Seven Habits of Highly Effective Presenters
by Rebecca Hart

Jerry Seinfeld said that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. Are you one of those people? Is it holding back your career?

If so, here are seven tips to overcome your fears and excel in your next public speaking opportunity.

  1. Think Like a Boy Scout

    Don’t fail because you weren’t prepared. Practice may not make you perfect (forget perfection!) but it will make you a whole lot better. Speaking effectively requires practice...plan to spend six hours preparing for every hour of your speech (6:1 ratio).

    Know you’ll be most nervous at the beginning so memorize a three sentence opening. Also know your closing by heart so you end persuasively.

  2. Arrive Early

    Check out to the room where you'll be speaking as early as possible so you can make sure your equipment works, as well as looking at lighting and seating options and getting comfortable in the environment. Walk around the area where you will be speaking, so your first time there isn’t for the presentation.

    Shake hands with as many audience members as you can so you’ll have plenty of fans in the audience!

  3. Bring on the Jitters

    You're waiting for your presentation to start, when all of a sudden you realize your mind is going blank...and your stomach is working overtime. That little voice inside your head is saying…how did I get myself into this mess?

    The key is making those jitters work in your favor and performing despite the nervousness. Transform fear into courage by imagining all that adrenaline giving you the winning edge you need to deliver an excellent talk.

    If that doesn’t help, just remember: it usually gets easier every time.

  4. Establish Why You...Why Now...

    Prepare a 150-word introduction and bring a copy with you (even if you’ve already sent it to your contact ahead of time). Use the intro to establish why you are the right person to address the group. NOTE: In our Brand Ambassador sessions, attendees leave with a completed introduction.

  5. Connect Early and Often

    Ask for comments or raised hands that initiate a positive response as quickly as possible. The sooner you can get a positive response, the quicker your nerves will fade away.

    Don’t forget to tell YOUR story. People will forget many of your points but they won’t forget your stories. That’s because stories engage both hemispheres of the brain, and connect the head and the heart.

  6. Three Points of Eye Contact

    When presenting to groups of more than 20 people, maintain three eye contact points—neutral or friendly faces are best.

    If you are sitting at a table with a small group of people, make sure you share eye contact with everyone. Why? The longer your eye contact, the more influence and self-esteem you are perceived to have.

  7. Finish Strong

    Four key points to remember:
    • People are often really saying "What about me?" when they ask a question.
    • Opinions may be based more on how you answer their question than on what you say.
    • When you call for questions, count to 10 before assuming no one will ask.
    • It’s OK to say “I don’t know.” If you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to, please write down the person’s name and question and then follow-up with an answer.

    Conclude the Q-and-A period with a summary. Don’t let the presentation close on a down note of: “Well, I guess we’re done if there are no more questions.”

    Finish strong with a call to action that will leave your audience ready to act.

Rebecca Hart, APR is principal consultant at Hart & Partners, a strategic communications firm based in Jacksonville, FL. She is a past president of the North Florida chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and serves on the University of Florida’s PR Advisory Council. Visit for additional information .

Many more articles in Presentations & Public Speaking in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2007 by Rebecca Hart. All rights reserved.

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