Making a technical presentation at an ITE meeting or in a web
seminar? As an ITE
meeting/web seminar presenter, your presentation will reflect the
professionalism of ITE and its members. Your audience
has registered for the meeting to listen to you. They deserve a well prepared
The key to a successful presentation is clear thinking and good planning.
Here are some tips (adapted from "Speak like the Best of Them", by
Daniel A. Cirucci, Association Management, May 1993) to help you prepare and
deliver your presentation successfully.
Note: To improve the quality of visual
materials/aids presented at ITE meetings, ITE will provide only an LCD projector
for all speakers of technical sessions at the Annual Meeting and Spring
WRITE TO THE AUDIENCE
The first step in finding the right words and delivering an
effective technical presentation is the audience. Ask certain
questions to pin down for whom you're writing.
- Who is the audience?
- What do the members of the audience have in common? Are
they mostly engineers? Planners? Are they mostly from the
- Why has the audience been brought together?
- Why have they invited me to make a presentation? What
makes it unique?
- How much time do I have?
- Do they expect or want me to talk about a specific
subject and, if so, what?
- In other words: Who are these people and why are they
Identifying the audience is extremely important. It will set
the tone and the technical level of your presentation. The more
you or your presentation writer know about all of the questions
listed above, the better your presentation will be. If you are
making a presentation at an ITE Annual Meeting, for example, ITE
should provide this information for you. You can expect the
audience to be highly educated, with knowledge of engineering
terminology and concepts. If the audience is internationally
diverse, you should avoid jargon, acronyms, and colloquial terms.
Never make assumptions about your audience what audience knows.
If you are not sure, it is better to start at a lower technical
level. Regardless of the type of audience, waste no time in
making a quick, clear, and simple connection. Find something in
common with your listeners and lead with it.
BE CAREFUL WITH HUMOR
The all-important link with the audience can often be
established with humor. Many speakers use humor by telling a joke
or anecdote. But this technique is not as simple as it may seem.
Leading with a joke has become almost a cliche; and sometimes the
joke can fall flat. Unless you've tried the joke or anecdote
before with a similar audience and know it will trigger laughs,
caution is the byword. Test the story out with a few friends or
colleagues. Ask them to be particularly frank with you in
assessing its impact. Your presentation will be remembered by the
knowledge it imparts, and not by the jokes it contains. Beyond
humor, other audience-linking introductions can make listeners
feel comfortable with familiar words, images, concepts, and
experiences. All human beings have some similar shared
experience, and you're bound to reach most of your listeners.
This common-bond approach follows a basic rule; begin the
dialogue with your audience on a recognizable, friendly, and
agreeable terrain. Before you do anything else, get the
audience's attention and create the right atmosphere.
A THREE-ACT PLAY
A technical presentation is actually a three-act play: a
beginning, a middle, and an end (introduction, body, and
conclusion). Each part of the presentation must be clear and
distinct, but at the same time, the three parts must work as one.
The theme or topic is what holds all three parts together. The
best presentations can be summarized in a single sentence. Often,
an even shorter single phrase within the presentation will come
to describe your topic.
TELL THEM, TELL THEM, TELL THEM
Regardless of the nature of the presentation or the
composition of the audience, the speaker owes it to his or her
listeners to plan, write, and deliver the presentation in a
professional, convincing manner. An effective way to make the
beginning, middle, and end of the presentation work together is
to remember this three-pronged rule of clear communication: Tell
them you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them that you
told them. In the beginning of the presentation, preview what is
to come. This approach grabs the audience's attention and opens
the door to the main body of the presentation: the middle. It is
also a good idea to tell them for how long you will speak:
"For the next 15 minutes I will....". This will give
the audience an idea of the scale of you presentation to avoid
the guess work. In the middle, present most of what you have to
say. Simple, declarative lists ("First, the purpose of the
study was ....") can organize the middle of the presentation
to help the listener move along. In the end, wrap up ("To
summarize...."). Approaching the three parts of the
presentation this way is the simplest and easiest way to organize
yourself and make your thoughts understandable to all and easy to
Many other techniques can be employed to make a presentation
work especially well. All recognize one fact: A presentation is
prepared for the ear. To be effective, the words and ideas must
be retained in the listener's mind. The following techniques can
be particularly effective while delivering your presentation:
Repetition. Besides helping your audience remember
something, repetition builds greater awareness of central points
of the main theme. Often, repetition contributes to the flow of
the presentation. Do not be afraid to repeat the main point of
Quotes. The best quotations are short and memorable.
They not only say something meaningful, but they say it clearly.
Good quotes work on several levels, forcing the audience to
think. Make sure the quote is clearly attributed and that it was
said by someone your audience will probably recognize. Quotations
are often particularly effective at the beginning or end of a
presentation but can work well almost anywhere.
Startling or surprising moments. Surprise is used to
draw attention to the point you are about to make. Saying
something the audience is not expected to hear can reawaken the
Tell a short story. Everyone likes to hear a story. As
we listen, we visualize the action of the story in our minds.
This is why and how we remember stories long after we have
forgotten a lot of other things. In a presentation, of course, a
story has to be short (it cannot come to take the place of the
presentation itself) and it has to make a point in the context of
the presentation and its theme. Use all of these devices
sparingly in your presentations. If overused, the presentation
becomes exaggerated and can quickly turn into a farce. Used with
care and to move the presentation along, they usually work
If making a presentation as part of a technical session, where
more than one speaker speaks, it is very important to adhere to
your allocated time limit. The overall session must end at
certain time. Exceeding your time will make the audience wander
and lose their concentration. It can ruin your presentation. As
you write and edit your presentation, the general rule to follow
is to allow about 90 seconds for every double-spaced page of
copy. Rehearsing your presentation will tell you approximately
how long it will be. To stay within the allocated time, it is
very important that you write the presentation that you are going
to deliver. If you have prepared a written version of your
presentation, for the Compendium of Technical Papers, for
example, NEVER read it. Take your time to prepare a custom
presentation, one that incorporates some of the techniques
described above. Your written paper and the presentation you
deliver should NEVER be the same. Of course, if you feel you are
the wrong person to speak on a certain topic, or if you don't
feel comfortable about delivering a paper written by someone
else, don't hesitate to say so. But be prepared to recommend
DELIVERING A TECHNICAL PRESENTATION
Planning carefully, organizing your thoughts, and composing a
good technical presentation constitute only part of the process.
You have to be able to deliver the presentation well to carry it
all off. Follow these 10 tips to achieve success.
- Get comfortable with it. Read the presentation silently a
few times. In your mind, listen to yourself delivering
the presentation. Then read it aloud several times. Hear
the sound and flow and cadence of it. Get to know the
presentation so that you can quickly recall its sounds
and words. Time it.
- Watch your timing. Know where the beginning, middle, and
end of the presentation click in. Identify the climax-the
single most dramatic point in the presentation-which
usually comes about two thirds of the way into it.
- Mark it up. Give yourself notes and clues, if needed,
along the margins or in the body of the presentation, to
tell you where to slow down, modulate, raise your voice,
speed up, and so forth.
- Highlight the points that have to be made.
- Deliver the presentation just slightly above the
conversational mode. Speak calmly and clearly in a manner
that makes it seem like you are in control, with total
confidence. If you get nervous, slow down.
- Maintain frequent eye contact with the entire audience.
Look down at your notes, not to read the presentation but
to remind yourself where you are.
- Keep a glass of water at the podium. Anxiety can create
an instant dry mouth. If necessary, steal a moment (when
folks are laughing or applauding) to take a drink. Also,
don't be afraid to take a moment to catch your breath.
The audience will wait. A long pause is also a good
technique to regain the audience's attention.
- Don't think about the delivery of the presentation as you
are delivering it. Ignore that little voice inside you
that wants to criticize the presentation as you're
- Delegate the responsibility for the sound system,
lighting, and visual aids to others. Always arrive early
and try everything out. Make sure the lighting is right
for your visual aids. Check the orientation of your
slides. Check the microphone and its cord to make sure it
is long enough to reach the overhead projector. Check,
- Enjoy your presentation and share your enjoyment with the
audience. The spotlight is on you, but you have prepared
well and practiced. Now earn the accolades. Savor the