Strategies for effective presentations”

Linda J. Shinn, MBA, RN, CAE, Indianapolis, IN

Copyright 2004 by the American Radiological Nurses Asssociation.



Knowledge of the topic about which you are to speak is essential. Such information can be gained from work and personal experiences, education, references, the Internet, and limitless other places. Once you are comfortable with a topic, you can prepare a presentation.

Begin the presentation by stating the two or three points to be made. A presentation full of multiple messages will not be effective, as the audience will be overwhelmed and most likely lost.

Next, explain the key points. Statistics, facts, or other data are often used in presentations. Take care to minimize the use of technical terms, jargon, and acronyms. Explain scientific and technical terms.

Storytelling is another way to get a message across. People remember stories.

The conclusion of a presentation should be a recap of the message you want the audience to remember about the topic.

Keep the presentation to about 30 minutes. Longer presentations should be punctuated with a break at least every hour. Audience participation through interaction with each other and the speaker is also a great way to avoid presentation monotony. Such interchange can help the audience learn and retain the information being shared. For example, the speaker might ask the audience to divide into pairs to solve a problem or brainstorm an answer to a question the speaker poses.Then a brief reporting out might follow.


Determining the composition of the audience and understanding their attitudes and knowledge about a topic can help you identify possible approaches to a topic and possible questions. If you are addressing a controversial subject, understanding all points of view can help you address concerns and respond to questions.


Remember the old adage that practice makes perfect? This is particularly true when giving a presentation. Practice the presentation at least once in front of a colleague, family member, or mirror.

Audio or videotaping a presentation and then reviewing it is another good way to prepare. Do not read your presentation. Write key points on note cards and refer to them occasionally. If you use note


cards in practice sessions, you might find that you do not even need them at the time of the presentation! Speaking conversationally is more effective than lecturing, and eye contact with audience members can help drive a point home. Be sure to carry an extra copy of your presentation as a backup. Better yet, give an extra copy to a colleague who plans to be in the audience.


Many people use pictures, diagrams, or models to help audiences learn and retain information.

Projector displays (e.g., overhead transparencies, slides, or Power Point presentations) should complement a presentation. They should be clear, concise, and not cluttered. Use visuals for emphasis and to repeat a point or idea. Do not read visual aids to the audience or turn your back to the audience when referring to visual material. In other words, do not read your visuals from the screen; if you must read visuals, do so from your notes instead.


Handout materials can also complement a presentation. Copies of a presentation should not be given to an audience, as the temptation to read instead of listening to the presentation can lessen the effectiveness of the presenter and the message. Instead, provide an outline of the presentation, including space for notes. Copies of visual aids (e.g., PowerPoint printouts) are great handouts as are lists of references for those who wish to learn more about the subject.


Know the topic and the audience to give yourself a leg up in answering questions. Repeat the question asked to ensure the audience has heard what was asked. If the question is not clear, rephrase it by saying: ‘‘Are you asking.?’’ Then answer the question. If the answer to the question is not known, say so and offer to get the information and get back to the questioner. Be prepared to handle hostile questions, challenges to the information provided, or disruptions of a presentation. Tactics that might help include the following:

Remaining cool, calm, and noncombative.

Rephrasing the question to provide time to think and respond with an answer.

Deflecting the question or hostility by asking the audience for another point of view.

Offering to meet the questioner after the presentation to discuss the issue or concern.

Thanking the questioner for sharing that point of view and moving on.


Public speaking can be learned and fears conquered. Doing your homework is the key. Acquiring the necessary knowledge about the topic, preparing the presentation, and practicing it are essential.

Knowing the audience and anticipating their questions are also important components to a successful presentation. Finally, it is helpful to learn from the evaluations of others and identify one thing to improve with the next presentation.