Present Stand & Deliver

Link & Learn

Some paragraphs throughout the course will be marked as examples, activities, required reading, or optional tips


  1. Plan
  2. Prepare
  3. Deliver
  4. Troubleshoot

With practice, anyone can be a powerful presenter.

Humans are complex social animals. We love to connect with others. We pay attention when another human being stands up, takes a breath, and starts speaking. Much information in business is communicated on screens, but key decisions—to buy, sell, invest, or hire—are often made through presentations.

If you learn to stand out as a presenter, you’ll be a contributor at critical moments. Powerful presenters often are the ones who get the job, the raise, and the opportunity to return to the table time and again. Become an excellent presenter and you’ll certainly be less stressed when your boss turns to you and says, “Why don’t you take 10 minutes and explain those numbers to us.”

So plan well, prepare strategically, learn how to use full-body communication, and troubleshoot after each presentation. You’ll elevate your presentation game.

alumni hat Alumni Advice

"Making an effort to understand your audience demonstrates not only that you care but also that you have a solid work ethic. Through generic presentations, I’ve branded myself as just another competent professional. Through tailored presentations, I have branded myself as Dmitrii.”

dmitrii liu portrait

Dmitrii Liu

M&A advisor at Newsec Infra, Stockholm, Sweden

Seventy Percent

The percentage of employed Americans who say that presentation skills are critical to their work success.

Twenty Percent

The percentage of employed Americans who say they would do almost anything to avoid giving a presentation.

Source: Forbes

Section OnePlan

Stop thinking about presentations as performances. Instead, think of them as conversations between you and your audience.

First, clarify exactly what your audience needs to know, feel, and do. Does the audience simply need information? A recommendation? Do they need to be persuaded? How exactly will the audience benefit from this conversation?

Draft a clear and concise purpose statement before you create your slides, script, etc.

Second, who will be in the audience? What are their primary concerns? Why will this conversation matter to them? How can you get their attention and keep it?

Watch "5 Things Every Presenter Should Know About People" by Susan Weinschenk.

Required Reading
5 Things Every Presenter Should Know About People

Third, if your purpose is to persuade, which techniques will connect with your audience? Will your audience trust you easily? Should you appeal to their heads or their hearts? Revisit Dr. Cialdini’s influence strategies from Chapter 8.

Fourth, SMART structure is a perfect fit for oral presentations.

Story: a short relevant opening hook

“Thank you for being here today. I’m honored to share some thoughts with you about. . . .” Admit it—you’ve already checked out and are playing Candy Crush on your phone.

Most speakers start with bland, generic pleasantries. Don’t be one of them.

Instead, draw your audience into the conversation with an engaging story:

“Meet Liza, a four-year-old girl with Down Syndrome. Liza was killed in a Russian missile attack on Vinnytsia, Ukraine, on July 14, 2022. . . .”

In public speaking, your opening story is called a “hook.” It’s a lot more than an opening quip. Your hook teases the overall theme or storyline of the conversation. If the hook is not mentioned again in your presentation, it’s a forgettable—or worse, manipulative—gimmick.

For example, if the rest of your speech has no connection with the heartbreaking casualties of war, your story about four-year-old Liza is little more than a cheap attempt at pathos.

Make your hook short and, above all, relevant to your core message.


Watch how Wharton organizational psychologist and best-selling author Adam Grant captures his audience with a self-deprecating personal story. Adam Grant: How to Stop Languishing and Start Finding Flow (TED Monterey, Sept. 7, 2021)

Main idea: what the audience needs to know and do

Tell the audience what your conversation is about. In high-school-composition terms, this is your thesis statement. Don’t hide it from the audience, only to reveal it later in some sort of misguided “Aha!” moment. With almost no exceptions, a professional speech should not mimic the structure of a detective story. Be direct and clear about what you want the audience to know and do.

Agenda: a brief overview of where you’re going

Preview the structure of your talk. Provide an itinerary for the journey you’re about to embark on. Articulating an agenda builds anticipation and readies audience members’ minds to receive information.

Reasons: the information and evidence the audience needs

Your agenda is an informal contract with the audience; the Reasons section is where you deliver on that contract. Include relevant details that support your main idea, in the order stated in your agenda.

Pro tip: Don't give your audience everything here. If you’re planning a Q&A session, plant seeds during the body of your message that will lead to questions later.

Example: Suppose you’re introducing an international expansion strategy and you know the decision makers in your audience are keen on India. However, your research shows that Africa, not India, is the most promising market for expansion. Make Africa the focus of the conversation, but have clear answers and Q&A slides that address Why not India? When used judiciously, this planting-seed method makes you look like a genius.

Task: the answer to “Now what?”

End with a quick summary of your main idea and reasons, then hammer home your call to action. Revisit your opening story. If you don't refer to it at the end, your hook has only fulfilled half its purpose.

Never close with Q&A — never. You lose control of the message and the energy in the room evaporates. Instead, make Q&A the second-to-the-last section of your speech, then finish with your powerful, motivating summary and call to action.


Activity 10.1

Use the SMART structure to outline an oral presentation you might be asked to give in the next few days/weeks/months. Think of a story or other hook, state your main idea, list your agenda, describe the reasons you’ll present, and craft your task statement (i.e., call to action).

Example Hooks

Think of hooks as the front door of your presentation. How inviting is your presentation’s front door?

No Yes
This report is about market segmentation. To claim that the customer is always right raises the question, “Which customer?”
Opioid abuse is a major problem for employers. $19,450: roughly the price of a new Ford Maverick. That’s what the average opioid-abusing employee costs his or her employer in annual medical expenses.
We have major problems with our inventory management system. Walking through the warehouse this morning, I heard a loud wheezing sound. Turns out, it was our inventory management system coughing up blood.

Back to Top

Section TwoPrepare

Contribute to the success of your presentation by optimizing the environment.

1. Choose a “Right Sized” Room

People are sensitive to how full a room is. If you can, choose a venue that accommodates the expected number of guests without much room left over. Empty space can makes your turnout look lame and drains energy from your presentation.

If you can’t change the space, remove extra chairs, and pull the remaining ones into a semi-circle. In a space with lots of extra chairs, people will naturally sit near the back or far apart from each other, so don’t give them the option. Squeezing people into fewer chairs gets them talking to each other and increases the anticipation level in the room.

Regardless of the size of the room, try to arrive early so you can shake hands and meet a few people. Thank them for being there. Ask them what they want to get out of the presentation. Don’t let your nerves or your desire to pre-test the audio system prevent you from making a few friends before you start.


When Your Screen Is Your Venue

A huge number of presentations are now made via Zoom, Teams, YouTube, or other video presentation platform. Make your virtual presentation sing by following the rules in this short article from the Duarte organization. Step Up Your Virtual Setup: Quick Fixes to Look and Sound Great From Anywhere.

2. Check Your Tech

Technology is both a blessing and a curse in presentations. To help reduce the stress and increase the success, use the following technology checklist:

  • If you are relying on slides or a microphone, arrive early enough to practice a bit and meet a few audience members before your speech.
  • Bring extra cords and connectors, and/or test your bluetooth.
  • Bring a printed copy of your notes and slides just in case.
  • Check the volume on a microphone and know how to change it.
  • Test the house-provided remote control or bring your own.
  • Have a backup plan in case your tech fails you completely—for example, additional stories, participative exercises, or an artifact you need for a simple object lesson.

3. Push the Podium Aside

A podium is a good place to keep your water bottle, but don’t hide behind it. People trust you more when they can see your whole body, and you’ll be able to use the floor space to keep your audience’s attention and make your points clear. Similarly, don’t just stand beside the screen. Your slides and visual aids are there to support you, not the other way around.

Computer cables of various sizes

Make sure to bring appropriate adaptors if your tech device is not compatible with all systems; i.e. Mac vs. PC.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Three times. That’s the magic number for confidence and success. Don’t write your presentation word for word and try to memorize it—that approach uses a different part of your brain that’s not as nimble. If you try to deliver a memorized speech and lose concentration or forget a word, you are sunk—just like Hollywood director Michael Bay at this Samsung product launch. (Cringe.)

If you have good notes and practice your talk three full times in front of a co-worker (or even your smartphone’s camera), your brain has a solid but flexible framework. Practice also gives you an innate sense of timing, helping you know where to stretch or cut your content if needed.


Arrive fresh, clean, and dressed one step above the audience average. Depending on the importance of the event and your own fashion awareness, asking for dress advice can be useful. Wrinkles, baggy knees, uneven hems, and stains are all distracting and reduce audience confidence.

For virtual presentations, you should still dress professionally—even if the audience cannot see your basketball shorts. Dressing professionally makes you feel professional, which boosts your confidence.

“Your clothes need to be appropriate for the situation, but aim to be slightly more polished.”

Carmine Gallo, “5 Ways to Project Confidence in Front of an Audience.” Harvard Business Review, May 28, 2018.

Back to Top

Section ThreeUse Full-Body Communication

Be fully human when you’re presenting in person. Use everything you’ve got. Most of these principles apply to presentations delivered virtually, even asynchronously.

full body communciation tips


Your voice is a signature part of you, like your fingerprint, according to Dr. Wendy LeBorgne, a researcher and elite vocal coach. Strengthen your vocal signature by ensuring your voice has good volume, pace, and clarity. Don’t shy away from injecting feeling and expressiveness into your voice. Get feedback from peers on these features because what you hear inside your head isn’t what your listeners hear.

Another option is to record a video of yourself to check your voice. Just as you need to keep your face and body mobile, keep your voice mobile, too. Vary your speed, volume, and intensity to match your message.

required reading

Learn from vocal coach and researcher Dr. Wendy LeBorgne how to take best advantage of your unique vocal characteristics. Wendy LeBorgne: How Your Voice Shapes Your Communication Image

Although your voice is an irreplaceable tool, the absence of a voice speaks volumes. Don’t be afraid of silence—particularly when you’re pausing to avoid an “um,” “uh,” or other filler word. Deliberate pauses also gather attention, emphasize a point, or give people time to ponder a rhetorical question. Silence, when wielded well, is powerful.


Your eyes are a crucial way to connect with your audience—to see and be seen by them. The problem is that when we’re nervous, we tend to focus inward and become self-conscious. We look down at the floor or at the wall.

Remind yourself that the people in the audience generally want you to succeed. In the spirit of making your presentation a conversation, try to hold short mini-conversations with individual audience members. Look an audience member in the eyes, speak to them for three seconds, then repeat with someone in another part of the room, thus spreading your attention throughout the audience.

Eye contact during virtual presentations is a different matter. If you try to look at different individuals, on your screen, no one will feel like you’re looking at them. You need to keep your eyes on the camera. So attach a picture of smiling people right at camera level to remind you where to focus your gaze.

Unless you’re delivering bad news or talking about a somber topic, make sure your smile reaches your eyes. A twinkle in the eye will make your audience inclined to smile back and feel more positive about both your presentation and you.


Smile. An authentic smile is one of a speaker’s best resources. It doesn’t have to be a big toothy grin, but unless you’re announcing a tragedy, try to look happy. A wry smile is fine if you’re a dry-humor person.

Animate your face. A stiff, immobile expression is off-putting—even disturbing—to watch. The larger your audience, the more you need to exaggerate your expressions and move your eyes, eyebrows, and mouth with more emphasis than you might in a personal conversation.

Eyebrows may seem like an odd communication tool, but they’re the first thing from the top of your head down that you can move to show expression. Raise them to show surprise or delight, draw them up together to emphasize a question, furrow them to show concern or concentration. Whatever you do, remember that these frames for your eyes draw people’s attention.


Watch how David Epstein looks at individuals in his audience as he builds suspense: “Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?

Eyebrows are the first thing from the top down that you can move to show expression.


Your hands are remarkably useful storytellers. They can nonverbally emphasize a trend by moving from the audience’s lower left to upper right (“sales are up”). Spread them wide to demonstrate a concept (“We’ll be spreading the task load more evenly among the teams”). Your hands can count out three points, put an end to an ineffective policy, or raise people to their feet for a stretch. The key is to use them purposefully to accompany the words coming out of your mouth.

When you’re in a large space, go big or go home. Keep arm motions above your waist and away from your body. Don’t flap your forearms near your body like you have tiny T-rex arms. Use large arm gestures too.


Great posture conveys confidence, so roll your shoulders back and allow your limbs to hang from that strong framework. Straightening your spine pulls your head up, too, and makes managing your arms and legs easier. Believe it or not, your posture changes the hormones in your body, replacing stress with confidence.


Watch this animated TED Ed video about The Benefits of Good Posture.

When you’ve got some floor space, move deliberately within it to emphasize your points. For example, if you’re talking about change over time, move from the audience’s left to its right as you introduce the benefits of the change.

Avoid moving just to be moving. Walking back and forth on a single line with no reference to your content makes you look fidgety and unsure of yourself.

Practice a calm, neutral stance for those times in your presentation when you’re not gesturing or moving purposefully—while you listen to a question or show a visual, for instance. When nervous, people exhibit repeated behaviors like pacing, flipping their hair back, or pulling a ring on and off. These subconscious tics are distracting to the audience.

A comfortable neutral stance consists of feet at shoulder width or a little narrower with your hands hanging comfortably at your sides. Such a position will feel awkward at first, but keep practicing. If your hands hang loosely at your side, they will not distract the audience.


Watch how Audrey Choi, CEO of Morgan Stanley's Institute for Sustainable Investing, purposely uses the floor space during her talk yet stays within the designated TED red circle. Her arm gestures work well, too. Audrey Choi, How to make a profit while making a difference

Forty-six Percent

Percentage of respondents who admit to being distracted during a co-worker’s presentation.

Distraction Action

Tasks employees do instead of listening to a co-worker’s presentation:

  • Send text messages
  • Answer email
  • Surf the internet
  • Check social media
  • Fall asleep

Carmine Gallo, “New Survey: 70% Say Presentation Skills Are Critical For Career Success.” 25 Sept. 2014.

Back to Top

Section FourTroubleshoot

Recover Attention

As a presenter, you’re responsible for the energy in the room. The tips mentioned so far should help you inject and maintain a high level of audience energy.

Keep an eye on your audience. If you see signs of disengagement—people falling asleep, checking their phones, or chit-chatting with each other—take action.

  • Turn on the lights. Even if you’re in the middle of a long slide presentation, turn on the lights and review your agenda for a minute to get everyone back on track. Remind them why they should care.
  • Move quickly to a new spot in the room. People will perk up and wonder what’s going on when you abandon your traditional post and do a few minutes from one side or the back of the room.
  • Ask a question. Get people to discuss a question with their neighbors, then report back to the group.
  • Call a mid-game stretch. This is the nuclear option because it always takes more time than you think, but if you see people actually falling asleep, you may need to get everyone out of their chairs and moving around. Adjust your activity suggestions to the formality and length of the situation. A quick round of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” could be great for co-workers, while a dignified bathroom break might work better with senior managers.

Distract the Chatters

Sometimes a couple of people just check out and start their own party. One way to get them to quiet down and refocus is to move to stand right beside them. If that doesn’t do it, ask a question directly to one of them, or give them a meaningful and playful glance.

In virtual presentations, the audience’s energy level is much more difficult to gauge and maintain. If you assume people are having trouble staying focused on your message, you’ll be right most of the time. James Micklethwait, VP of products at Kahoot!, offers useful tips to keep a virtual audience engaged.

  1. Use an online poll to grab attention early. Virtual presentation platforms offer some tools that are superior to live presentations. Polling is one of them. Learn how to these tools work and then use one to jump start engagement.
  2. Keep the level of interaction high. Participants sometimes fear looking stupid, so they stay quiet. Use technology to facilitate anonymous participation. You’ll find more people will contribute.
  3. Make it competitive. A little friendly competition gets people to pay attention, especially if you offer a prize to the winner. Presentation platforms offer a variety of ways to incorporate quizzes and contests.
  4. Seek and act on feedback. Ask for a virtual “show of hands” to check understanding, or use a simple quiz question now and then. If you notice high levels of wrong answers, go back and review the relevant point.
  5. Source: "Five Ways to Create Engaging Visual Presentations," Forbes June 11, 2020

Shut Down a Presentation Hijacker

If someone in the room is TOO into your presentation and starts to take over your role, suggest a future time when you can hear their ideas. You may need to interrupt someone to do this. That’s ok. Those who are not socially sensitive enough to have caught your throat clearing or attempts to cut in probably need less subtle cues. Others in the room will thank you. Most audience members don’t like the unpredictability that results when a participant turns into the presenter.

Recover After a Mistake

Did you get a report number wrong or mistakenly call your boss mom? Don’t worry. Everyone makes mistakes. If you are impeccably prepared in other ways, your audience will sense that this is a minor blip.

Do not apologize for inadvertent mistakes. If you forget what you were going to say, take a breath, gather your thoughts, and proceed. You might look at your presentation slide or notes to jog your memory. Remember, your audience wants you to succeed, so be calm and move on. If you appear uncomfortable, your audience will be too.

Plan for Length Changes

Suddenly you’re getting the “cut it short” sign from the back. Can you? Some meeting organizers are great at protecting speaker time, others not so much. Be sure you have XS, M, XL (extra-short, medium, extra-long) versions of your presentation planned so that you can roll with whatever time you are given. The most common scenario is that you’ll need to cut it short, so spend the most prep time on the condensed version.


Always plan to end
5–10 percent early.
No one will ever come up to you afterwards and say, “I need another 12 minutes of that presentation, please!”

Handle Tough Questions

Maybe you’ve encountered a hostile audience or you are unprepared to answer a key question during Q&A. Your best response is to listen. Repeat the question to clarify. Ask follow-up questions to understand your listeners’ concerns or requirements. If you don’t know the answers, be honest and say so. Once you fully understand the issues, say how and when you’ll address them. To prepare, read How to Handle the Q&A by Leslie Belknap.

Required Reading

How to Handle the Q&A by Leslie Belknap

Presenting in Teams

If you’re going to present with a team, rehearsal is even more important. Practice introductions and smooth transitions, decide who will handle questions for each topic, even coordinate your level of dress. A smart, capable team that likes each other is a joy to behold, so show your audience that you work well together and can get the job done.

Back to Top

In Conclusion

In your professional life, you’ll often be “on stage.” The stage may be in front of thousand-seat auditorium, a six-person breakout room, or your computer screen on Zoom. Regardless of the venue, use the principles in this chapter to project energy and confidence. Your audience will unconsciously imitate your mood and rise to the level of your energy.

Getting humans together in a room (or on a screen) is costly in time and money. Use every such opportunity to make a difference—for them and for your career.

Creative Commons license

To access the previous PDF version of the online textbook, click here. Note: The PDF version will not reflect any updates or changes.

Learn More

Please let us know.

Bold citations are referenced in the chapter text.


Belknap, Leslie. “How To Handle a Q&A Session During Your Presentation.” Ethos 3. January 15, 2016. Accessed July 2022.

Cain, Susan. “10 Public Speaking Tips from My Year of Speaking Dangerously.” Quiet Revolution. Accessed July 2022.

Duarte, Nancy. “Conquer Your Nerves Before Your Presentation.” Harvard Business Review. April 28, 2015. Accessed July 2022.

Kraft, Tara L. and Sarah D. Pressman. “Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response.” Psychological Science 23, no. 11 (2012): 1372–78. Accessed July 2022.

Micklethwait, James “Five Ways To Create Engaging Virtual Presentations.” Forbes. June 11, 2020. Accessed July 2022.

Morgan, Nick. “How to Become an Authentic Speaker.” Harvard Business Review, November 2008. Accessed July 2022.

Savoy, April, Robert W. Proctor, and Gavriel Salvendy. “Information retention from PowerPointTM and traditional lectures.” Computers & Education 52, no. 4 (2009): 858–67. Accessed July 2022.


Reynolds, Garr. Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2008.

Gallo, Carmine. Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2014.


Ted. “Before Public Speaking,” Accessed February 2017.

Ted. “How to make a profit while making a difference | Audrey Choi,” YouTube, published March 16, 2016. Accessed February 2017.

Ted. “Your body language shapes who you are | Amy Cuddy,” YouTube, published October 1, 2012. Accessed February 2017.

TedEx. “How to sound smart in your TEDx Talk | Will Stephen | TEDxNewYork,” YouTube, published January 15, 2015. Accessed February 2017.

TedEx. “And now for the eyebrow | Irrah Carver-Jones | TEDxChelmsford,” YouTube, August 20, 2015. Accessed February 2017.

Weinschenk, Susan. “5 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People,” YouTube, published June 18, 2012. Accessed February 2017.