Tag Archives: presentation techniques

Spontaneous Speaking


One of the skills that you should hone is the ability to stand up and speaking extemporaneously.  The reality is that there are going to be far more opportunities for you to make a spontaneous remark, or speech, or introduction, then there will be to prepare a presentation, rehearse it and have slide support.

But, how do you develop that skill?

Speaking Structures

Practice and structure. Structures are concepts that allow you to put your thoughts into a template to help frame your remarks.  Here’s a simple one. If I have to give a toast, I already know I’m going to say the following:

  • Isn’t this a great celebration?
  • Thanks to the hosts for throwing it.
  • Congratulations to the honoree

I know if someone asks me for an overview of something I’m involved in, for example, how is teaching at Harvard, I’m going to use this handy structure:

  • Opportunity
  • Solution
  • Benefit

Which translates to:

  • Opportunity: This was a great opportunity for me.  I love teaching. I love helping people get better at their communications skill. And, from a business standpoint, it’s not so bad to be associated with Harvard.
  • Solution: I teach the class using the same style that I use in workshops. I throw out a few key concepts but the main work is getting people to stand and deliver multiple presentations and get plenty of feedback.
  • Benefit: It’s great to watch people improve right before your eyes. It’s personally rewarding for me.

A Structure for When Things Go Wrong

Here’s an example of speaking about a difficult situation and a how structure can save the day: Recently one of my friends was personally involved in an unpleasant incident and asked me for advice of how to handle it.  I love the ‘3Rs’ structure that some PR people use:

  • Regret
  • Reason
  • Repair

In other words:

  • Regret: “I can’t tell you how much I regret what happened, and in particular how much I feel for the other person’s family that had to go through these challenges”
  • Reason: “As best as I can tell, here is what happened.”
  • Repair: “Here’s what I am going to do to make sure this never happens again.”

Rhetorical Structures

Finally, a standard no-fail structure is the use of rhetorical questions to frame your remarks from the onset.  There are 3 kinds of rhetorical remarks you can use:

  • Basic Rhetorical question
  • Polling question
  • What-if question

For example, you are asked to speak about the effort in your company to cut energy waste.

  • Try a basic rhetorical question: “Would we all agree that cutting energy waste is the right thing to do?”
  • Or a polling question: “How many people here make an effort to cut energy waste at home? How many people think we should be doing it here at work?”
  • Or a what-if question: “What if there were a way for a company like ours to cut energy waste by 30%.  Do you think we should attempt it even though it will mean all of us will have to sacrifice to make this happen?” 

Now you’re off and running, ready to go into the specifics:

“I’m happy to tell you that we were able to cut energy 37% and most of you probably didn’t even know you were helping, because it was so easy to do.  We achieved it because:

  • You shut off lights when you left the room,
  • You turned your computer off at night,
  • We started recycling bottles and papers,
  • etc.”

Practice is the Key

All of these little tricks work, but only become helpful if you practice.  Now, you might say that you seldom get chances to speak extemporaneously, but my guess is that you always have opportunities to speak off the cuff, you just don’t realize you’re doing so.  And, you don’t need to just use them in the office. There are countless times you speak off the cuff in social and family situations. The next time you see the opportunity, seize it and play around with one of these structures.

Speaking spontaneously will do wonders for your career.  You’ll be seen as the go-to person and regarded with more esteem.  The more you use these structures, the better and more confident you will become.


7 Little Changes That Will Make a Huge Difference in Your Next Presentation


7 Little Changes That Will Make a Huge Difference in Your Next Presentation

  1. eye contact
  2. use of hands
  3. volume
  4. posture
  5. smile
  6. focus
  7. pause

One of the things that gives me immense pleasure is working with someone on their presentation and having them incorporate one of these 7 little changes into their repertoire.  It instantly enhances the presentation.  Then, I slowly add one or two more of these techniques to the recipe and they are really cooking.

There are two reasons why these little changes work.  For every one of these techniques, research has demonstrated that audience response is positive.  These are techniques used by confident people. This is particularly important because the more the audience judges you as confident, the more likely they are to agree with whatever it is you are espousing.

These techniques also allow you to fake it.  Fake confidence, that is.  As long as the audience reads these techniques as signs that you are confident, it is less important whether you really are.  But, then a miraculous thing happens, and this is the other reason why these little changes work. You not only fool the audience into thinking you are confident, you fool yourself.  And, over time you believe you are confident and competent. That feeling only makes you stronger as a presenter.  Amy Cuddy said, “Don’t fake it ’til you make it. Fake it ’til you become it.”  She is a Harvard professor who researches body language.

Here are 7 easy presentation tricks:

#1 Eye Contact communicates to the audience that you are honest and believe in what you are saying.  Watch when someone, often children, are not being square with you. They’ll look down at the ground or off to the side, anywhere but in your eyes.  When making a presentation, make eye contact with everyone at the table.  It will seem awkward to do at first, but once mastered, you will be an infinitely better presenter.

#2  Hands. Using hands and arms to express yourself is something the helps the audience understand your point better.  It also makes them believe you know what you are talking about.  If you are presenting at a podium, go out of your way to show your hands. If you are presenting seated at a table, make sure your arms are on the table and gesture frequently with your hands. Hands actually help your voice be less monotone and more interesting.  Try it. Try speaking without moving your hands.  You will have a less energetic delivery.

#3 Volume.  Like hands, volume gives you more energy.  You’ll find that when you speak in a bigger voice (not shouting) that your posture improves and your hands and arms are more animated.  Remember a story I told recently where I pushed a shy woman to speak in an uncharacteristically big voice and she said it unleashed the Super Woman in her.

#4 Posture is an easy way to say you are in control and confident.  Whether it is the posture when seated at a table or standing in front of the room, posture says you aren’t afraid of anyone. Bad posture, on the other hand, gives you that “deer in the headlights” look.  Bad posture also inhibits volume and enunciation.

#5 Smile.  Now, we’re really talking easy techniques to win over the audience.  People who smile are confident about what they are saying, people who don’t aren’t.  When you smile and make eye contact, the other person will smile back.  You want the audience to like you.  Smile and they are much more apt to do so.  Smiling has a profound effect on your voice. It gives it modulation and makes it more interesting.

#6 Focus.  You are so much better building your presentation around one idea instead of several.  It also helps to make the presentation more concise and, hopefully, shorter. As we all learned from TED Talks, 18 minutes is the longest a presentation should go, so keep it to a single point and you’ll also stay within that most effective time frame.

#7 Pause. We often think that when it is our turn to speak we need to speak wall to wall; from the time we stand up until the time we sit down.  It turns out that pauses sprinkled into your presentation are extremely helpful to the audience in getting the message.  When you say something really important, pause after you say it and the audience will remember it longer.  Theatrical pauses can surprise the audience and really get them smiling. If you get a bit lost in your presentation and need to regroup a short pause will be helpful.  It will seem like the pause takes forever, but the audience will hardly note.  And, if you are starting to lose the attention of the audience, just pause, and they will look up to see what’s going on.

These are seven techniques you can do immediately.  Use them with other strong presentation techniques, such as storytelling and front-loading information into the presentation.