How to Present Well

Question from a reader:

I am a competent manager. I know budgets, teams, people and how to get things done. But the minute I get up in front of groups, I spaz. I trip on words, sweat and panic. If I need to sharpen this skill, what would you suggest?


Dear Poser,

At least you’re aware it’s not a strength. What’s worse is the unskilled presenter who thinks they are.

Bone up and practice. Set goals for yourself. First, look for specific training programs on effective communications. Search for local groups formed for this very purpose. Scan for courses in public speaking on your campus. You might want to take a look at some presentations at the recent Educause conference. There are many examples of those who do it well and those who don’t.

Next, think about a project or initiative that needs a lift. Give yourself an assignment to do a ten minute presentation. The spend time on it. Practice it in front of a mirror or a camera. Critique yourself, allow trusted partners or mentors to provide you feedback. Then ask for time in front of your peers or manager. By the time you do it live, you should have worked out some of the kinks.

Speaking is like writing. A good, clean outline with sequential points that lead to a set of options, that is how to structure a good persuasive pitch. Practice, practice, practice.

PowerPoint can help or hurt. Used properly, it can augment your key points. Write too much, distract with slide transitions and graphics, or overload with information, you’ll lose your audience. Google ‘PowerPoint Tips.” Much has been written on the topic. Keep it simple!

The more you do it, the more comfortable you will become. Public speaking and ability to persuade others is a key skill if you are to advance your career.


  1. Leigh Smith says

    There’s also a Toastmasters group on campus called DalSmoothTalkers. Toastmasters not only encourages better public speaking technique, there’s also a section on Leadership. Annual fees are reasonable.
    I have found Toastmasters to be useful. Google Toastmasters in Halifax and you’ll get a few more. I have attended Sears and enjoyed it. I have been with a company who had their own group and it is still very successful.

    Dwight: I think we should form a staff TM onsite (Studley campus). Think I can get some help from ITS?

  2. says

    I highly recommend the blog Presentation Zen (, and Garr Reynolds’ book, “Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery.” The single most important factor in quelling fear during presenting is caring about your topic. If it isn’t close to your heart and compelling to you, you will have a hard time communicating your ideas effectively. I used to fear public speaking like I fear death – that is not an exaggeration. Pre-presentation anxiety will probably always be a problem for me, but it is more manageable than it used to be. And the act of presenting itself is actually enjoyable. Takes time, though.

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