Ten Tips for Asking Good Questions
Preparing Your Presentation or Speech
Avoiding Stage Fright

Exploring Special Presentation Situations

As you organize various business meetings and events, you're likely to come across many different presentation situations. Each requires a unique approach and attention to detail. Here are some of the more common scenarios.

Team presentations

Flip to almost any popular television morning show, and you likely find that it features an assemblage of co-hosts working as a team. Television networks and producers have caught on to the fact that different personalities and styles complement each other and provide the audience with more perspective, variety, and entertainment than a single host ever could. You can use this knowledge to your advantage by including a team presentation in your next event.

A team presentation is a highly coordinated effort given by two or more individuals trying to convey a common message. A team presentation is more complex than a solo presentation and requires extra planning to work successfully.

Knowing when to team up

Quite often, no one person has a complete understanding of all the details of a complex project or subject. Turning to a team presentation enables individual team members to speak about information they are familiar and comfortable with, rather than forcing one person to present information he has to struggle to learn and then speak about authoritatively.

Team presentations also give your audience a better overview of your organization by introducing them to more than just one presenter, and they make long presentations more interesting. For these reasons, team presentations are particularly appropriate for project proposals, progress reports, and training seminars.

Here are four tips for successful team presentations:

  • Select one team member to take charge and to coordinate all necessary details.
  • Plan the presentation carefully so that each team member fully understands what's expected of him.
  • Make sure that all team members direct their part of the presentation to the overall theme or message being conveyed.
  • Take time for a dry run through the material for timing and content.

Understanding the planner's role in team presentations

Your job is to find out what each presenter needs in the way of support material and audiovisual equipment, and to establish where each member wants to sit when she isn't presenting. Make sure the speakers have plenty of water and their own drinking glasses. It wouldn't be a bad idea to remind team members to pay attention to other presenters who are speaking and not be seen fidgeting, yawning, or playing with their notes. Most importantly, make sure the participants know the procedures and assignments and adhere to a tightly planned time schedule.

International presentations

Many people, including top-ranking officials, have committed their fair share of cultural blunders mainly because they failed to do their homework. Don't make their mistakes! The following points are essential to ensure smooth programming when you have an international audience:

  • Analyze your audience and know their level of English-language proficiency.
  • Select presenters who are sensitive to cultural differences and who understand what it takes to present before a multicultural group.
  • Supply presenters with as much information as possible about the audience.
  • Instruct your presenters to adjust their presentation so that it's acceptable and understandable for the international contingent. They need to strive for simplicity and clarity.
  • Remind presenters to avoid symbols and colors that are culture-specific, jokes and sporting analogies, idioms, jargon, and buzzwords.
  • Encourage presenters to use more charts and graphs to illustrate information rather than text, and to use global examples, rather than just ones from the United States.
  • Distribute handouts and support materials to the audience because nonnative speakers generally have greater reading than listening comprehension skills in another language.
  • Consider adding subtitles to visuals.
  • Allow extra time for extensive two-way communication, especially when using interpreters.
  • Use open discussion sessions cautiously because people from some other cultures are not especially open to stating their personal views publicly.
  • Avoid turning down the lights because many nonnative speakers rely heavily on physical cues for understanding.

Presentations read from a script

Speeches read directly from a script can often seem unnatural and flat, usually because the speaker fails to listen to his own voice as he reads, and he eliminates all natural pauses and inflection. As a result, audience members may wonder why they didn't just read a copy of the speech themselves.

Encourage the presenter to practice reading the speech out loud before the actual presentation so that he can make any necessary adjustments to the tone, pitch, phrasing, and pauses. In addition, as he becomes more familiar with the speech, suggest that he work in a few physical gestures so that he's not seen as a statue behind the lectern. Convince him to talk to the audience rather than to read to them.

Limit the speaker to 30 minutes maximum, or 20 if he is likely to lull the audience into a soporific state.

Q & A sessions

Most audiences like to be an active part of a presentation and contribute through their questions, which can result in a mutually beneficial interchange of ideas, information, opinions, plans, and concerns. The following rules help create an environment where participants can feel safe asking questions:

  • For large audiences, consider having standing microphones in the aisles for participants wanting to ask questions or make comments to the presenter(s).
  • Help presenters plan for anticipated questions, especially if they are addressing a controversial topic.
  • Pass out 3 x 5 cards for the Q & A session. Some people prefer writing a question rather than approaching the microphone. It also allows the question to be anonymous.
  • Arrange for questions to be submitted prior to the session to avoid the possibility of no one asking a question.
  • Instruct presenters to listen to the entire question before responding. If they begin to formulate an answer while the question is still being asked, they may miss the point the questioner is trying to make.
  • Make sure that questions are repeated before they are responded to, especially for overseas visitors who may have difficulty expressing themselves in English.
  • Encourage presenters to avoid arguable issues, especially as they relate to the organization or a political situation. They should agree to disagree rather than be sarcastic or belligerent with the questioner.
  • Suggest that presenters keep their responses brief and relevant. Long-winded answers are boring!
  • Tell presenters to treat each question seriously, however goofy the inquiry may sound. They should also deal with a convoluted question by asking the questioner to repeat it more succinctly.
  • Have presenters defer questions that require lengthy answers. They may offer to talk to participants individually after the session.
  • Avoid ending the session with someone's question. Have the presenter recap key points to wrap things up.
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