Speak & Present Effectively
In this chapter you’ll learn how to deliver a presentation. We’ll look at voice and body language skills that keep your audience engaged and inspired.
Excellent presenters use many delivery skills. Don’t worry about being perfect at all of them; start by working on the three skills you identified in Chapter 3. When those skills feel improved, choose three more to work on.
Volume Speak loudly enough so that we can hear you. Good volume also makes you sound confident
Clarity Enunciate your words, and avoid mumbling, so the audience can easily understand what you’re saying
Tone Match your tone to the content. Typically, tone goes higher when we are unsure or are asking a question, and goes lower when we are stating a fact or being authoritative
Pace Speak slowly enough to be understood, and vary your pace to add interest
- Choppiness – Speak as fluidly as possible, avoid hesitations and unusual pacing
- Speed – Speak smoothly and confidently, but a little slower than in normal conversation. In multicultural situations (where we might not be familiar with each others’ accents) speak even slower, and watch your audience to make sure they understand you.
- Pauses – Listening can be tiring. Brief pauses let your audience absorb information. You can also use pauses to add emphasis or anticipation.
Vocal variety Vary your tone, pace and volume to add interest, emphasis and clarity. For example, speak a little faster to add excitement or anticipation, or speak a little louder to show emphasis. Some cultures and languages tend to be more monotone, so some students may have to work a little bit harder to ensure they vary their tone.
Professional posture Good posture supports your voice, and makes you look professional and confident (when we’re nervous we tend to hunch and cross our arms). Face the audience most of the time, and avoid turning your back on them to look at your slides.
Manage your movement Repetitive body movements, such as tapping your foot or swaying, can also distract the audience. If you’re presenting in person, slowly move around the physical space, such as moving towards the audience, or from one part of the room to another.
Use gestures Use gestures to add interest, emphasis, and help explain what you’re saying, such as indicating part of a slide or demonstrating an action.
Eyes & face
Make eye contact most of the time Eye contact shows confidence and helps everyone in the audience feel included. Look at all parts of the room. Secret tip for shy presenters: look at people’s foreheads – it has the same effect as eye contact. If you’re presenting online, this means looking at the camera. If you’re using notes should be point form – not full sentences – that you can quickly glance at, not read.
Manage your facial expressions You can show passion and emotion through facial expressions. But be careful, sometimes presenters show how nervous they are by having a look of worry on their face.
Your passion will engage the audience. Show your enthusiasm, energy and interest through appropriate use of tone, pace, volume, facial expressions, gestures, and body language.
Your level of energy can be infectious, and inspire the audience. Even if your topic is serious, like mental health or a tragedy, you can still convey conviction and interest in the subject matter. Conversely, without passion, you can make even the most fascinating content boring, and cause your audience to disengage.
Filler words Fillers distract the audience and make you seem nervous, unprepared or professional. These include uhh, umm, like, you know, and any other words or noises that are not actual content. Real words like and and so can also be used as filler words.
Vocabulary Use words and phrases your audience understands; language that is appropriate for them. Will they understand abbreviations, acronyms, slang and jargon?
Transitions Use transitions to connect sentences to each other, indicate that you’re moving to the next major point, or in group presentations, that you’re moving to the next speaker.
Make sure the length of your presentation matches your audience’s expectations. If your presentation is a lot shorter, the audience (and instructor!) might be disappointed; if you go overtime they might resent you.
After each presentation, make a note of 3 things that you did well, and 3 things you want to improve.
If you have a speech impediment, visual impairment, hearing difficulty, physical disability, or other health issue, there are many resources available. You may want to start by speaking with your instructor and contacting Langara Accessibility Services.
If you stutter, you’re not alone. Many famous people have found ways to become great presenters while managing their stutter, including President Joe Biden, James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader) and Nicole Kidman. Some basic coping strategies include speaking slowly, managing stress and thoroughly knowing your material. Additional resources are available from The Canadian Stuttering Association.
Test your knowledge
Watch each of these videos and test your understanding of the presenter’s skills.