.

Three stages for each major point: introduce – present – review

The presenter is likely to have divided the talk into several different sections and it is vital that each one of these is clearly signalled as the presentation progresses. This can be done with clear ‘signposts’ that indicate where the presentation is going. For example, at several points, it is good practice for the presenter to say something equivalent to: In the next section, we are going to consider X, Y and Z …. . (The presenter does so.) We have now considered X, Y and Z……. and the reasons why ….. . In the next section, I would like to move on to look at N, O and P ….. (and then go on to do it.) In other words, a) tell them what you’re going to tell them; b) then tell them; c) then tell them what you’ve told them!

Use the whiteboard

The presenter may not need a whiteboard but if s/he does, it is important that they are very clear about how to write points clearly on the board and how to arrange the various elements on the board. It is not good practice to end up the presentation with words scrawled at random around the board. The presenter needs to have a clear vision in his/her mind about what the board is going to look like at the end of the session and needs to write legibly so that every point is easy to read. If anything needs to be rubbed out it should be done so completely and not in a casual or careless way.

Ideally, divide the board into three sections in your mind (or even with lines down the board) and then place important points on the board as appropriate. For example, one column might be for essential information that you want them to keep; another column might be for points made by the participants; another column might be for points that can be rubbed out quickly.

It is worth noting that black markers always leave a whiteboard messy and dirty because they leave behind a lot of residue so it is best to use colours like blue, green and red.

Use a pointer or light where appropriate

A presenter may need to use either a wooden pointer or a laser pointer, and it useful to practise doing this in way that picks out important points. The issue here, of course, is that the presenter needs to learn to make his or her points very clearly in English and then reinforce them with the pointer.

Use humour

Humour can be somewhat dangerous, especially when people from different countries are in your class, because people have very different views about what is amusing and what is appropriate. However, it is sometimes useful to bring this into a presentation and you will find that considering what type of humour is appropriate will also make a very interesting topic to discuss with your participants.

End the presentation in an efficient way

Concluding the presentation is as important as how the presenter starts the presentation. The presenter will not want just to stutter to an end so it is important that your participants learn how to end up their presentation effectively in English.

Take questions

Invariably there will be questions after a presentation and it is important for the participants’ English language skills, as well as their presenting skills, that responding in a positive way to questions can be practised in class.