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Polishing Your Delivery Skills

Whether delivering a presentation at an academic conference or giving a lecture, polished delivery skills can mean the difference between an effective presentation/lecture and an ineffective one. Following are some delivery tips to help you.

Delivering the presentation/lecture

  • A man using a bullhornAn extemporaneous quality to your delivery is the goal for interesting presentations. Prepare and rehearse some parts (especially your introduction and conclusion), plan out your points for the whole presentation, but allow yourself some spontaneity. This method of delivery gives you more flexibility than reading or reciting your talk from memory; it allows you to respond to your audience and the feedback they're giving you.
  • Reading a paper verbatim may be acceptable at conferences, but is too dry and impersonal for most purposes because it minimizes the eye contact you are able to have with the audience as well as encourages your voice to become flat, leaving little or no possibility for enthusiasm.
  • Memorizing has similar problems to reading, in addition to being time consuming. This method may be appropriate for short speeches, though, such as weddings, funerals, etc.

Involving the audience

  • Eye contact is the key to a successful delivery since it helps you to make a connection with your audience. Eye contact can seem difficult, but it is the most important element of delivery skills. Try pretending you're having a conversation with individual audience members as you deliver your presentation/lecture. Look into individuals' eyes for 3-5 seconds: shorter seems accidental, and longer makes people uncomfortable.

  • Another way of involving the audience is by using question strategies. You can ask a rhetorical question (e.g., "How can you involve your audience?") or a direct question (e.g., "What are the 5 key points we covered last day?"). You can also get your audience to ask questions. How can you do that?

    • Tell them when you expect questions (e.g., any time, at the end). Make sure you seem flexible when setting the guidelines for your presentation/lecture. Remember, there should be a reason for accepting questions at different times (e.g., in a short presentation where the objective is to tell your audience about the material, you may indicate that there will be time for questions at the end. However, in a lecture where the objective is to teach the material, you will want to ask and accept questions more frequently so your audience members are able to test their understanding of the material).
    • Ask them to jot down questions during the presentation/lecture.
    • Allow them time to change gears from being listeners to questioners and wait at least 10 seconds for the first question or for responses to questions you pose.
    • Ask a warm-up question such as a show of hands to allow the audience to "practice."
    • Ask open-ended questions to encourage discussion. (For more information on questioning, refer to the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) teaching tips, "Asking Questions" and "Question Strategies.")
    • Ask yourself a common question you would expect to receive to get questions flowing.
    • Look like you want to answer questions. Maintain an open body posture (no crossed arms), face the audience and make eye contact.
  • You can also use examples, anecdotes, or stories relevant to both your topic and your audience. Direct questions (brainstorming) and other activities (discussion groups, demonstrations, role-plays) are also good ways to involve your audience and maintain their attention. And it's great if you can use people's names; nothing grabs their attention faster. One rule of thumb here to help you gauge how often to involve your audience is to limit your talking to no more than 15-20 minutes at one time. Other presentation experts recommend doing something different every 6-8 minutes. These are both good guidelines to follow and are ones that can help all of us when planning a presentation for any group. (For more information on interactive learning, refer to the CTE teaching tip, "Active Learning Activities.")

Showing enthusiasm

  • You need to look and sound enthused in order to enthuse your audience. If you don't seem interested in your talk, why should anyone else be?
  • Express enthusiasm by varying your facial expressions. Allow your expression to match your content and smile occasionally: it has a relaxing effect on you and your audience.
  • Movements and gestures add variety and interest to your presentation, and help to express your energy and enthusiasm. Ensure you move with a purpose: use trips to the overhead projector or blackboard as an opportunity to move around. Avoid repetitive movements (pacing, shifting weight) – these are distracting and betray nervousness. Use hand gestures to emphasize points and to show openness to questions. When not gesturing, allow your hands to rest lightly on a podium (if available) or rest them naturally at your sides.
  • Vary the speed and pitch of your voice to keep your audience awake and attentive. Slow, monotonous speakers lull audiences to sleep, while fast speakers are hard to keep up with. Avoid using filler words: silence between words never seems as long to your audience as it does to you. To prove it, listen to a tape recording of yourself or have yourself videotaped.
  • Never overlook yourself as your best visual aid and as the best source of motivation for your audience.

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