Canadian Consulting Engineer

Presentations (November 01, 2004)

At some point along your professional journey, you will be asked to stand up and deliver a presentation, whether it is for five minutes to introduce yourself, or for one hour at a conference. Effective communication skills are a must for consultin...

November 1, 2004  By Nicole Attias

At some point along your professional journey, you will be asked to stand up and deliver a presentation, whether it is for five minutes to introduce yourself, or for one hour at a conference. Effective communication skills are a must for consulting engineers. How many presentations have you sat through that were lifeless and painful to hear? You want to stand out from the bunch.

When you plan your presentation, begin by writing, in point-form, everything you want to say. Structure your material with a clear introduction, body and conclusion. Don’t ramble. Remember your conclusion. Your ending allows others to think about what you’ve said and perhaps take action on important issues.

In terms of delivery, follow these guidelines:

Arrive 30 minutes early. You have taken the time to put together a strong presentation, so now you have time to check the microphone, your laptop, and any handout materials. You can also review your talk one last time.

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Understand the needs of your audience. Speak to them as though you’re having a one-to-one conversation and use what you know about them to help you do a great job. For instance, are they conservative or casual? Do they prefer to listen to the speaker or interact with others? This information will allow you to shift your speaking style according to group preferences.

Enjoy the dynamics of your audience. Relate to them on an emotional level, even if your topic is technical, and you are sure to win their attention.

Never rely only on PowerPoint slides to communicate with your audience. However, it’s essential to prepare your visual and written materials well. Your visual aids should display no more than three points per slide. They should have a logical sequence, and look consistent. Handouts should be provided only at the end of your talk, so the attention is on you while you are speaking.

Get your audience involved. By making all or part of your presentation interactive, you will keep your audience engaged. This is especially what you need to do when discussing or explaining less than exciting material. Ask them if they can fill in the blanks on a particular topic. You might begin and end your presentation with a question that allows the audience to reflect on particular issues.

Project your voice. Speak loudly and clearly. If you are using a microphone, ensure it is adjusted to the right height before you begin. Don’t mumble; often speakers overcompensate when using microphones and forget that they still need to project their voices and articulate their words clearly.

Pace yourself. Don’t race through your points, but keep within time limits. Practise your talk using a timer beforehand.

Show enthusiasm for your topic. Use relevant humour, add examples and anecdotes to lighten things up if necessary.

Use your body. Body language speaks louder than words. Throughout your presentation, your hands should be free to gesture. You should not hold your notes. Instead, place them on the lectern or table in front of you. Make sure your arms are not crossed or in your pockets. When speaking, always face towards the audience. Never stand still as it produces tension in your body. Maintain eye contact, smile and gesture throughout your talk to develop rapport.

Think on your feet. What do you do if you completely blank out during your talk? Breathe, pause, reflect and continue. If you stop speaking for 10 seconds, the audience will think about your previous point and you’ll have time to gather your thoughts. If that doesn’t work, ask your audience a general question about what they expect to gain from your topic of discussion, and take it from there.

Finally, learn from your presentation. Always answer the question, “so what?” in your mind. What was the goal behind your talk? Did you want to persuade, teach or inform your audience of something? What did you want them to do after you left the room?

For more tips on presentation-skills, contact NicoleAttias@aol.com.

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