PR pros are often called on to make speeches and other presentations - an everyday experience fraught with danger. Claire Atkinson presents tips on doing presentations - from what to wear to what to say (and how to say it)
PR pros are often called on to make speeches and other
presentations - an everyday experience fraught with danger. Claire
Atkinson presents tips on doing presentations - from what to wear to
what to say (and how to say it)
There’s something about getting up in front of an audience that can lead
to all kinds of things going wrong. In his book, All Too Human, former
White House spokesman George Stephanopolous tells of a catastrophic
mix-up at the TelePrompTer that resulted in President Clinton delivering
an old version of a speech. Stephanopolous quickly got the updated
version to the screen before any real damage was done.
Another incident: One woman’s slip fell down in the middle of a
She kicked it under the podium and carried on.
These stories reinforce everyone’s worst nightmares about doing a
presentation - whether it be a trade-show panel, press conference,
client pitch or shareholder meeting. ’Every individual, even a major
corporate head has a little nervousness, a slight fear, even if it’s for
a split second,’ says Ray Kerins, senior VP and director of media
relations at GCI. ’Even me - and I love public speaking.’
Whether you’re making your own presentation or preparing someone else
for one, there are a few simple rules to follow to avoid becoming
another horror story. Kerins reminds his staff and clients of the three
most important factors: ’Be yourself, know your material and relax.’
As all PR pros know, you begin communicating the minute the audience
members look at you. Winning their initial confidence is partly about
looking good, but not too good. ’It is better to be natural than slick,’
says Diane DiResta, a presentations trainer and author of Knockout
Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch and Pizazz
’If you are too well-dressed it can be intimidating. Just be human.’
A number of PR pros back up that theory. Ed Adler, a senior
communications executive at AOL/Time Warner, goes as far as saying that
’the clothing doesn’t matter.’
GCI’s Kerins says the fashion rules are changing as a result of the high
number of polo-shirted - or T-shirted - Internet executives. ’What used
to be unacceptable now works,’ he says. ’Every bank has gone casual. But
don’t assume anything - always ask and be prepared.’
DiResta, who has trained personnel from AT&T and Tiffany & Co., says
there are some other non-verbal signals to watch out for. For example,
tilting your neck apparently shows vulnerability. DiResta advises making
direct eye contact with someone in each part of the room. Looking into
the corner of the room is a no-no.
DiResta advises to head to the rest room on arrival to check for spinach
between your teeth or wild hair that could obscure your face. Men should
wear knee-length socks to avoid exposing hairy legs to the audience, she
Once you’ve gained everyone’s confidence with the way you look, what you
say and do will define how the presentation is received. Knowing your
audience will help you pitch more accurately.
Janine Sieja Hagerman, director of public affairs at the National Center
for Genome Resources, says the most successful presentations are given
by people who understand why they are there. ’Where people trip up is
when they don’t understand enough about the audience.’ Hagerman suggests
finding out about venue size and even talking to previous speakers at
events to discover more about what might be expected.
While some may think that a crowd of hungry journalists might be the
most intimidating setting, Kerins says shareholder meetings are much
’The shareholders have an investment in the issues, so they are the
toughest crowd. If they don’t like your answers they’ll just ask you
Once you know who’ll be there, then you can figure out what to say and
how. Because everyone loves a story, DiResta suggests opening with a
tale. Varying what you say and do every seven minutes is important if
you want to hold people’s attention.
Use humor, but remember that it’s not appropriate in all situations.
If you’re preparing a client to testify before a congressional committee
or other governmental body, cracking jokes isn’t going to work.
A good way of livening up a presentation is to use technology.
PowerPoint is an integral part of most PR pros’ lives, but all have
reservations about the reliability of technology in general. ’Breakdowns
are a given - always bring a hard copy and transparencies,’ advises
Robert Baskin, director of corporate media relations and global
communications at Coca-Cola.
Laptop gizmos are not the only source of problems; microphones have been
known to broadcast bathroom conversations after presentations are done.
Kerins also mentions problems with jewelry jangling in front of
microphones, and not just from women (think male sports and music
Sometimes such hazards of the business can work in your favor. ’One of
best meetings I ever had was when the technology broke down. The meeting
was just face to face - it was more open and there was more back and
forth,’ says Kerins.
If you feel you haven’t built up a rapport with the people you are
dealing with, DiResta suggests turning off the presentation and getting
your audience to talk to you. ’No matter what’s happening you need good
Use humor to turn things around or start asking some questions.’
When coaching nervous presenters, DiResta asks them what’s the most
terrible thing that can happen and they usually suggest tripping over.
She says to turn that into a joke: ’I tell people to say something like,
’Never let it be said I don’t know how to make an entrance.’’
DOS AND DON’TS
1 Check out the audience. What you say should depend on who’s
If appropriate, do some research about what they want to hear and set
your pitch accordingly.
2 Try to project an image of confidence and charisma.
3 Think about what you’re wearing: suits used to be de rigueur, but now
the dress code is becoming more relaxed. Call ahead of time and ask.
4 Bring a backup presentation or make sure there’s someone who can
e-mail your speech if you forget it.
1 Forget to figure out how the microphone works before you start. And
don’t forget to turn it off when you’ve finished to avoid any
2 Get caught up with the flashy gizmos. The most important thing is what
you say and making sure you have a consistent message.
3 Check the presentation into your flight’s luggage - you can always buy