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The Art of Presentations

Article by Paul Kelly

In the article below, Paul writes about giving presentations in English. If you are a student, do these activities in this order: The Art of Presentations (TAP) Websequitur, TAP Matching, TAP Cloze. Or, if you prefer, just listen as you read the text below.

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The Art of Presentations

Sometimes, in making a presentation, we may lose sight of what is really important and get wrapped up in all kinds of details. We may become obsessed with the quality of the slides we have prepared: are they attractive enough? Have we included enough graphs? Is there too much content or too little content on each slide? Are there any spelling mistakes? Is it colourful or eye-catching enough?

Yet we often forget about the most important thing of all. What do we want to say? What do we really want to communicate to our audience? Why are we doing this presentation in the first place?

How often have you heard someone say, ‘Tomorrow I have to do a power point presentation’; ‘Next week I have to do a power point presentation’? Power point has become synonymous with presentation. It is unthinkable that anyone might do a presentation without power point. Shock horror! So what makes a presentation attractive, entertaining, persuasive, informative and interesting for those who are in the audience? And could we do this without PowerPoint? It seems to me that there are a number of key points which make for a great presentation.


Perhaps 80% of the success of a presentation depends on preparation, but it isn’t about producing pretty slides with bright colours and original graphics. Sure, these things may help get your message across, but often as not, they can be a distraction or simply add nothing at all. The visual medium is a powerful tool when used properly, but it is no substitute for content.

1. Define your message.

Not as easy as it sounds. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to persuade someone to buy a product, justify a budget, explain an idea, or put forward a proposal or a suggestion? Whatever your goal may be, it is crucial that you tailor your presentation accordingly. Much will depend on your audience. Are they likely to be receptive, hostile, or indifferent? How much do they already know about your topic? Is there any technical language, which you will need to define or are they already familiar with it? This is your starting point. Rather obvious, but you would be surprised how often it gets overlooked, even by experienced speakers on occasions.

2. Research the topic.

Try to get as much information on the topic as you can: different points of view, statistics, facts, opinions, etc. If you become an expert on the topic you will be much more confident delivering your presentation. You should also try to anticipate questions, which may be asked at the end, and of course how you would respond to such questions. After gathering together as much relevant information as you can, it’s time to begin the planning process.

3. Construct your presentation logically.

Obviously, you could cover everything you need to say in a haphazard fashion, interspersed with lots of jokes and anecdotes, while dazzling the audience with your charisma, wit, charm and intelligence. However, given that most of us are not such brilliant orators, it is always a good idea to prepare your presentation in a logical order. Again, it may seem blindingly obvious but it is essential that your presentation is easy to follow: that it has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion, and that your ideas follow in a logical and orderly sequence.


A lot has been written about this and there are thousands of courses which will tell you all kinds of things about how you should stand, where you should put your hands, gesturing, voice, modulation, and so on. However, perhaps the key to a good delivery comes in the preparation. If the presentation is logical, and easy to follow, and if you really have a good knowledge of your subject area, then delivery should take care of itself. Obviously, rehearsing the presentation is very important but once on stage concentrate on communicating your ideas to the audience without being overly self-conscious about body language or voice. Be yourself. Communicate your ideas and your voice and gestures will almost certainly add the appropriate harmony. Really great speakers have the knack of talking to an audience as if they were talking to friends in their living room. They are able to create a sense of intimacy, which breaks down barriers and really opens up communication.

When delivering your presentation, NEVER EVER read a speech unless your objective is to bore everybody to death. Speak naturally using your own words. If you know your subject material, then your words will convey this. Don’t worry about grammatical mistakes or pronunciation errors when you’re up on stage. Just concentrate on communicating your ideas. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or give various examples. Remember, an oral presentation often requires repetition in order to get the main points across. Written presentations can be far more subtle. But don’t try to be subtle. Try to be clear.

Using brief notes with headings is also a good idea as they can help jog your memory. It only takes a second to glance at them, which means most of the time you can look at the audience. Try to make eye contact with as many people as possible. Some professional speakers say that they pick out friendly faces while ignoring the scowlers, as it helps them relax into their talk.

Keeping the Audience’s attention.

Much of this depends on your own enthusiasm, and knowledge of the subject. You don’t need to be a comedian to keep the audience spellbound. Humour is great if you can pull it off but take care with jokes. They may offend or just fall flat and so be counter-productive.

One of the best ways to keep people’s attention is by involving them. It’s such a simple idea yet so rarely used in modern business presentations. If you encourage dialogue with your audience from the outset, you’re far more likely to engage their interest. Perhaps you could elicit the ideas you want to present or simply be open to questions and comments as you go along, rather than exclusively at the end. Of course, the viability of participation depends on the nature of the presentation you are making. However, it can be a powerful communication tool, and is greatly under-used.

Another useful technique, well known to novelists and film makers, is to create a sense of mystery at the beginning of the talk. Give the audience an added reason to listen. Ask rhetorical questions at the beginning which will be answered later in the presentation. Start with something unusual which will make the audience sit up and take notice. Surprise them!

A final word

Once all the preliminary preparation has been done, you might think about what kind of visual aids might enhance the presentation such as power point slides, etc. But don’t just use them for the sake of it, or because everybody else does. Use your imagination and try out other kinds of visual aids such as handouts where participants have their own copy of your main ideas: you might even give them tasks to carry out during your talk, in order to focus their attention. By being creative and a little original, you have a far greater chance of achieving your communication aims, holding your audience's attention and creating a successful and memorable presentation.

Vocabulary List

to get wrapped up in detail - Envolverse en detalles sin importancia
eye-catching - llamativo
unthinkable - inconcevible
to tailor something - hacer algo a medida
to gather - recoger
haphazard fashion - de forma desordenada
to dazzle - deslumbrar
wit - ingenio / agudeza
to rehearse - ensayar
to be overly self-conscious - estar demasiado cohibido
the knack of doing something - el tranquillo a hacer algo
subtle - sutil
to scowl - fruncir el ceño
to pull something off - conseguir con éxito
fall flat - caer de plano
outset - principio
sit up and take notice - hacer caso

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