By Dr. Patricio Torres-Palacio —-It was the evening of September 26, 1960. America was witnessing a historic moment: the first general election presidential debate shown on television. After all these years, it has been mentioned that Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, won the debate, and with it the election, over Vice President Richard Nixon because of how well Kennedy exercised his presentation skills. The “professional look” played an important role as well. The Senator wore good make-up that made him look fresh and energetic. The Vice President, on the other hand, looked pale and “sweaty.” ( Here is a clip of the debate – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QazmVHAO0os )
The importance of being a good presenter goes beyond any discussion. How many times have we heard the phrase “it was not what you said, but “how” you said it, which made a difference.” Studying a management career, and most especially, pursuing an MBA degree, demands the development of oral presentation skills.
When my students tell me, “Dr. Torres-Palacio, I can’t really speak in public…I am too shy,” I give the same answer: “You have chosen a career in management; therefore, oral presentation skills are a must. It is as if you have chosen to study to become a surgeon and you can’t stand the sight of blood.”
With this in mind, I’d like to share with you the tips and advice I give my students:
As you prepare for your case presentations, please consider the following tips/advice for your style (which is very important, because many times how you say it is as crucial or even more significant than what you say):
- Before the presentation day, become familiar with the room and the equipment that you will be using (i.e. projectors, videos, computers, etc.). It gives a terrible image when students start their presentations by “finding out” how to use the equipment or the professor (or anybody else) must stand up to aid.
- Be punctual and do not leave in the middle of a presentation. Even as part of the audience, it is very rude to leave in the middle of others’ presentations.
- Good time management is part of the challenge. I had a professor who always said that to be able to synthetize and summarize large amounts of information reveals that you have done a good job preparing.
- Always keep good eye contact with the audience. Remember that you should not be watching to the walls or the windows (i.e. you are not presenting to the walls or windows).
- As you speak look generally at everybody in the audience (that is good eye contact), not just at the professor, the boss or the main person interested in your presentation.
- Never give your back to the audience.
- Avoid “reading” from the Power Point slides. If you are referring to something in particular, and most especially, if you are explaining numbers, it is obvious that you will have to look at the Power Point slide. Nevertheless, it is not the same to look at something as you talk than to just “read all the Power Point slides”. Remember that reading the information from the Power Point is something that anybody could do. You are future MBAs or professionals in management, so “presenting” and “explaining” is what you should do.
- Also, avoid “reading” from your papers or notes. This would be the same as the previous point. Just to have some notes/cards and to eventually look at major points is fine, but again it is not the same to eventually look at notes and still “present” and “explain” than just read the whole work from notes.
- Do not read from the computer screen. In other words, do not use the computer screen or monitor as a teleprompter. This is the same as the points above.
- Your Power Point should contain basic “summarized” points. Do not put too much information in the slides. This will mean smaller characters, making it more difficult for the audience to read (and many times the audience will not even take the time to read a slide if it contains lots of information). Few, very important points, even bullets, is more appropriate.
- Prevent moving your hands too much in a sense that it reveals that you are nervous (i.e. rubbing your hands, touching your hair or face too much, etc.) Do not keep your hands in your pockets.
- Feeling some nerves is normal, but if you feel that you cannot control them, a good idea is to grab the podium or a table. This action helps to deviate the tension, just as grounding electricity.
- Avoid what I call “dancing around”. This is moving side to side or back and forth too much. Shanking your head or, if you have long hair, to “whip” your hair backwards are not good ideas either.
- Never “cover” your face with your hands or arms as you speak. This is an unconscious sign of “protection” (i.e. it reveals that you are “afraid of the audience”).
- Use good intonation. Do not be too loud or too quiet. Obviously, your language should be professional and polite at all moments (i.e. avoid informal language or even bad words).
- Even when you have finished your part, as respect for your partners, do not do anything distracting or inappropriate while others are presenting.
- It is normal, because of nerves, that an idea “escapes” from mind for a little while. If this happens, there is a natural tendency to use what I call “fillers,” “pet words,” “pet phrases,” “tag” or “tag line.” When an idea goes away, many people usually say “aaaahhh,” “eeee,” “aammm” or “uuuuhhh.” Avoid those actions. If an idea momentarily escapes from mind (which is normal), it is better to remain silent for a couple of seconds until you recover your idea than to “fill” it with these expressions.
- Be very careful with jokes. Jokes are always good to attract the audience’s attention, but this could be a double edge sword. What you consider very funny could not be so for other people or even worse, it could be offensive. A good joke should be used to catch attention and should be simple appropriate jokes. A good presenter is an experienced joke-teller.
- Laughing and smiling are always good but only when there is a reason to laugh that everybody in the audience shares. For example, if somebody told a good joke, it is OK to smile and laugh discretely (never too loud or exaggeratedly). Remember that just laughing by yourself or at something that was not shared with the entire audience could be considered rude and very inappropriate.
Look at these videos:
Assistant Professor of Operations Management, Cameron School of Business