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Effective Presentations Checklist

Having the knowledge and skills to effectively design and deliver a dynamic presentation is essential in the academic and professional world, regardless of the career field.  Most college and universities require students to complete a Public Speaking course.  In addition, many large organizations send employees to training courses to develop their skills in this area.  Why is it so important for college students and employees to be effective in this communication context?  The bottom-line is that presentations are used to create a “shared meaning” between the speaker and the audience.  Whether it be to inform peers of the results of your course project, communicate changes in the organization, provide updates on projects to your boss and co-workers, persuade the organization to invest in new technology, convince the city council to reduce waste and “go green” in the workplace, or recognize the accomplishments of a valued employee, the goal of the presentation needs to be accomplished.  By use strategic design and delivery techniques, you are increasing the changes of accomplishing your goal.  In addition, your successful efforts will leave others with a positive impression of your communication and leadership skills (since many people are not able to deliver effective presentations).

While there are a tremendous number of resources available on the Internet to assist individuals wanting to increase their presentation effectiveness, the following checklist provides the basic items you should consider.  The checklist contains items that are included within UMC’s Public Speaking course (SPCH 1101).  

  • What are the Logistical Considerations/Constraints of the Speaking Event?  If you don’t know the answers to the questions below, ask the person inviting you to speak.  Although the following is not an exhaustive list, these items may prompt you to determine other questions you may want to ask.

    • What is the occasion/event that I’ll be speaking at (purpose)?
    • Where is it located (directions to the location and/or room)?
    • How many people will be in the audience?
    • What is the start time for my presentation?
    • How much time do I have to speak?  Does that include time for audience members to ask questions?
    • What do you recommend that I wear?
    • Do you want me to use presentation aids?  If so, what type of presentation aid would you recommend for this audience?  What technology is available for me to use (screen, projector, computer, remote mouse, etc.)?  If you want the audience to receive handouts of my presentation, how many copies should I provide?
    • Will there be someone available to help if I need assistance (with set-up, technology, etc.)?

  • Know your Audience.  The more you know about your audience, the more you can tailor your presentation to them, thus making it potentially more relevant and increase the likelihood of accomplishing your goal.  If you don’t know the answers to the questions below, ask the person inviting you to speak.  Although the following is not an exhaustive list, these items may prompt you to determine other questions you may want to ask.

    • Who will be in the audience (job position/level, male/female, etc.)?
    • How much does the audience know about the presentation topic (and their previous experience)?
    • What is the audience’s feelings/position/attitude regarding the presentation topic? 

  • What is the Purpose of the Presentation?  The answer to this question will help you determine how to organizing your presentation as well as chose the appropriate content.  If you don’t know the answers to the questions below, ask the person inviting you to speak.  Although the following is not an exhaustive list, these items may prompt you to determine other questions you may want to ask.
    • Is the purpose to inform the audience?
    • Is the purpose to persuade the audience?
    • Is the purpose to deliver a presentation at a special occasion (toast, recognition, presenting an award, etc.)?
    • Do you have suggestions on the content you would like me to include in the presentation? 
  • Create a Speaking Outline with Appropriate Content.  Creating an outline will help you to gather your thoughts and put structure to the content you want to delivery.  If your presentation is not organized, your audience may have difficultly understanding your content (they will become frustrated and not listen) and you increase the likelihood of not accomplishing your goal.  Remember that audience members will not have a written manuscript to refer to if they get lost during your presentation because of your lack of organization.  Based on the purpose, constraints and audience of your presentation, consider including the following items.

    Introduction (“Tell them what you’re going to tell them.”)

    • Attention Catcher – Get the attention of the audience with a statement, quote, startling statistic, story, etc.
    • Speaker Credibility Statement – Tell the audience why you are credible to speak on this topic (education, experience, interest, etc.)
    • Listener Relevance Statement – Tell the audience why this topic is relevant (important) to them (why should they listen?)
    • Thesis Statement – Tell the audience what your presentation is about and what you are trying to accomplish with the presentation
    • Main Point Preview – Tell the audience the main points of your presentation in the order they will appear in your presentation

    Body (“Tell them.”)

    • Main Points and Sub-Points – Each main point should include information that supports the main point (and overall presentation topic and purpose). 

      • You may want to include research to support your efforts (information outside of yourself that can be found in a number of resources like the Internet, articles, books, interviews, etc.).  If you include research, you need to oral cite it in order to enhance your credibility and give credit to those individuals (avoid plagiarism). 
      • Each main point should also be “balanced,” in that you spend approximately the same amount of time on each main point. 
      • Between your main points, you should include “transition statements” that helps the listeners understand that you are ending one main point and going on to the next.

      Conclusion (“Tell them what you told them.”)

    • Thesis Restatement – Remind the audience of your presentation topic and purpose
    • Main Point Review – Remind the audience of your main points (in the order that they appeared in your presentation)
    • Clincher Statement – Leave the audience with something to think about regarding your presentation

  • Effectively Deliver your Presentation.  Along with content and structure, delivery can either enhance or detract you from achieving your goal.  We have all attended presentations where the presenter’s delivery style either enhanced our learning or was so distracting that we stopped listening.  The following lists several basic items to consider when delivering your presentation.

    • Wear appropriate and comfortable clothing
    • Maintain good eye contact with every member of the audience (during at least 90% of your presentation)
    • Use the space provided (the “stage”) – don’t just stand in one spot
    • Use hand gestures that are appropriate
    • Use your voice and facial expressions
    • Portray confidence
    • Smile when appropriate
    • Eliminate distracting behaviors (“dancing around,” constant and repetitive gestures, chewing gum, saying “um,” etc.)
    • Don’t just read your speech (off of your paper, outline or note cards)
    • If using a PowerPoint slideshow:
      • Face the audience and not the screen
      • Don’t read off of the screen word for word, rather summarize the points (the audience can read your slide)
      • Ensure that you slideshow is visually pleasing (easy to read, few distracting elements (too many colors, animations, etc.)
      • Ensure that your slideshow is free of errors (grammar, spelling, format, animation, etc.)
  • Practice, Practice, Practice.  An important component of effective presentation delivery is practice.  Determine the practice method that works for you (in front of a mirror or friend, in the room you will be delivering your presentation, verbalizing your presentation, etc.).  Consider practicing several days before delivering your presentation.  The more you practice, the more confident you will be with your content, organization and delivery methods.   
  • Dealing with Speech Anxiety.  Almost everyone experiences some level of speech anxiety when delivering a presentation.  Effective presenters are those individuals who use that anxiety and energy as tools to help them in their efforts.  The following lists the items to consider when managing your speech anxiety before and/or during your presentation.

    • Practice helps lessen speech anxiety
    • Don’t let negative self-talk undermine your efforts.  Instead, turn those negative self-talk messages, like, “I’m going to embarrass myself” or “I’m going to fail,” into positive messages like “I’m going to be successful” and “my audience will enjoy my presentation.” 
    • Visualize your success
    • Remember to breathe
    • Pretend you’re confident
    • Remember that your audience wants you to be successful
    • Lubricate your mouth and vocal cords by drinking water prior to delivering your presentation
    • Remember, that most of the time, the audience won’t see your anxiety

Whether a college student or a working professional, this checklist outlines basic items you should consider when designing and delivering an effective presentation.  In addition to this checklist, you are encouraged to investigate the many resources and tools in the library and on the Internet that can aid you in your efforts.  Similar to other skills (athletics, singing, acting, canoeing, hunting, etc.), the more experience you obtain, the more relaxed and effective you will become.

By Kevin D. Thompson, Ph.D.