June 23rd, 2010 | 6:00 am

Seven Expert Presentation Tips for Women Climbing the Ladder

filed under Expert Answers

kristinarnoldContributed by Kristin Arnold, Author and Professional Speaker

Giving a presentation is one of the most stressful responsibilities you have in the workplace, especially if you do not give speeches routinely. However, women who have broken the glass ceiling know how to engage and involve their audiences during every presentation. Sure, they get nervous (we ALL do!). But they don’t get caught up in the moment thinking, “Will I make sense? Do I look all right? Am I going to embarrass myself?”

To be an effective, engaging presenter, you have to let go of your own internal conversations and focus on your audience. This means you have to care sincerely about and want to connect with each person in the audience. They need to know that you are putting their needs first. Even if you have given the same presentation before, you need to know enough them so they feel they can trust you and will want to listen to you. Get to know the hopes, fears and interests of your audience. Take the time to understand the people, their backgrounds, and the collective culture – often called the “personality” of the group – so you can connect your comments with what they care about.

Here are some proven ideas on how to reach out, discover what your audience wants to know and connect with them even before your presentation begins!

Interview. Pick up the phone or visit a few of your potential participants. Ask the meeting coordinator for the names and contact information for three “influencers” or “heavy hitters” – that is, those who are very visible, well-known, and respected within the audience. Arrange to meet these leaders and other audience members prior to your speech. Ask them what they would like to hear about, what challenges they are facing, and who is a “star” – someone in the audience or in the company who does extremely well at something you are going to talk about. You can also ask them about any specific jargon, acronyms, or terminology peculiar to the group that you should be aware of. You can then weave elements of all of this fabulous information about them into your presentation.

Survey. Email the participants a quick, Web-based survey: “In order to make the day most relevant to your needs, you can begin participating with me now. Would you please take this web-based survey or email me one or more questions you would like to have addressed during the presentation? Not to worry, I won’t single you out when I address your question.”

Prework. Is there something the attendees can read or do in preparation for your speech? Ask them to think about the topic or a specific scenario. Give them an interesting article to read. Ask them to do a self-evaluation. One caveat: If you have them do prework, make sure you at least thank them for investing their time in assisting in the preparation of the program.

Blog. Open up the discussions to all of the participants through a blog or Internet-based community-building tool. You can post either previews of your discussion or the prework itself and allow the participants to create their own “buzz” before you even walk into the room.

Email or Voicemail Blast. Some organizations have the ability to blast a voice mail or email to all the participants encouraging them to attend the presentation. You can also record an audio track that starts playing when you open up your email. Now that’s a splendid opportunity to send a strong, audible signal that your presentation will be energizing and engaging!

Teaser. If appropriate, set out a meeting flyer, post a few signs, or use a promotional gimmick to entice participants to check out your session. I like to put colored “footprints” on the floor leading into the meeting room. It’s like the yellow brick road!

Identify the Experts. Every once in a while, someone in the audience thinks they know more than you do about the topic and they should be giving the speech. If you know about these experts in advance, you can talk to them prior to the presentation to prevent any potential sharpshooting. You may even want to consider referring to their expertise at some point in your presentation.

Bottom line for glass ceiling crashers: Don’t wait until the presentation starts to engage your audience. Engage them early, make your presentation all about them, and you are much more likely to hit the mark.


Kristin Arnold is the author of the new book Boring to Bravo. No matter what page you turn to, you’ll find a sure fire way to pump up your next presentation. Click here to get your copy and download free goodies (including footprints of many colors!): www.BoringtoBravo.com.

2 comments

  1. Andrea

    I’d advise against using audio in an email message. If I opened up a message and it started playing music for everyone in my office to hear, I’d be mortified. I would be angry at the sender, and probably would not attend the presentation if it was optional. If I was required to attend, I would be disengaged at best.

  2. Simon - presentation skills training

    I’m with Andrea on this – not just for Email, but for websites, too!

    That said, I fully take your point about wanting to star the preparation for the presentation well in advance – engaging with an audience is a good way of doing that: most organisations, however, will have their own Training Needs Analysis in place, if they’ve asked you to speak. It’s probably better to concentrate on the presentation than worry too much about what it should be about: you’ll usually find that the organisation involved asks you with something quite specific in mind.

    S