Go ahead, take the stage: these presentation pointers can help even the most reluctant public speaker thrive in front of the room.

Author:Collins, J. Carlton
Position:Cover story
 
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The ability to speak fluently in front of a group is indispensable, particularly for higher-ranking CPAs. Once all of the studies, reports, and statements have been prepared, it is frequently left up to the CPA to present the data. In addition, many CPAs are called upon to deliver public presentations--at CPA chapter meetings, CPE conferences, board meetings, and other events.

My first public speaking appearance occurred when a speaker failed to show for a national conference in 1988, and I was asked to fill in at the last minute. Several thousand speeches later, I've learned that when duty calls you to the front of the room, you want to make your best impression. With that in mind, this article presents a handful of tips to help you hone your next presentation.

  1. Start strong. Because audiences tend to formulate their opinion of you during the first few minutes, it is important to start strong. If those initial minutes are wasted, the audience may tune you out early and write off your talk as just another lackluster lecture. Don't let it happen. A short introduction followed by your best material will help make a good initial impression. Teach the audience something solid and interesting right away to show you are worthy of attention. An engaging story is often a good way to kick things off for inspirational or informational talks, but when education is the goal, you should offer up a useful or clever learning point as your opening appetizer.

    Exhibit 1 Types of Teaching Methods Preferred by Different Learning Types Type A (Left brain, frontal lobe) Problem-solving Lectures Research findings Handouts Bibliographies Panels Use of experts Quizzes Applied logic and analysis Theories Games or crossword puzzles Laboratory Symposia and forums Case studies Debates Textbooks or readings News articles Type B (Left brain, back lobe) Demonstrations Case studies Modeling Objective learning Checklists or worksheets Reviews Programmed learning Skill building Policies and procedures Projects Field trips Who, what, when, where questions Summaries Lectures Reports Type C (Right brain, frontal lobe) Testimonies Interaction Role-playing Videos People-oriented cases Listening and sharing ideas Sharing personal experiences Kinesthetic or tactile activities Discussing feelings Interviews Stories Music Breakout rooms Team projects Group discussions Type D (Right brain, back lobe) Picture studies Brainstorm or buzz group Visuals/illustrations/art Metaphors Skits, commercials, or game shows Videos or films Big picture/hypothetical Develop goals Concepts Cartoons and poems Experimentation Creativity/pull together Discussions and possibility thinking Exercises Self-assessment Source: Ned Herrmann's research staff. To keep your presentation from sinking before you dive in, avoid the need to make administrative announcements by displaying them on screen before the presentation begins. In addition, make sure your introduction is limited to just a few sentences. (I was once introduced for 12 minutes, which transformed the attendees into zombies before I was able to begin.)

  2. Embrace dead air. An important key to coming across as a polished presenter is to avoid using fillers such as "um," "like," "you know," and "go ahead." The reason we tend to use fillers is we perceive that pauses in speech come across as if we are ill-prepared, ignorant, or don't know what to say, so our brain impulsively inserts fillers to plug the silent gaps. But the opposite is true: The use of fillers will result in a less-professional performance.

    You've likely heard the speaking advice "Don't say 'um' " many times before, but it is more helpful to instead tell you to "embrace dead air." This means you should intentionally allow a few seconds of well-timed silence to engulf the room periodically as you speak. These intentional pauses will help you come across as if you are carefully gathering your thoughts before speaking, and because the silent moments are intended, your brain is better able to resist the urge to add unwanted fillers.

  3. Use a variety of teaching methods. Just as some of us are right-handed rather than left-handed, we tend to favor a specific quadrant of our brain. William Edward "Ned" Herrmann is credited...

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