What We've Found
one stated fear is public speaking. And when a presentation is before a hostile
audience, the stress can really build. Yet there is nothing like in-person
performances to give projects a human touch. We find that doing presentations is
an extremely good way for a group to increase visibility and gain public
recognition. For citizens, it is a chance to get more information and have their
questions answered, replace a nameless bureaucracy with a human face, and
network with their neighbors to further discuss events and rally
Just the Facts
Presentations can run the range of delivering a talk without any visual
aids to a multimedia demonstration and script. Images and props can certainly
help a speaker, but they will not mask a poorly prepared presentation or a
speaker who is extremely uncomfortable. It takes planning and practice to
present a project or story in a manner that is coherent, convincing, and
A presentation should be designed to meet a specific need or request for
information. Ideally, a speaker might offer several alternatives so that
organizations can pick the most appropriate topic. Or there might be one
overview presentation that can be revised to target specific audiences and
different ages. Consider revising the presentation, including changing the
graphics and photographs, as a project progresses so the information is always
Remember, in multilingual communities it is important to provide
interpreters. Signers for the hearing impaired may also be necessary.
- Take courses in public speaking, group leadership, and presentation
- Watch how others present. Notice their particular styles or mannerisms. Pick
up pointers and behaviors to emulate, and make note of those to avoid.
How To Do It1. Define
One of the most common pitfalls of presentations is not
having a simple, clear message. It is natural to want to share everything you
know about a project or a subject with the audience, but too often such
presentations turn into lengthy, rambling lectures. Decide what is the most
important piece of information you would like everyone in the audience to
understand. Develop an outline based on that message: introduce it, explain it,
and conclude with it. Presentations can be factual information, personal
information, or a combination of both; it all depends upon the purpose. The
simpler the message, the more likely people will remember it.2.
Graphic images are not required to be part of the message, but they can be
a powerful addition. If they will be used, they need to be relevant to the
message. They are strongest when they reveal something words cannot yet directly
correlate to what is being said.
If you are going to use a slide projector, select only visually pleasing,
in-focus pictures. Do not include an image that is unclear; you do not want to
have to apologize for a bad slide.
For charts and tables, remember that charts can be indecipherable from a
distance and should be broken into easily viewed and understood parts. Most
material that appears in a book must be reworked for a larger format
If you have a computer and a projection unit, or the meeting facility does,
technology offers some exciting options for presentations. Using presentation
software still requires good design and production decisions. For instance,
resist the urge to have bullet points or text on the screen and then proceed to
read them verbatim. It is boring and insulting to the audience’s intelligence.
Most of all, nothing is gained that cannot be done through a printed
No matter what format is used (slides, overhead projector, posters, or
computer generated), limit the graphic images to the ones that make the biggest
impact and pace how the images are changed to create an interesting and
3. Practice, practice,
There is no such thing as too much practice! Rehearsing can
help alleviate nervousness; it lets you know exactly how many minutes the
presentation is; and you can more clearly communicate a sense of conviction to
which audiences will respond. Whether speaking from a fully written script or a
bullet point outline, practice in front of a mirror, or better yet, with a video
camera. Use the graphic images to get comfortable changing the images. Do it
over, and over, and over. Practice makes a critical difference to the strength
of any presentation.
4. To hand out or not to
It can be very helpful to have available supplemental
materials like brochures
or newsletters, or even copies of the presentation’s key points and important
charts or tables. Just be sure not to distribute handouts until after the
presentation. If information is given in the beginning, people will read, not
listen to the speaker. If information is passed out during the presentation,
there will be disruption of paper rustling and people talking. If it is at the
end, but before the speaker concludes, any chance for a strong, stirring finish
is lost as the audience shifts its attention to the handouts. Many professional
conferences request copies of speeches for audience members ahead of time. If
the purpose is for attendees to write notes, prepare an outline that highlights
key points but does not steal the presentation’s thunder. However, if the
remarks will be complied in a compendium, then provide a full
5. Hit the road!
Once the message is done,
begin contacting groups and organizations to make a presentation at one of their
regularly scheduled meetings. Many groups are always looking for guests to have
on their agendas. Before going, be sure to tailor the message and information to
that group. Also look for events, upcoming conferences, workshops and seminars
where your presentation could fit in.
A sharing of information between
a speaker and an audience.
Use It If...
- You want to increase visibility and people’s awareness of your cause.
- You have a limited budget and find producing, printing and distributing
print materials likes newsletters or brochures are too costly. With one-time
production costs of developing slides or having images enlarged for posters,
presentations can be made repeatedly. Some hosting groups may even pay for
- You would like people to get a sense or feeling for the subject. Pictures,
graphics, and other props allow an audience to experience a place or situation
almost like being there firsthand.
- You are not comfortable speaking and cannot take a class to learn. A speaker
who is too nervous or boring will not help the cause. If no one else can be
recruited to speak on a project’s behalf, research other public outreach methods
such as meeting one-on-one or hosting small group roundtable conversations.
- You do not have the time to get good quality images or graphics or the time
to prepare and practice. Remember, the quality of the presentation will have a
direct correlation in people’s minds about the quality of the project.
Timing is Everything
opportunities to give presentations throughout the life of a project.