Four Tips for a Better Presentation

Susan Hall

In the recent InfoWorld post, "The 30 skills every IT person should have," public speaking ranked No. 3, right after being able to fix basic PC issues and working the help desk.


Most of us quake at the prospect of speaking in public, but it's considered a basic, essential skill in nearly every career path. For many IT types, though, it can be especially daunting.

Slide Show

The Seven Types of Presentations to Avoid

Avoid these presentation duds with proper planning and practice.


Writing for InformationWeek, Larry Tieman tells of one report he gave at a meeting with FedEx's founder and CEO Fred Smith:

Mr. Smith, marketing is projecting 1.0 million shipments on peak day. We are scaled for 1.2 million shipments and can go higher with little customer impact. The systems will be monitored 24 hours a day. We are ready.

That was it. He refers to that as "get up, tell him what he needs to know, sit down."


He presents what he calls "My 4 Fundamentals Of Effective IT Communication." They are:

  1. Get to the point immediately. Don't plan to spend time building up to it. It's why newspapers traditionally write in an inverted pyramid style. Even if the whole rest of the article gets cut, the first paragraph can stand alone explaining the main facts. If you have time, you can expand upon the details; if not, brevity rules the day.
  2. Structure your slides properly. Heaven help us, he's talking about PowerPoint presentations. Again, plan for scenarios when your presentation time could be cut. If you're presenting written materials, prepare a quick read.
  3. Keep it positive. Even when talking about problems, focus on corrective actions.
  4. Get professional help. He's talking about a speech coach here.


Actually, I didn't feel compelled to write about this until I read the Washington Post's account of Jon Huntsman's speech announcing his candidacy for president. (And it sounds like the speech by far wasn't his only problem.) According to the Post:

Huntsman began talking at 10:06 a.m. Fox News cut in after just four minutes, as the candidate was praising the "selfless armed forces." MSNBC broke in seconds later, as Huntsman spoke about the "character that made the desert bloom." CNN made it all the way to 10:12 a.m., ending its live coverage when the candidate referred to "the end of the American century." All three cable networks had moved on before Huntsman got to the core of his message.

Worse, those who stuck it out apparently were befuddled, as were the Post's fact-checkers. Wrote the Post's Glenn Kessler:

But not only was his speech fairly content-free, it was also fact-free.

He decided the speech had too few facts to even bother with. It seems like Huntsman skipped Tieman's Tip No. 4.

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