Please note: This site's design is only visible in a graphical browser that supports Web standards, but its content is accessible to any browser or Internet device. To see this site as it was designed please upgrade to a Web standards compliant browser.
Signal vs. Noise

Our book:
Defensive Design for the Web: How To Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and Other Crisis Points
Available Now ($16.99)

Most Popular (last 15 days)
Looking for old posts?
37signals Mailing List

Subscribe to our free newsletter and receive updates on 37signals' latest projects, research, announcements, and more (about one email per month).

37signals Services
XML version (full posts)
Get Firefox!

How to Stand and Deliver

30 Aug 2004 by Matthew Linderman

OK, no bullet points.…but then what? The Scholarly Lecture: How to Stand and Deliver offers survival tips for speakers. A summary (yes, bullet pointed) after the jump…

  • Remember that people who show up to hear you want to believe that you’re smart, interesting, and a good speaker.
  • Before you get up to speak, be sure you’re well hydrated (you need that for your vocal cords) and have made a stop.
  • Technology is a tool, but a tool is not a friend and is often a rival.
  • PowerPoint is for sissies.
  • A lecture isn’t a casual conversation.
  • Look at your audience frequently.
  • Don’t hook the air with your fingers to indicate that you’re quoting someone.
  • Don’t read aloud subheads or part numbers that may divide up bits of your lecture.
  • Never, ever, ever interrupt your lecture to say, “I’m going to skip some pages here in the interest of time,” or, “In the longer version of this paper, I will explain…”
  • Don’t apologize for your lapses as a speaker, for the paucity of your research, or for the fact that you couldn’t get your hair cut that month.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Then stop.
  • Prepare yourself in advance for questions.
  • If you’re not the only speaker, listen to the others.

17 comments so far (Post a Comment)

30 Aug 2004 | p8 said...

Some other tips:

Repeat questions before answering.
This gives you extra time to think while making sure the rest of the audience hears the question.

If you know someone in the audience ask them before the speech to ask a good question to which you know the answer in case no one else asks a question.

Being somewhat nervous is good, this keeps you sharp.

Things can go wrong but most people won't notice/mind unless you break bulletpoint #10 and make a big deal out of it.

30 Aug 2004 | Mike P. said...

"Repeat questions before answering."

Also -> Because quite often someone hasn't heard it, or has missed it.

30 Aug 2004 | Darrel said...

"Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Then stop."

Very good advice. Over-rehearsing is as bad as under-rehearsing.

I might take issue with the 'not a casual conversation' point, but I suppose that is largely dependant on the type of venue and crowd.

30 Aug 2004 | Don Schenck said...

As Martin Luther told his students:

Get up, speak up, shut up.

30 Aug 2004 | Nick Finck said...

So, maybe an interesting point here that wasn't covered... but perhaps should be... what happens when people blurt out questions or even answers during your presentation, especially when not called upon to?

Which leads me to another question, how do you tell your audience that their questions should be short and to the point? I am sure we all have experienced that one audience member who wants to use his time with the microphone pointed at him to give some kind of speech. Heaven forbid the MC actually hands this person the microphone in its entirety.

30 Aug 2004 | JF said...

how do you tell your audience that their questions should be short and to the point?

You just tell them. "I'm sorry I have to inturrupt, but we have limited time here and there are a lot of other people who are interested in participating. What is your question exactly?"

Just be professional, direct, and firm. You're running the show.

30 Aug 2004 | CM Harrington said...

Also... while rehearsing, record yourself, then play it back. You'll often find you are speaking at a much faster pace than you should.


This allows your audience to fully take in what you are trying to say, and it allows them time to formulate questions for the Q&A session at the end.

30 Aug 2004 | sloan said...

I think one basic point is to make sure your content is worthwhile. Really have a critical review of your content and only include what is necessary. Let your question and answer session be the place for all of the side notes and little things that only 1% of your audience cares about.

30 Aug 2004 | sloan said...

Oh yeah, having been a teacher, SLOW DOWN. If you want anyone to learn anything during your talk then you have to go slower and make sure you connect points to reinforce ideas and concepts.

30 Aug 2004 | Chuck Welch said...

"what happens when people blurt out questions or even answers during your presentation, especially when not called upon to"?

I always cover questions before the presentation. If you want them to save questions for after...tell them to write the question as it comes to mind and ask it after the presentation. Remind them their question may be answered during the presentation.

For those who still want to blurt out questions or comments: (1) "That's an interesting point. You must be reading ahead. I'll cover that soon." or (2) That's an interesting point. We don't want to sidetrack everyone; I'll be glad to discuss it with you after the presentation."

To the tips I'd add:

() Be prepared not to answer a question. No audience expects you to be omniscient. If you don't know the answer say "I don't have a complete answer at my fingertips. After this presentation please give me a means to contact you and I will make sure you get the full answer." Then ask for the next question.

30 Aug 2004 | Brad Hurley said...

It's a peculiarity of scholarly life that everyone is expected to be able to deliver a lecture well, but almost no one is trained to do it.

Substitute "business" for "scholarly" and "presentation" for "lecture" and it's just as true.

I just looked through the list of more than 75 training courses offered to employees through my company's "talent development" program, and I don't see anything that covers presentation skills. I suspect the same is true at many other companies. The only way for most people to learn how to give presentations is by watching other people give presentations. And unfortunately a large percentage of business presentations today consist of someone reading from PowerPoint slides.

31 Aug 2004 | Richard said...

I've been presenting for over 20 years. All sorts of venues, worldwide and I also like to experience other presenters. I'm pretty sure there is no set formula for any of this and the minute we try to pin it down someone comes along with a new way that's fantastic.

Each presenter has different needs and a different style and I think it's important for each of us to find out what that is and get comfortable in it. Audiences not only want clear, well articulated information and discussion leadership, they want whoever is leading them through this stuff to be comfortable in him or herself.

A short list, as it comes to me:

Get there early, test, test test. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone reading this to have a problem with technology during a presentation. It happens but it ought not happen much.

Props, a must for your memory and audience focus.

Careful with PowerPoint or any slide-driven presentation. In 20 years I've done slide presentations maybe 10 times out of thousands of presentations.

Without losing control or letting an audience take over, I almost always take questions on the fly (at natural pauses) as they have less context if left until the end and many times one person's question is useful for the group. This puts more pressure on the presenter to answer it and move on (find her place again) and to control it. If things look like they might spiral out of hand I generally say "let's continue this later over beer" or something like that to move on. Believe it or not, I've been bought a lot of beer and it's useful to follow up like this.

Doing a presentation is performance toward making a point, getting some information across, or explaining something so I don't think it's out of place to use one's imagination to find ways to do these things more effectively. I admire presenters who take risks toward these ends and those are the most memorable presentations for me.

Water, a must. Have plenty on hand and use it at natural pauses, even to wet your lips.

If you get there early, talk to members of the audience so that you have a group you've talked to to focus on as you get started.

If disaster falls and you fall apart, implode, become self-conscious and lose it, but the audience doesn't know it yet, here's a way out:

To catch your stride and your breath and pace again, you need to create a pause. One way to do that is to ask the audience a question (you can do this with 5000 in an audience as well) so that you can wait for an answer. "What do you all think of x" or "have any of your experienced this..." will do the trick.

While they are raising their hands and blabbing you're getting blood back in your head and drinking 1/2 gallon of water.

Once you've regained composure, you just "tango on." And, even though this happens rarely it's useful to have a plan in place for when it does.

31 Aug 2004 | Michael Spina said...

Good advice!

If you are using a projector (I do training and use it frequently), learn how to mute the audio and video (basically a black screen). So if you're showing a screen and want to segue, or answer questions, turn it off so it's not distracting.

Also, have it turned off before the presentation starts so it's easier to converse, and you can noodle around getting it ready and no one will see it. When you turn it on, poof! Everything looks prepared.

01 Sep 2004 | Sara said...

A little tip: Whatever you do during a presentation, do not look at someone in the audience then start to laugh uncontrollably. This tends to disrupt the flow of the presentation, taking everyone off track and causing them to ask what's so funny.

I speak from personal experience.

30 Jan 2005 | compatelius said...

bocigalingus must be something funny.

Comments on this post are closed

Back to Top ^