The essentials of successful presentations

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2011
26 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction and methodological approach

2 Definition and delimitation of relevant terminology
2.1 Communication
2.2 Oral communication

3 Preparing oral presentations
3.1 Analysis of the audience and the situation
3.2 Development of the topic, purpose, and thesis
3.3 Research for materials
3.4 Organizing the content
3.5 Planning visual aids

4 Delivering oral presentations
4.1 Practicing the presentation
4.2 Handling questions

5 Summary




List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Introduction and methodological approach

According to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) 2011 Job Outlook, employers ranked verbal communication skills in making hiring decisions the highest.1 Entrepreneurs are increasingly demanding that graduates have excellent communication competence, including writing, listening, and oral skills (Gray, 2010). In a rapidly changing business environment both employers and educational institutions are realizing that good oral and presentation skills are critical to performance, career advancement, and organizational success (Gray, Emerson, & Mac- Kay, 2005, p. 426). Business trends such as heightened global competition, focus on information and knowledge as corporate assets, and flattened management hierarchies stress the importance of excellent communication skills (Guffey, 2010, p. 7).

However, while employers place a high emphasis on hiring graduates with strong oral communication skills, a recent Wall Street Journal story reported that students’ “writing and presentation skills have been a perennial complaint” (Middleton, 2011, para. 4). A poorly delivered sales presentation could have ramifications and “can make it more challenging to win over potential investors, prospective clients, employees and business partners” (Chura, 2007, para. 4).

But what are the essentials of a successful presentation? An old adage in speechmaking says, “Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them” (Stickels, 2009, para. 2). Is that all you need to give a successful presentation? What are the key elements to preparing for an oral presentation? Is making a good oral presentation more than just good delivery?

This paper aims to answer these questions and is therefore structured as follows. Chapter 2 defines and delineates the central terms communication and oral communica- tion and serves as a basis for the following approach. Chapter 3 covers the preliminaries of preparing for an effective presentation. Chapter 4 follows on with a consideration of the need to practice the presentation and gives recommendations for effective delivery and handling questions responsively. Finally, Chapter 5 summarizes the findings and proposes to answer the question, “what are successful presentations about?”

2 Definition and delimitation of relevant terminology

2.1 Communication

Hamilton and Creel define the term “communication” as “the transactional process by which people, interacting in a particular context, negotiate the meanings of verbal and nonverbal symbols in order to achieve shared understanding” (2011, p. 5). The term process indicates that communication occurs in a sequence or series of steps. It also suggests a situation of flux and change, as the relationships of persons engaged in communication evolve and grow (Rahman, 2010, p. 2).

Moreover, communication is viewed as a dynamic and transactional process in which both sender and receiver continuously influence each other. Each interaction is affected by the participants’ relationship, noise, and fields of experience (Hamilton & Creel, 2011, p. 13).2 Thus communication is an “instrument of action” (Austin, 1962, as cited in Clyne, 1994, p. 2) and more than just an exchange of words between parties; it is a “sociological encounter” (Halliday, 1978, p. 139) that creates, maintains, and modi- fies social reality through the exchange of meanings and understandings in the process of communication (Halliday, 1978, p. 169). Communication encompasses not only words but also symbols and gestures accompanying the spoken words. Therefore, com- munication is not limited to verbal communication (Rahman, 2010, p. 3).

2.2 Oral communication

According to Rahman, oral communication is “the spoken interaction between two or more people” (2010, p. 3). It is a learned rhetorical skill, and it requires “understanding what to say and how to say it”. Nevertheless, oral communication is complex and made up of various elements “which … result in success or failure of the interaction”. There are several forms of oral communication, ranging from spontaneously informal conver- sations, industry conferences, press conferences, workshops, and product launches to participations in structured meetings and presentations (Rahman, 2010, p. 3).

Oral presentation differs from oral communication; it is a formal way of deliver- ing a message to an audience.3 “While oral communication is an interactive process of sharing information, oral presentation is formal, structured, systematic and intended to raise a particular issue for discussion” (Gupta, 2008, p. 91). Successful oral presentations are characterized by a confident speaker, who sincerely believes in the message being conveyed. Besides, in a successful presentation, the presenter and the audience develop a mutual understanding of the aims that cannot be delivered through written channels (O’Hair, Friedrich, & Dixon, 2011, p. 349).

3 Preparing oral presentations

3.1 Analysis of the audience and situation

One of the most widely used models for preparing effective oral presentations has been chosen as the subject of this work. It divides the process of preparing a successful speech into five steps: (1) analyzing the audience; (2) developing the topic, purpose, and thesis; (3) gathering materials; (4) organizing the content; (5) practicing the speech (Hamilton & Creel, 2011, p. 271).4 The audience analysis is central to the speech- making process.5 At each stage in crafting a presentation, it is needed to be mindful of the audience. Anticipating the audience helps to organize the presentation and to under- stand the speaking situation. Four types of audience information should be gathered in order to adopt the presentation to the listeners’ frames of reference: situational, demo- graphic, psychological, and audience receptivity. Demographic elements, such as the audience’s age, social class, educational level, and cultural background, need to be in- corporated into the analysis because they affect the imagery and message content. In addition to evaluating the demographic situation, it is essential to analyze the occasion, the possible approach, and the motivational factors that are working upon the prospec- tive audience. Considering the psychological penetration and environmental study of the audience’s background serves to motivate persons to listen and respond to different ide- as. The speaker should also take into account situational factors that may affect the au- dience, such as time of day, size of room, and distractions. Besides, it is important to factor in how receptive the audience will be. Audiences may fall into four categories: friendly, neutral, uninterested, or hostile. Each type of audience requires different ver- bal, visual, and vocal approaches (Beebe & Beebe, 2009, pp. 82-99).6

Information gathered by the research can be used to customize the message.7 Thus, the presentation can be modified to accommodate each group “because the most successful presentations are those that address every member of the audience and make each person feel involved and important” (O’Hair, Friedrich, & Dixon, 2011, p. 360). After the presentation is delivered, analyzing the audience is not finished. Evaluating the audience’s response to the speaker’s message serves to enhance the speaking skills. Ways to get feedback are non-verbal, verbal, or survey responses (Beebe & Beebe, 2009, pp. 106).8

3.2 Development of the topic, purpose, and thesis

Topic selection—as the second step of the speech development process―encompasses developing the topic, purpose, and thesis. Speakers should choose a topic—if a topic is not assigned—that relates to special interests of them. Thereby, the chances are greater that the presenters would be more enthusiastic about the speeches, and the enthusiasm for the topic will cause the audience to be interested in it as well (Hamilton & Creel, 2011, p. 289). Additionally, it is crucial in all likelihood to consider the relevance of the topic to the audience. An effective speech topic also meets the requirements of the presentation and supports or corresponds to the reason for the presentation (O’Hair, Friedrich, & Dixon, 2011, p. 355).

After a topic is selected, the first filter for refining the topic is clarifying the gen- eral purpose that identifies the basic goal of the presentation (Hamilton & Creel, 2011, p. 292). Communication experts have inherited the view from Aristotle’s Rhetoric that a single situation determines a speaker’s single main purpose (Thro, 2009).9 Speeches are presented for one of four general purposes: to inform, persuade, motivate, or celebrate. Presentations designed to inform audience members afford credible, reliable infor- mation and intend to create understanding by clarifying, responding, or teaching a spe- cific topic to the audience. The intention of persuasive speeches is to change or reaffirm attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors and seek to gain audience commitment. Motiva- tional presentations strive to stimulate the emotions and feelings of listeners as a method of inducing action—for instance, at annual sales meetings. As with persuasive speeches, they also employ persuasion. Ceremonial presentations show commitment of the speak- er to organizational ideals. The speaker is required to consider common ties that bind organizational members together as a group (O’Hair, Friedrich, & Dixon, 2011, p. 356).

Once the general purpose is determined, the specific purpose of the presentation is to be identified. It is a statement about what the speaker wants the audience to think, believe, feel, or do as a result of the presentation.10 The specific purpose is then translated into a thesis statement. It summarizes the main points and serves as a preview of the central ideas (Hamilton & Creel, 2011, p. 293-294).11

3.3 Research for materials

Gathering materials begins with outlining a rough draft of the presentation. It contains probable main points of the speech and possible supporting ideas and materials, and it helps to organize the key ideas the speaker plans to cover in the presentation. Moreover, the rough draft suggests materials the presenter already has, materials he or she does not have but knows where to find, and materials he or she needs but does not have but wants to locate (Hamilton & Creel, 2011, p. 297).

Using supporting materials establishes credibility in the main ideas and assists in making the message more informative, interesting, relevant, clear, and acceptable. Ma- terials, such as explanations, examples, statistics, testimony, and visual aids (Planning visual aids is developed further in Chapter 3.5), support the speaker to better reach the audience and to overcome the barrier that people tend to resist his attempts to change them. The type of supporting material to choose is needed to be based up on the audi- ence analysis.12 Resources available for locating supporting materials are personal in- formation, print sources, electronic databases, Internet resources, and interviews (O’Hair, Friedrich, & Dixon, 2011, p. 363).

3.4 Organizing the content

After the research is conducted, the main points from the rough-draft outline are to be revised based on the audience analysis and research, decision is to be made on the organizational pattern to add interest and clarity to the topic13, the introduction and conclusion are to be added, and finally, a detailed and polished outline is to be developed (Hamilton & Creel, 2011, p. 318).

Many communication specialists (Guffey, 2010; Bovee & Thill, 2011; O’Hair, Friedrich, & Dixon, 2011; Hamilton & Creel, 2011) recommend dividing presentations into three parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The general structure should be: First preview, then view, then review (Hamilton & Creel, 2011, p. 319). They argue that conscious repetition is one of the most effective keys to audience comprehension and retention (Guffey, 2010, p. 338).

The introduction to a presentation should prepare the listeners to the material in the body of the speech and serves several functions: Catching the audience’s attention and directing it toward the presenter and his topic, building rapport by creating a feeling of good will with the listeners, establishing credibility by clarifying why the topic is picked as well as the speaker’s expertise on the topic, pointing out benefits to the audience, and clarifying main ideas with thesis and preview of central points.

In order to capture listener’s attention and get them involved in the presentation right from the start, the first words in the introduction should be attention getting. Effec- tive types of attention-getters are questions, a startling statement, a narrative, unex- pected content, or humor. Establishing a feeling of closeness with the audience is also important―especially, if the audience does not know the speaker. In some cases it is possible to combine getting attention and building rapport. If the speaker is not a well- known expert, he or she will need to establish credibility in the introduction by describ- ing his position, knowledge, education, or experience―whatever qualifies him or her to speak. If possible, the speaker should establish his or her credibility by tying his creden- tials to the purpose of the presentation. Showing how the topic has affected or will af- fect the listener’s past, present, or future or linking the topic to current needs of the au- dience are strategies to motivate the listeners attending to the speech. After capturing attention, building rapport, establishing credibility, and pointing out benefits to the au- dience, the introduction should give a preview of what is ahead and summarize the main points. A preview and thesis statement clarifies not only the main points, but serves also as an effective transition into the body of the speech (Hamilton & Creel, 2011, pp. 322- 327).

Organizing the body effectively requires focusing on a few key ideas. Excessive explanations and details may obscure the main message, and listeners may become con- fused. Notwithstanding, it is of the essence to ensure that the speech’s organization is clear, and that the presentation holds audience attention. The audience will lose interest and will not remember the thesis of the speaker’s message, if it is difficult to follow the organizational structure (Guffey, 2010, p. 340). One of the important aspects of presen tations is supporting and presenting arguments in a way that is smooth and comprehen- sible to the listeners. By providing clear transitions the audience can be guided through the presentation. One such feature typical of transitions is the use of linking adverbi- als―e.g., on the one hand, consequently, etc. (Zareva, 2011). According to a recent study conducted by Zareva (2009), linking adverbials are the second most frequently used class in academic presentations―after circumstance adverbials (e.g., at that time, tomorrow). Linking adverbials play an important role in creating textual cohesion. They serve a connection function, facilitate the logical flow of presentations, and help the speakers walk their listeners smoothly and obvious through their arguments and infor- mational content. However, Zareva (2011) found that single word adverbials were the speakers’ preferred structures, compared to phrases. This portends that “the mode of delivery of the presentation may have triggered more economical ways of marking its organization” (Zareva, 2011, p. 12).14

The conclusion should serve two functions: summarizing the central ideas of the presentation and making the speech memorable (Guffey, 2010; Hamilton & Creel, 2011). The so-called take-away―the value of the speech to the audience―should tie in with the opening, remind the listeners how the topic affects their lives, and make the speech memorable. Therefore, an effective closing should bring the introduction and conclusion together by referring to quotations and illustrations that were used in the beginning. Serving as a summary and an ending the conclusion should be decisive and should not take more than 10 percent of the total speech time (Hamilton & Creel, 2011, p. 328). Using a concluding phrase, such as “In conclusion” or “To sum it all up”, indi- cates that the presentation will end (Bovee and Thill, 2011, p. 360). Stickels (2009) agrees with the communication experts’ view of organizing speech content to a certain degree. In the introduction, speakers should preview what they are going to tell, in order to prepare the audience’s mind to hear something to come. In the body, they should simply say it (para. 3). Nevertheless, Stickels (2009) criticizes the use of conclusions for summarizing main ideas. He argues that repetition is boring. “Speakers cannot afford to become repetitive” (para. 9). The audience will stop listening, and its attention will drift. In the conclusion, Stickels (2009) advises, “Don’t tell them what you told them” (para. 11).


Excerpt out of 26 pages


The essentials of successful presentations
AKAD University of Applied Sciences Stuttgart
Issues in business communication - Modul EWK02
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
696 KB
EWK02, issues in business communication, Philipp Schmieja, AKAD, oral presentations, practicing, audience analysis
Quote paper
Bachelor of Arts Philipp Schmieja (Author), 2011, The essentials of successful presentations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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