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The public presentation is generally recognized as the most important of the various genres of oral business communication. As is true of all kinds of communication, the first step in preparing a public speech or remarks is to determine the essential purpose/goal of the communication. As Hildebrandt, Murphy, and Thomas note, business presentations tend to have one of three general purposes: to persuade, to inform or instruct, or to entertain. Out of the purpose will come the main ideas to be included in the presentation. These ideas should be researched thoroughly and adapted to the needs of the audience.

The ideas should then be organized to include an introduction, a main body or text, and a summary or conclusion. Or, as the old adage about giving speeches goes, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them.” The introduction should grab the listener’s interest and establish the theme of the remainder of the presentation. The main body should concentrate on points of emphasis. The conclusion should restate the key points and summarize the overarching message that is being conveyed.

Visual aids can be a useful component of some presentations. Whether they are projected from a PC, displayed on chalkboards, dry-erase boards, or flip charts visual aids should be meaningful, creative, and interesting in order to help the speaker get a message across. The key to successful use of visual aids is that they should support the theme of the presentation, aid in its transmittal but do so without detracting by being sloppy, complicated, or even too entertaining.

Once the presentation has been organized and the visual aids have been selected, the speaker should rehearse the presentation out loud and revise as needed to fit time constraints, and to assure thorough coverage of the main points. It may help to practice in front of a mirror or in front of a friend in order to gain confidence. A good oral presentation will include transitional phrases to help listeners move through the material, and will not be overly long or technical. It is also important for the speaker to anticipate questions the audience might have and either include that information in the presentation or be prepared to address them in a Q&A session at the end of the presentation. Professional and gracious presentation is another key to effective communication, whether the setting is a conference, a banquet, a holiday luncheon, or a management retreat. “Recognize that when you speak at a business event, you represent your company and your office in that company,” stated Steve Kaye in IIE Solutions. “Use the event as an opportunity to promote good will. Avoid complaints, criticism, or controversy. These will alienate the audience and destroy your credibility quickly. Instead, talk about what the audience wants to hear. Praise your host, honor the occasion, and compliment the attendees. Radiate success and optimism.”

Oral presentations can be delivered extemporaneously (from an outline or notes); by reading from a manuscript; or from memory. The extemporaneous approach is often touted as a method that allows the speaker to make eye contact and develop a rapport with the audience while simultaneously conveying pertinent information. Reading from a manuscript is more often utilized for longer and/or detailed communications that cover a lot of ground. Memorization, meanwhile, is usually only used for short and/or informal discussions.

The delivery of effective oral presentations requires a speaker to consider his or her vocal pitch, rate, and volume. It is important to incorporate changes in vocal pitch to add emphasis and avoid monotony. It is also helpful to vary the rate of speaking and incorporate pauses to allow the listener to reflect upon specific elements of the overall message. Finding the appropriate volume is crucial to the success of a presentation as well. Finally, speakers should be careful not to add extraneous words or sounds—such as “um,” “you know,” or “okay”—between words or sentences in a presentation.

Nonverbal elements such as posture, gestures, and facial expressions are also important factors in developing good oral communication skills. “Your outward appearance mirrors your inner mood,” Hildebrandt, Murphy, and Thomas confirmed. “Thus good posture suggests poise and confidence; stand neither at rigid attention nor with sloppy casualness draped over the podium, but erect with your weight about equally distributed on each foot.” Some movement may be helpful to hold listeners’ attention or to increase emphasis, but constant shifting or pacing should be avoided. Likewise, hand and arm gestures can be used to point, describe, or emphasize, but they should be varied, carefully timed, and adapted to the audience. Finally, good speakers should make frequent eye contact with the audience, let their facial expression show their interest in the ideas they are presenting, and dress in a way that is appropriate for the occasion.

Small business owners reflect the general population in that their enthusiasm for public speaking varies considerably for individual to individual. Some entrepreneurs enjoy the limelight and thrive in settings that call for public presentations (formal or informal). Others are less adept at public speaking and avoid being placed in such situations. But business consultants urge entrepreneurs to treat public presentations and oral communication skills as a potentially invaluable tool in business growth. “You may consider hiring a presentation coach or attending a workshop on business presentations,” counseled Kaye. “These services can show you how to maximize your impact while speaking. In fact, learning such skills serves as a long-term investment in your future as an effective leader.”

Assessing oral presentations in classes

The following criteria are applied when assessing oral presentations in classes:

      -Delivery: clarity and audibility; variety of tone; engagement with audience.


      -Coherence of presentation and argument: concise and informative introduction and conclusion; clear sign-posting of what is being said; ensuring that listeners have sufficient background; logical order to sections and development of argument in clear steps; consideration of possible counter-arguments; appropriate balance of argument and information; good time-keeping.


      -Handouts and visual aids: a clearly produced handout, summarising key points; use of other appropriate handouts, e.g., of documents, and other visual aids, e.g. slides, or use of powerpoint, where appropriate.


      -Interest and learning value: enthusiasm for subject; stimulation of ideas; appropriate level of detail; increasing knowledge and understanding of the field of the presentation.


      -Accuracy and choice of information: factual accuracy; appropriateness of examples; use of unusual examples; capacity to argue from examples.


      -Awareness of historical issues and any historiographical issues: capacity to show how specific topic fits in with wider historical area; consideration of relationship with key themes of the course; issues of comparison, including those beyond the focus of the course; mastery of secondary literature; consideration of any relevant debates; contextualisation of any original ideas being put forward.


    -Questions and discussion: presentation pitched at a level and in a way that generates discussion; understanding questions asked by class, rephrasing where necessary; direct answers to questions; conciseness; honesty.


Speaking to a group as an audience is a long-established method of teaching and demonstrating. It is particularly useful when conveying information or giving an explanation that people need to hear. In working with groups, it has tended to be discarded as an inappropriate method of engaging people and working with them.

However, it does have a place in the facilitator’s repertoire of techniques. Each of the Resource Packs has extensive topic notes, overhead transparencies, and handouts that can be used to support presentations.


It is more appropriate to think of presentations in terms of giving input to a group where one person holds the attention of all the others for a period of time. Possible situations where such input might be desirable include:

• When demonstrating how something is done so that participants can do it for themselves;

• When conveying information or instructions for a group of participants;

• When summarising the discussion of several groups for the benefit of everyone in a plenary session;

• When wishing to demonstrate or exercise control over all the participants together.

Because participants are not engaged directly in presentations and input and are usually passive observers and listeners, the presentation should be as short, focused, and relevant as possible. Twenty minutes is the absolute maximum that should be used for this type of activity.

Other ways of engaging the group audience in the input are to invite them to ask questions; to draw examples from their experience; to involve them in practical aspects of any live demonstration.

All input and presentations benefit from good forethought.

The following tips for presenters may be helpful.

• Know your material – read it through and don’t attempt to talk about something about which you know very little. This quickly becomes obvious and undermines your credibility. If you can’t find a suitable external resource person, find out if one of the participants is knowledgeable about the subject. If you have to do it yourself, admit that you are not an expert in the subject at the beginning rather than demonstrating it during the presentation!

• Make sure you have all the material to hand – OHPs, handouts, and any extra notes you may need.

• Use illustrative examples – either from your own experience or from others’ experience. This helps to make your points clearer.

• Speak clearly and put your interest over using your voice Nothing is worse than a monotonous presentation.

• Do not speak for more than 20 minutes without a break for questions or comments.

• If there is no time for questions, explain why at the beginning.

• Deal with interruptions politely but firmly – unless you have asked for people to raise points during the presentation.

The following checklist may also be used when preparing a presentation or an input.

Checklist for Preparing Presentations

• Are you using presentations and input for those occasions when other methods will be more useful to the participants?

• Have you limited your input to no more than 20 minutes?

• Does your input have a clear beginning, middle, and end?

• Do you always keep to simple key points?

• Do you support your input with a clear handout?

• Do you know your own body-language mannerisms and how these affect your presentations?

Source: Adapted from Participatory Learning and Action: A Trainer’s Guide.

Examples of where presentations and lectures might be used effectively

• Outlining models or theories.

• Describing practices or approaches.

• Outlining legislation or policy.