Presentations and reports are ways of communicating ideas and information to a group. But unlike a report, a presentation carries the speaker's personality better and allows immediate interaction between all the participants.

A report is the orderly presentation of the results of a research that seeks truth and interprets facts into constructive ideas and suggestions (Gwinn, 2007). It is normally built on research that finds, develops, or substantiates knowledge. Once all the facts are collected, they are organized and presented in a report designed to meet a need for specific information.

A presentation is created in the same manner as a report; however, it adds one additional element — The Human Element.

A good presentation contains at least four elements:

The Voice

The voice is probably the most valuable tool of the presenter. It carries most of the content that the audience takes away. One of the oddities of speech is that we can easily tell others what is wrong with their voice, such as it is too fast, too high, or too soft, but we have trouble listening to and changing our own voices.

There are five main terms used for defining vocal qualities (Grant-Williams, 2002):

There are two good methods for improving your voice:

1. Listen to it! Practice listening to your voice while at home, driving, walking, etc. Then when you are at work or with company, monitor your voice to see if you are using it how you want to.

2. To really listen to your voice, cup your right hand around your right ear and gently pull the ear forward. Next, cup your left hand around your mouth and direct the sound straight into your ear. This helps you to really hear your voice as others hear it... and it might be completely different from the voice you thought it was! Now practice moderating your voice.

The Body

Your body communicates different impressions to the audience. People not only listen to you, they also watch you. Slouching tells them you are indifferent or you do not care... even though you might care a great deal! On the other hand, displaying good posture tells your audience that you know what you are doing and you care deeply about it. A good posture helps you to speak more clearly and effective.

Throughout you presentation, display (Smith, Bace, 2002):

Active Listening

Good speakers not only inform their audience, they also listen to them. By listening, you know if they are understanding the information and if the information is important to them. Active listening is NOT the same as hearing! Hearing is the first part and consists of the perception of sound.

Listening, the second part, involves an attachment of meaning to the aural symbols that are perceived. Passive listening occurs when the receiver has little motivation to listen carefully. Active listening with a purpose is used to gain information, to determine how another person feels, and to understand others. Some good traits of effective listeners are:

Listening can be one of our most powerful communication tools! Be sure to use it!

Part of the listening process is getting feedback by changing and altering the message so the intention of the original communicator is understood by the second communicator. This is done by paraphrasing the words of the sender and restating the sender's feelings or ideas in your own words, rather than repeating their words.

Your words should be saying, “This is what I understand your feelings to be, am I correct?” It not only includes verbal responses, but also nonverbal ones. Nodding your head or squeezing their hand to show agreement, dipping your eyebrows to show you don't quite understand the meaning of their last phrase, or sucking air in deeply and blowing out hard shows that you are also exasperated with the situation.

Carl Rogers (1957) listed five main categories of feedback (Demos, Unwary, 1962). They are listed in the order in which they occur most frequently in daily conversations (notice that we make judgments more often than we try to understand others):

  1. Evaluative: Makes a judgment about the worth, goodness, or appropriateness of the other person's statement.

  2. Interpretive: Paraphrasing to explain what another person's statement mean.

  3. Supportive: Attempt to assist or bolster the other communicator

  4. Probing: Attempt to gain additional information, continue the discussion, or clarify a point.

  5. Understanding: Attempt to discover completely what the other communicator means by her statements.


The main enemy of a presenter is tension, which ruins the voice, posture, and spontaneity. The voice becomes higher as the throat tenses. Shoulders tighten up and limit flexibility, while the legs start to shake and cause unsteadiness. The presentation becomes canned as the speaker locks in on the notes and starts to read directly from them.

First, do not fight nerves — welcome them! This allows you to get on with the presentation instead of focusing on being nervous. Actors recognize the value of nerves... they add to the value of the performance. This is because adrenaline starts to kick in. It's a left over from our ancestors' fight or flight syndrome. If you welcome nerves, then the presentation becomes a challenge and you become better. If you let your nerves take over, then you go into the flight mode by withdrawing from the audience.

Thus, welcome your nerves, recognize them, let them help you gain that needed edge! Do not go into the flight mode! When you feel tension or anxiety, remember that everyone gets them, but the winners use them to their advantage, while the losers get overwhelmed by them.

Tension can be reduced by performing some relaxation exercises. Listed below are a couple to get you started:


Keep cool if a questioner disagrees with you. You are a professional! No matter how hard you try, not everyone in the world will agree with you!

Although some people get a perverse pleasure from putting others on the spot, and some try to look good in front of the boss, most people ask questions from a genuine interest. Questions do not mean you did not explain the topic good enough, but that their interest is deeper than the average audience.

Always allow time at the end of the presentation for questions. After inviting questions, do not rush ahead if no one asks a question. Pause for about 6 seconds to allow the audience to gather their thoughts. When a question is asked, repeat the question to ensure that everyone heard it (and that you heard it correctly). When answering, direct your remarks to the entire audience. That way, you keep everyone focused, not just the questioner. To reinforce your presentation, try to relate the question back to the main points.

Make sure you listen to the question being asked. If you do not understand it, ask them to clarify. Pause to think about the question as the answer you give may be correct, but ignores the concern of the person asking it. If you do not know the answer, be honest, do not waffle. Tell them you will get back to them... and make sure you do!

Answers that last 10 to 40 seconds work best. If they are too short, they seem abrupt; while longer answers appear too elaborate. Also, be sure to keep on track. Do not let off-the-wall questions sidetrack you into areas that are not relevant to the presentation.

If someone takes issue with something you said, try to find a way to agree with part of their argument. For example, “Yes, I understand your position...” or “I'm glad you raised that point, but...” The idea is to praise their point and agree with them as audiences sometimes tend to think of “us verses you.” You do not want to risk alienating them.

Preparing the Presentation

After a concert, a fan rushed up to famed violinist Fritz Kreisler and gushed, “I'd give up my whole life to play as beautifully as you do.” Kreisler replied, “I did.”

To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail

The first step of a great presentations is preplanning. Preparing for a presentation basically follows the same guidelines as a meeting.

The second step is to prepare the presentation. A good presentation starts out with introductions and may include an icebreaker such as a story, interesting statement or fact, or an activity to get the group warmed up. The introduction also needs an objective, that is, the purpose or goal of the presentation. This not only tells you what you will talk about, but it also informs the audience of the purpose of the presentation.

Next, comes the body of the presentation. Do NOT write it out word for word. All you want is an outline. By jotting down the main points on a set of index cards, you not only have your outline, but also a memory jogger for the actual presentation. To prepare the presentation, ask yourself the following:

A 45 minutes talk should have no more than about seven main points. This may not seem like very many, but if you are to leave the audience with a clear picture of what you have said, you cannot expect them to remember much more than that. There are several options for structuring the presentation:

After the body, comes the closing. This is where you ask for questions, provide a wrap-up (summary), and thank the participants for attending.

Notice that you told them what they are about to hear (the objective), told them (the body), and told them what they heard (the wrap up).

And finally, the important part — practice, practice, practice. The main purpose of creating an outline is to develop a coherent plan of what you want to talk about. You should know your presentation so well, that during the actual presentation, you should only have to glance at your notes to ensure you are staying on track. This will also help you with your nerves by giving you the confidence that you can do it.

Your practice session should include a live session by practicing in front of coworkers, family, or friends. They can be valuable at providing feedback and it gives you a chance to practice controlling your nerves. Another great feedback technique is to make a video or audio tape of your presentation and review it critically with a colleague.


We all have a few habits, and some are more annoying than others. For example, if we say “uh”, “you know,” or put our hands in our pockets and jingle our keys too often during a presentation, it distracts from the message we are trying to get across.

The best way to break one of these distracting habits is with immediate feedback. This can be done with a small group of coworkers, family, or friends. Take turns giving small off-the-cuff talks about your favorite hobby, work project, first work assignment, etc. The talk should last about five minutes. During a speaker's first talk, the audience should listen and watch for annoying habits.

After the presentation, the audience should agree on the worst two or three habits that take the most away from the presentation. After agreement, each audience member should write these habits on a 8 1/2 "x 11" sheet of paper (such as the word “Uh”). Use a magic marker and write in BIG letters.

The next time the person gives her or his talk, each audience member should wave the corresponding sign in the air whenever they hear or see the annoying habit. For most people, this method will break a habit by practicing at least once a day for one to two weeks.


You want to include some visual information that will help the audience understand your presentation. Develop charts, graphs, slides, handouts, etc. When developing slides, think visual, rather than text and bullet points!

Your slides should not only be engaging, but also easy to understand quickly (Reynolds, 2008). Thinking “Visual” — such as pictures, charts, and drawings that support what you will be speaking about. You want the slides to support and clarify the story you will be telling rather than simply be redundant text that mimics what you are saying.

Paint a Picture to Tell a Story

Paint a Picture to Tell a Story

Making bad slides is easy... and all too common, thus you need to invest in not only your slides, but also in your visual presentation (Duarte, 2008).

Tips and Techniques For Great Presentations

Eleanor Roosevelt was a shy young girl who was terrified at the thought of speaking in public. But with each passing year, she grew in confidence and self-esteem. She once said, “No one can make you feel inferior, unless you agree with it.”

Next Steps

Main Leadership Menu

First Chapter: Concepts of Leadership

Resources for making better slide show presentations:


Demos, G.D., Unwary, F. (1962). Counselor attitudes in relation to the theoretical positions of their supervisors. Counselor Education and Supervision, 8-11.

Duarte, N. (2008). Slide:ology. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media.

Gwinn, A. (2007). Business Reports - Investigation and Presentation. Philadelphia: Saunders Press.

Grant-Williams, R. (2002). Voice Power: Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention. New York: AMACOM.

Reynolds, G. (2008). Presentation Zen. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Rogers, C.R. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 2A,95-103.

Smith, F.C., Bace, R.G. (2002). A Guide to Forensic Testimony: The Art and Practice of Presenting Testimony As An Expert Technical Witness. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley Professional