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How to improve your presentation skills: Submit your questions.

How to improve your presentation skills: Submit your questions.

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Have you ever experienced slight (or extreme!) panic when asked to present something at a meeting, on a call or to a group? No matter our position, we all find ourselves giving presentations every day, pitching our ideas, defending our work, and inspiring others. Most people get nervous when presenting. Not everyone knows that there are tricks of the trade when it comes to overcoming nerves, planning for success, and handling resistance, along with much more.

If you’ve ever wondered how to handle various presentation situations, submit your questions to this thread. Kathleen Armstrong of KDA and Associates, LLC will be moderating the discussion and answering questions on October 20th.  Kathleen has over 30 years of experience as presenter and facilitator and lots share when it comes to specific strategies and skills that will turn you in to a “Fabulous Facilitator”!

Types of questions Kathleen can answer around presenting and facilitating:

How can I get over my nerves and sound more confident?

How can I strategically incorporate participation opportunities, whether face-to-face or over the phone?

How can I stop my “Verbal Graffiti”?  (Ums, Ahs, like, etc.)


What should be the tone of presenter to captivate audience attention? What kind of style do you recommend to someone who is in the process of developing a presentation tone?

I sometimes tend to jump in without making sure everyone in the room has the right context to follow me. Are there tips to help see things from your audience's perspective and help you to lay the proper groundwork to effectively convey your ideas?


What is the best way to ‘control’ audience questions and stay on topic during a presentation? I’d also like to know how to eliminate the uhms when caught off guard. Finally, what do you find is the best way to be assertive without coming off as micromanging?

Can you provide tips on how I can jump into a group meeting with colleagues that are more assertive? I don't want to appear like I don't have an opinion but I can't seem to find the right place to interject.

How can I shut down "mansplaining?" in an assertive way so I don't lose out on getting credit for my work?

I know I have to make eye contact when presenting especially to a bigger audience but nerves sometimes get to me when I meet the audience's gaze which makes me lose my train of thought. Are there tips on overcoming this?

Additionally, do you have general tips on how to make a technical presentation more captivating?


In your opinion, what is the best way to open your presentation when speaking to a large audience?


Good Morning! 

What are some suggestions on how to keep a group interested and get them engaged during 'training' presentations?


What is the best way to communicate important changes to the customer when they don't read my release notes and I don't want to call each one to tell them the changes.

That is such a great question, and the answer is that it’s very personal.  Start by thinking of the best facilitators or presenters you’ve ever seen.  What was their tone or style that captivated you and how can you incorporate it in to your style?  The key thing is to be YOU, not the perfect “presenter”.  Ask yourself how you want to be viewed by your audience and ensure you’re demonstrating it by asking for feedback.

We live and breathe the content that we are about to present and often jump in like everyone else is on the same page as us when they live and breathe other stuff.  When preparing, think about the bottom line.  What do you want them to do and why should they do it.  What’s in it for them.  Make sure you tell them.  If this is new content for them, think of the key 3 – 5 things they need to know and lay it out briefly.  Think of it from the participant perspective to determine what questions they may have. Then give them links or other ways to learn more on the basics and move on to your main objective of the topic at hand. Another idea is to practice on someone who has about the same knowledge base as your audience and incorporate their feedback.

It's tough to break in to conversations when you have something valuable to add but the more "animated" people have the floor and seem to keep tossing the conversation back and forth between each other.  In your next meeting observe how other people interrupt and jump in with their comments. Determine some best practices that may work for you, meaning looking for smooth ways people jump in.  One idea is the minute the person that’s talking takes a breath quickly say “Lydia brings up a good topic.  My perspective is …”  When you use their name every stops and listens, including them.  Then don’t breathe until you’re done with your point so no one does it to you!  Just kidding. But make it quick!  The key is that you have valuable information that needs to be heard, so it's your duty to get it out there.  It's not about being polite or not polite.

P.S. If you’re the one being interrupted here are some tips:

  1. 1. Recognize when it’s happening and stop it.  Say “Let me finish.” 
  2. 2. If you see someone else getting interrupted, say “Let her finish!”

I’m going to break this down into the three questions you asked:

One way to “control” your audience so you stay on track is to set expectations in the very beginning on how and when to ask questions, and what’s on (and possibly not on) the agenda.  If an off topic comes up you can say, “That’s getting off topic.  Could you write that issue down on a sticky note or something with your name on it and give it to me after the meeting so I can follow up or we can add it to the agenda next time?”  Do this the first time it happens so it doesn’t happen again.  Be the boss.

“Ums” are just ways to fill silence, which we think we need to do. We don’t.  Silence is powerful.  It gives people time to think.  One trick is to say “Um” in your head instead of out loud.  Or say “Let me think about that for a second” giving permission for some silence.

Micromanaging is often telling someone HOW to do something step by step instead of letting them develop their own way of accomplishing the same objective. No one likes being told what to do. And who knows, they could come up with a better way!  Be clear about your position, objective and/or expectations. Lay out what needs to happen but ask THEM for ideas on how to accomplish it.  If they have the same ideas you have don’t steal them away and take credit for them by saying, “That’s what I was thinking!”.  Let them own it and run with it and instead say “Great idea.  What do you need from me to help?”  You can add your own ideas that may be different than theirs if you think it’s critical to their success.  Just let them “own” as much as possible.  You will be teaching them how to think for themselves and make better decisions when you're not around.  P.S. This works well with teenagers!

According to Wikipedia, Mansplaining is a blend of the word man and the informal form splaining of the verb explaining and means "to explain something to someone, characteristically by a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing".  It sounds like the main issue in your question is getting credit for your work.  Look for that opportunity to interject and/or expand on a key point that only someone with extensive knowledge would know and take it from there.  Don’t be afraid to use the word “I” when sharing what you know or did with the work.  Otherwise they will never know the value you're adding.  My dad has always told me that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”.  I’ve said that line in my head many times to give me confidence to say or ask for things throughout my whole life, and it works!

Regarding the eye contact, one trick is to break the audience in to quadrants, and make eye contact with each quadrant as you make different points.  Another trick if you control the seating is to put someone in each quadrant that you know so you feel like you’re talking to them, or just pretend they’re there!  If you lose your train of thought, have some clear bullet points or talking points in your notes to get you back on track.  And don’t worry about the silence as you get there.  It seems longer to you than it does to them.  Smile, collect your thoughts and move on.  Also keep in mind that no one knows what you were about to say, so whatever you DO say is what they think you planned all along!

Technical training and presentations are tough.  The best way to teach them technology is to have them do it.  One way to get them using the technology that you want is setting up a scavenger hunt to find things on different pages or sites, or have a competition like the first person to text the right answer to you wins a prize, or give them a case study and break them in to groups.  If the presentation is simply showing them technology, make it real. Have a case study example to show them how it works in a real situation, or have THEM teach the rest of the class how to use a certain part.  No one learns better than the teacher.  Make sure you always stress the benefits to THEM for having access to this technology.  Every presentation is a sales pitch of some sort, so let them know what's in it for them to learn it.  Write those benefit statements in your Facilitator Notes so you don't forget.  (I.E. Save time, make more money, increased flexibility, less hassle, Smarter/Faster/Easier, etc.)

Your Opening Line can make or break the audience’s perception of you, no matter what the size of the group. It’s the number one thing to nail, which is why you need to write it down and practice, practice, practice. Some ideas are to use statistics or quotes or recent articles that are relevant to the audience and topic. Jokes can be tough so if you choose to use one make sure you practice it on someone else first. The key thing is to lay out the WIIFM – What’s In It For Me – that’s all the audience cares about. Tell them how this will help them with enthusiasm and passion and they’ll listen to the rest.

There’s a wonderful quote from Confucius that says it all:

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.”                   Confucius

If we want participants doing something with the material we’re presenting, we need to get them to “do” as much of it as possible in training.  Ask lots of open-ended questions to get the discussion going, add something quick for them to read as well as individual and pair exercises, use case studies or breakout groups to teach them how to solve problems, and have them develop action plans for when they leave the training session that someone will inspect.  When you ask people a question, not everyone may answer it but they are all thinking about the answer.  When you're just talking, they can be daydreaming.  Keep their brains involved by using many mediums like the ideas above to appeal to the different learning styles out there.

That is a great question to ask our group!  Who can share some best practices around ways to communicate important changes so they don’t get lost?

Ever since I started using the PASS email model, my emails and meeting agenda have been way more effective.

For me that looks something like:

Email Subject: Action Requested: Update Y

Hi person I'm emailing,

We are changing X and going forward you need to do Y

This is due to blah blah blah because we have found blah blah blah. For more info, my release notes are attached blah blah.

Is it better to try and memorize a presentation, go into it with no practice and on the fly, or some combination in between?

There are many different ways people approach preparation and like everything, it depends on your style, the content and amount of content, and the audience.  I’ve seen some people memorize their entire presentation and deliver it beautifully. I can’t imagine remembering so much. For me what works is to write out what I want to say almost like a script, including adding the questions I want to ask or the directions to exercises.  Then I read it from the audience perspective to see if I’m hitting on the right content and make any adjustments.  Then I read it out loud, because it sounds completely different when you say it out loud, and I make more adjustments.  Once I know what I want to say and am sure I can deliver it in the time allotted, I go back over my “script” and highlight the key words from each sentence. That way when I look down I just see the key word and can build the rest of the sentence from my heart so it’ sounds natural.  I’ve also learned to highlight different actions in different colors.  For example, if I want to ask an open-ended question to get participation I highlight it in hot pink.  Or if I want them to read something in the materials or do an exercise, I may highlight that in blue.  When I see the other colors coming up I don’t miss them since they are the participation opportunities.  Once I’ve done this, I practice out loud a few times trying to use the highlights and not reading so much.  You can tape yourself too to see if you have any body language you need to address. (Apparently I’m a “winker”.  Who knew.)  Once you get in front of your audience, trust in your preparation and knowledge of the content.  If you miss something, no one will know.  Only YOU know what you were planning.  They think anything they see is what they were supposed to see.

What's the best way to handle "freezing"? Like when you're mid-thought and your mind just goes blank?

And - what's the best way to coach someone/advise someone who deals with pretty extreme anxiety relating to presentations and interviews? I've tried to coach a friend and she's improved a little but her anxiety for nearly a week leading up to any presentation/interview is off the charts. Approaching the fear rationally doesn't really seem to work, since fears are so rarely rational.


Much better than my "please see attachment for the updates made".  I tried to highlight and color some of the important updates, but that may be data overload.  Thanks for the suggestion.


Great advice here, Kathleen. Thank you! I love the point about "don't worry about the silence as you get there. It seems longer to you than it does to them.". I never really thought about that. I keep thinking: "the audience is waiting, they're waiting, they're waiting" so then it adds more pressure and stress. hah! I'll make sure to remember that so I can collect my thoughts without so much pressure

We all know that panic when we just completely go blank on what we were going to say, and in front of a crowd it feels even worse.  One thing to keep in mind when you're speaking in public is that it doesn't have to be perfect.  What I mean is that it's not like it's Shakespeare and someone out there knows you missed a line.  This is your show.  So you can take breath and glance at your bulleted or highlighted notes, which are your anchor, and continue on.  If the thought comes back later, weave it in.  I've also heard someone say if you take 2 steps back and then 2 steps forward the thought may come back.  I haven't tried that one yet so let me know if anyone does!

As far as coaching your friend with extreme anxiety, it may be helpful for her to verbalize the worst thing that could happen.  It may be that she's worried that she'll freeze and forget what she wants to say, or it will be boring, or something else.  Isolate what specifically is concerning her and then you can address the issues one by one, potentially with some of the ideas above.  When we really think about "What's the worst thing that could happen?" it's usually not as bad as we think, and we now know where to focus during preparation.  Good luck!

I'm glad it was helpful!  Once you get comfortable with silence it gets so much easier! 

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