PR TECHNIQUE PRESENTATIONS: Putting together the perfect presentation - with pizazz!

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)

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

more questions.’

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

recovery skills.

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.’’



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

new clothes.

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