Making a presentation
It has been said that the greatest speeches have two things in common:
• The speaker cared about the topic.
• The audience cared about the topic.
When considering your presentation, therefore, you should try to pick a topic that you care about and that the people you will be making the presentation to care about. You may not, of course, have the luxury of being able to pick any topic you wish to speak about. However, you should try to find those aspects of the given topic which interest you and which are likely to interest your audience.
Try to divide your speech into a few manageable sections (say two to five) which cover the main parts of your presentation and make it easy for the audience to follow you. These sections should be logically ordered and should support the main theme of the presentation.
When preparing, make notes but do not write everything down. Brief, clear notes will stop you getting lost but if you write everything down your style will become very boring and your presentation will be less fl exible.
Look the part. Do not turn up in jeans and a T-shirt if everyone in your audience is going to be wearing a business suit.
Consider the following points when preparing your presentation:
• You should not talk too long. Mark Twain once remarked that few sinners are saved after the fi rst twenty minutes of a sermon. If you go on too long, people will gradually switch off and will end up understanding less, not more of what you have said.
• Are you going to use any visual aids? If so, what kind? Check that the room in which you will make the presentation has the facilities you will need. Prepare your materials and place them in the correct order for the presentation. Only use visual aids if they will actually help illustrate the points you want to make.
• What will you do if there is a power cut? Ensure that your presentation can be given even if your audio-visual props are not available.
• How big is the room in which you will give your presentation? Remember that you will need to project your voice effectively. Think about using a microphone if necessary.
• Don’t be afraid of repetition – if you are going to tell the audience something you want them to remember, you are going to have to say it several times to get it into their heads.
• Use illustrations and examples where possible.
Your presentation should have a clear beginning, middle and end. An effective way of presenting an argument is to start by indicating the theme of your presentation and the points you are going to make in support of that theme. Then make those points. Then at the conclusion of your presentation, summarise the points you’ve made and explain how they support your theme.
This technique is sometimes characterised as the ‘tell them what you’re going to say, say it and then tell them you’ve said it’ approach. The main benefits of this approach are (1) clarity; and (2) that it gives the opportunity to make each point at least three times in different ways, so that the audience is likely to remember at least the main points made.
The introduction should be used to:
• Make an impact – you should try to say something immediately that will make the audience want to continue to listen to you (e.g. ‘What I’m going to tell you today will fundamentally change the way this firm treats its clients’).
• Contain a preview of what you’re going to talk about (e.g. ‘in my talk today I will explain what needs to be done in order to increase the firm’s profits by 100 per cent in the coming year’).
• Show appreciation and respect to the audience (e.g. ‘I’d like to thank X for inviting me to come here today. I must say I’ve been very impressed by how friendly and professional everyone here is.’).
In the middle of your speech you should present and develop your main points:
• The middle of your presentation should be divided into a few manageable sections, each including arguments, examples and supporting statistics.
• Use verbal tagging. This is a technique in which you use a neat mental image that summarises your main points. Winston Churchill’s use of the phrase ‘iron curtain’ is an excellent example of this technique. In a presentation on a particular area of the law, one might say something like:
So as you see, the present law is like a dam with holes in it. The law reforms the government is proposing will plug those holes.
The end of your presentation should be used to summarise the main points that you have made:
• You should signal to the audience that you are coming to the end of your presentation. If anyone has fallen asleep, the words ‘and finally’ or ‘in conclusion, I’d like to say’ will wake them up.
• Summarise the points you have made. Show how they support the main theme of your presentation.
• End on a high note. Say something that the audience will remember – an insight based on the theme of your presentation (‘Remember this. All this points to one thing. That is …’) or a call to action (‘This shows very clearly the need for us to …’). Never end weakly with words like, ‘well, that’s about it I suppose’.
• Invite questions from the floor. Deal with all questioners with respect and answer all questions fully, no matter how ridiculous they are.
The techniques you use to make and illustrate your points can be decisive as to whether you persuade or alienate your audience. Much will depend on the nature of your audience and subject. Here are some useful tips:
• Use terms that the audience can relate to and agree with. People like to hear stated in general terms what they already believe in a particular connection. They feel justified in their beliefs. A bond between the speaker and the audience is established. Relate your arguments to things that matter to the audience.
• Relate the points you make to the main theme of the presentation. The separate points should contribute to the whole.
• Use quotations and statistics wisely. Only use them when they will genuinely support the points you are making. They should not be used as a substitute for argument.
• Use humour, but only if it can be introduced in a natural and relevant way. It is seldom essential. It must fit the context.
• Simple comparisons can be a good way to illustrate a point but make sure that they will withstand attack. Do not compare things that are not comparable (e.g. ‘if we can’t trust X to be faithful to his wife, then how can we trust him with the management of the company?’ is an irrelevant use of this device).
When giving a presentation, the language you use to make your arguments is at least as important as the arguments themselves. Here are a few tips:
• Use simple and clear language. The small words are easier to say and often more powerful than the long words (‘I love you’, ‘it’s a boy’, ‘she’s dead’).
• Consider the level of understanding of your audience. For example, when addressing non-lawyers do not use legal jargon. If you have to use jargon, be sure to explain it in layman’s terms. For example:
This is what is known as a contractual waiver. A contractual waiver occurs when one party to a contract agrees with the other party not to insist on something specified in the original contract being done.
• Avoid using language that is sexist, racist or ageist. In particular, do not use he when referring to a hypothetical person who could be either male or female. For example, do not say: ‘if a lawyer wants to compete effectively in today’s market he must understand information technology’. Say instead: ‘the lawyer who wants to compete effectively in today’s market must understand information technology’.