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Some Secrets of Successful Presentations

by Catherine M. Wolfe  |  
June 15, 2011

In this article, you'll learn...

  • Four steps to creating a winning presentation
  • How to overcome common presentation challenges
  • Ways to gather feedback on your presentation after an event

The Challenges of Presentations

We are truly alone at two moments in life: when we are on stage delivering a speech, and when we die. No wonder people dread what is such a critical part of business life.

Many people detest making presentations. They suffer greatly before the "big day," sweating the content and their delivery, and agonizing about how they will be viewed professionally after the presentation.

Such angst is unfortunate, because with preparation and practice, delivering presentations can be a great way to advance a career and positively promote a company's message. And, dare I say it—it can even be fun!

The difference between failure and success in presentations lies in a couple of important considerations: What is the speaker's objective for the presentation, and what is the audience's payoff for listening?

Constructing a Winning Presentation

1. Research the audience. No presentation can be successful without background research. The best presenters understand their audiences—what their concerns are and what language they speak. The best presenters also understand why they were invited to address the audience. Presenting to customers, for instance, requires a very different approach than speaking to an industry-association audience of peers.

2. Deliver the engaging and the unexpected. The planning process for every presentation includes considering how to engage the audience. The best speakers make their presentations thought-provoking, inspiring, even memorable.

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Catherine M. Wolfe is senior director of corporate and strategic communications at Toshiba America Medical Systems, Inc. She speaks at industry conferences on marketing and customer relationship management.

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  • by Suzan St Maur Wed Jun 15, 2011 via web

    Hi Catherine - great post!

    One thing I find with many speakers (I have been writing speeches for industry leaders for some years now) is that sometimes it pays for them to work from a complete script. Sometimes they will read it verbatim from a teleprompter. Often they will use it to rehearse their presentation and then summarize it down into bullet points to work from (liberating them from the awful tedium of reading from their Ppoint slides...)

    A problem I find when people prepare a presentation themselves is that they write or compose it in the way they think they should come over, not as they come over naturally. This is presentation suicide as you know!

    One way around that, when a speaker is doing their own preparation, is for them to create a structure for their presentation - e.g. in bullet points - and then talk informally through those points into an audio recorder. Transcribe that back, tidy it up, and they're likely to have a realistic basic script to work from that actually IS the real person. Works well.

    Final tip from a speechwriter: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, but do not over-rehearse. Too much will make the speaker a) bored to tears with the material and consequently b) unspontaneous and unenthusiastic in the live presentation.

    Suze from (and the MProfs KnowHow Exchange.)

  • by Tom McClure Wed Jun 15, 2011 via web

    Great article, Catherine. I'm an experienced presenter, and I agree with everything you've said.

    One thing I've not done yet is to present electronically on services like " To be truthful, I'm not looking forward to it. One of the things I pride myself on is personally interacting with the audience, I like to make a lot of eye contact, which tells me if the audience is on the same wavelength, if they're understanding and relating to my material, or if I need to spend some additional time on a topic because they're looks tell me that they've not grasped the point yet.

    Anyone have any advice?

  • by Suzan St Maur Thu Jun 16, 2011 via web

    I'll be interested to see what Catherine suggests here, Tom, but in the meantime here's a thought: treat electronic presentation more as you would you would speak on live radio (or video if that's appropriate, but I don't think "" offers video linkups??)

    You say you like to have eye contact with your audience, but with an audio system - while you don't have eye contact, obviously! - you have the benefit of being directly engaged with your listeners, and vice versa.

    There's an old saying in radio that you don't have an audience of thousands, but thousands of audiences of one. Audio is very personal and if you remember that when preparing for your presentation - that you're talking to each member of your audience on a 1-to-1 basis - your performance will be very effective.

    Suze from

  • by Gillian Rusike Thu Jun 16, 2011 via web

    Indeed, the best presentations ever make use of visual aids that involve the audience. I have seen many parliamentarians sleeping during sessions because the presenters will be just talking trying to express a point or defending a point by word of mouth. At the same time I have attended various forums where you are always keep alive because you are looking forward to the next slide and how it is going to be interpreted by the presenter.
    However, I agree with Cathrine that it is important to know and understand the audience pretty much. Many polititians especially in Africa make such huge blunders of presenting in English to the rural folks who do not even understand the language when making a speech. I am not sure about the point to prove and I have ultimately concluded that they are showing thier rural folks how educated they are..

  • by Ford Kanzler Fri Jun 17, 2011 via web

    How about "say less, communicate more." I subscribe to Dan Sapp's school of thinking for presentations, part of which is that PowerPoint is the most abused software package on the planet. His site: - offers great ideas and guidance on how to combat Death by PowerPoint and as he says, "really choose to reach out and connect—you have the power to change (people). Creating change in people, projects, and organizations is what leadership communication is all about."
    I recommend Dan's ideas to any who aim at improving their public speaking (presentation) skills.

  • by Marsha Redmon Wed Jun 22, 2011 via web

    The fastest way to get comfortable with webinars (like is to give yourself an audience in the room (2-3 people) where you're doing the webinar. Then you can make eye contact and get feedback from real people. I agree with Suzan that treating a webinar or other electronic presentation like radio is a good analogy. It is essentially many audiences of one -- that you can't see!

    Do try webinars - they can be an incredibly effective way to leverage your time and teach or present to large numbers of people -- and get clients too! I coach lawyers on business development webinars and many of them had had great success in serving current clients and attracting new clients.

    Marsha Redmon -- visit for webinar + presentation tips

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