Presentation skills training

I am doing a presentation at the State Library of Victoria this week and in preparation for this, they offered me and a number of other speakers for this and other SLV events, the opportunity to attend this training.  Knowing I will be giving more presentations in future, as well as training sessions, I took it.

I was pleasantly surprised and very encouraged by it. It was not about Powerpoint or what tools to use, but about who you are as a presenter and refocusing you as that presenter, away from your trepidations, to what should be your focus – the people you are presenting to.

If you get the chance to attend a training session with Laurie Smale (our trainer), I sincerely recommend you take it, but I also present here my notes from the session to help others like me, who worry and get nervous about having to give a presentation – no matter how big the audience.

Presentation skills workshop – with Laurie Smale – State Library of Victoria Thu 10 Oct 2013

When presenting, be yourself – be the person you are in the one-on-one’s, even when you are in front of a crowd.

Audiences are there to learn from you, not to judge you.

Making a mistake can be a positive thing – make light of it and it can help you engage with your audience.

Your task is to take your audience away from their lives for the time that you have. Audiences love to be led. If you ask questions and half pop up your hand as a positive response, many hands will also go up. Gives the audience something to do and engages them for you. Takes the pressure off you.

It is then straightforward to get their attention back.

Openings are important – you need to empathise with the audience but also get them physically involved, then get into what you are passionate about.

Fear is faulty thinking – conditioned thinking. Need to recondition our thinking. Recognise that you have the right to be there – you would not have been asked (or told) otherwise.

Fear 1 – Up there alone

  • Don’t do all the talking, get the audience to do some, get them involved, you can never ask too many questions
  • Always be positive and make your audience feel good about their contributions.
  • Don’t give them all the answers, let the audience give them to you and help them to get there

Fear 2 – Overpreparation

  • Begin with the end in mind, what is the message you want to leave your audience with
  • Never make a statement without giving an example
  • If you need help, get it from the audience

Fear 3 – Not doing justice to your presentation

  • Always give illustrative examples
  • Be prepared with ‘stories’ that illustrate and take the audience to your point
  • Do yourself justice first and believe in yourself, you can then focus on your listeners
  • Audience is not looking for perfection but connection

Fear 4 – Making a fool of yourself

  • Acknowledge that you are not perfect
  • Have a good opening
  • Be a bit larger than life eg. I can remember the first book I read
  • Focus on your audience and give good examples

Fear 5 – Losing focus during the presentation

  • Plan to have an opening, your stories and a progression to get to your message
  • Rehearse the key ideas, imagine yourself there
  • Have highlighted notes and prompting pictures

Fear 6 – Voice is too loud, soft, can’t be understood

  • Use a microphone when working with a bigger audience
  • Think two-way audience rather than public speaking, regardless of the numbers

Fear 7 – Running out of time

  • Don’t put too much into your presentation
  • Rehearse your talk (by yourself) and time it
  • If you lose your way, go back to your notes (cover it by having a drink of water)

Fear 8 – Familiarity/unfamiliarity with the audience

  • Be prepared and use your stories to engage

Fear 9 – Technology issues

  • Leave it to someone else to worry about
  • Get there early and go through a technical walk through
  • Have a plan B and a plan C
  • Use your audience as a resource

Fear 10 – How to dress

  • Don’t go overboard – don’t distract with your clothes or accessories
  • Dress a notch above your audience

Fear 11 – Getting the right timing

  • If you are prepared, then it will be all OK on the day
  • Be excited, look forward to it

Fear 12 – Audience knows more than I do

  • Sort out the what if’s while you are relaxing on the couch – what if they say this, what if they ask that
  • Acknowledge their experience/expertise and get them to agree that there is always room for more insights
  • You have your perspective to share which they can then relate to theirs

We need to humanise what we want to say. Never make a statement and move on without elaborating. Use stories to humanise and to illustrate your points. Your audience will forget facts and figures quickly, but they will remember the stories.

Structure of a presentation – can use Past – Present – Future – where you’ve been, where you are, where you are going. Or tell what you are going to say, say it and then say what you’ve said.

Question Time:

  • Think of all the worst possible questions in your preparation time and prepare answers
  • Use your audience, ask if they have any questions
  • If you don’t know the answer, admit it and offer follow-up or ask your audience if they know
  • If not getting questions, ask if anyone has any comments
  • Plant a question in the audience, or offer a rhetorical question yourself
  • “Never argue with a fool, because bystanders don’t know which is which.” Proverbs 26
  • If no questions, “Look’s like I’ve got you all thinking…….”, then your closing statement.

Important thing to know and remember is “What is the key message!”


  • Be quite definite in your conclusion
  • Don’t want the answer to the last question to be the last thing, so always finish with your key message “so remember…..”.

Other hints:

  • Don’t be a talking head
  • Make sure you have a first person dialogue, create a mental picture with your stories
  • “Make the most of who you are, because that’s all there is of you.” – Emerson
  • It’s the content and the passion – it’s not about being a public speaker