The Moment of Truth

Gulp. So you are sitting there, about to be introduced. Now what?

  1. Take several deep breaths as you are being introduced (but don't sigh!). Visualize your rehearsed opening statement; don't improvise at the last moment.
  2. State your objectives at start of your talk, then restate them again at the end of the talk. In between, discuss how your material relates to these objectives.
  3. Unless you intentionally have had experience as a stand-up comic, avoid making jokes. The results can be disappointing, and may suggest an unprofessional attitude.
  4. Choose a natural, moderate rate of speech and use automatic, moderate gestures.
  5. Monitor your behavior, and avoid habitual behaviors (pacing, fumbling change in pocket, twirling hair).
  6. Laser pointers are wonderful pointing devices, but remember not to point them at the audience. They are best used by flashing the pointer on and off, so that the place you are indicating is illuminated briefly. Don't swirl the laser around and around one place on the projection screen, or sweep it from place to place across the screen. This is very distracting for the audience, and they will end up watching the pointer and not listening to what you are saying.
  7. Likewise, and for the same reasons, avoid using the cursor as in pointer in your computer presentations.
  8. Also try to avoid pointing things out on the computer's monitor at the podium - although the presenter's natural tendency is to concentrate on the monitor's screen, the audience will be looking over your shoulder at the projection screen and won't be able to see where your finger is pointing. If you find yourself doing this, power-off or disable the monitor to force yourself to concentrate on the projection screen!
  9. Enthusiasm for your topic is contagious, but don't overdo it - you'll alienate the audience.
  10. Converse with your audience. Involve them in the process of the presentation by posing questions and making eye contact. Be patient if you ask a question - answers sometimes take time to formulate.
  11. Keep an eye on your time, and don't run over your limit. Ever.
  12. Be prepared for interruptions (late arrivals, cell phones or pagers, burned out projector bulbs, fire drills, etc.).
  13. If you must turn down the room lights, don't turn them off entirely. Don't leave the lights down any longer than necessary - remember to turn them back up! Of course, the snores from the sleeping audience may remind you to turn the lights back on if you've forgotten.
  14. Don't apologize for any aspect of your presentation. This should be your very best effort; if you have to apologize, you haven't done your job properly.
  15. Don't criticize aspects of the trip, city, facilities, etc. during your talk. This is another way to alienate your audience quickly. For instance, they may or may not have chosen to live in this horrible climate, but it isn't your place to remind them how horrible it is. Remember that you are a guest and it is impolite to exhibit your prejudices publically.
  16. Strive to have a prepared and memorable summary. If nothing else, the take home message is what the audience will remember after you leave.
  17. When you reach the summary and are about to finish, resist the temptation to add a few last impromptu words. They will be unpracticed, and will be the last thing many of your audience will hear you say. End your talk with the insightful, firm summary statement you have prepared.
  18. Don't be afraid to give yourself credit for your own work, but do remember to give others credit where due. I prefer to do this early, others may prefer doing it later in the talk. If planned for later in the talk, don't forget to acknowledge these people's efforts, even if you have to skip a statement or two to remain within your time frame. The best friend of one of these contibutors may be in your audience! If you include slides borrowed from other people, or slides which include other people's data or figures, always give credit to these people right on that slide. This shows a professional attitude, and (better yet) can save you many words of explanation.

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Jeff Radel