Eleven Things You Should Never Say During a Presentation

Bravo! These 11 things really spoke to me in Marr’s (2017) post on Eleven Things Your Should Never Say During a Presentation.

As someone who teaches a required class on public speaking to college freshman, I remind them that everything they say impacts their credibility to the particular audience.   While their audience includes their peers, it is a great opportunity to practice for other audiences.  “I didn’t have much time”, or “I am running out of time” are better left unsaid.  My other big point is to remind them that the intro and conclusion are critical.  The “attention getter” at the beginning should do just that; grab attention.  Same with the conclusion – don’t tell the audience “now I am done”. If you have a good “clincher” the audience will know you are done. Being mindful of the ‘filler words’ is important, but also know that we are humans and a few ‘ums’ or ‘ers’ is not going to ruin the whole speech.

Effective Feedback to Speaker

If you think about a time when you have received useful feedback, what was it specifically that made it useful?

Just recently, I had a very technical presentation to a peer group and at the end one of the participants gave me some really useful feedback. He said, “your overall presentation was very organized and easy to follow because you had visual support and you walked us through each step.” Then he followed with, “you may want to consider increasing the volume of your voice so the people in the back could hear because there were times when we could not follow along because we could not hear you.”

Do you see how these two feedback comments included support for each statement made? My presentation was organized and easy to follow, BECAUSE of…  My voice was not loud enough so the people in the back of the room could not hear.  These are types of feedback comments that are the most useful to a speaker.  These are things that the speaker can do something about. It is not addressing the speaker’s behavior, it is addressing the speech itself.  As a speaker yourself, don’t you want to know what areas were strong and what areas you can improve upon?  I know that I do!

Here are some short tips to consider when providing feedback that is the most helpful to the speaker:

  • Start with positive feedback. This can reduce defensiveness and help the speaker to be more open to receiving your feedback.
  • Use the 90/10 principle 1. The basis of this principle is that a person’s weaknesses are not necessarily the opposite of their strengths; they are  “excesses” of their strengths. If you provide feedback on 90% of a particular quality as positive, then mention the 10% that worked in in the opposite way or against that 90%. For example: “Your physical variety really helped us understand your topic, however there were a few times that you ‘fiddled’ with your hair that made it distracting.”
  • Feedback descriptive rather than evaluative. For example, instead of saying the speech was disorganized, describe why it was disorganized, “you mentioned the cause and effect for two of your points, but I wasn’t clear on the third.
  • Feedback is specific. Instead of saying, “Your graph was interesting,” say, “Your GMO graph really helped us to show how much soy in this country is genetically modified.”
  • Focus behavior rather than on the person. – The speaker is less likely to take it personally if you use non-judgmental feedback.  For example: “When you raise the pitch of your voice at the end of sentence, and you’re making a statement (not asking a question) it makes you appear uncertain or lacking in confidence.”

The basic idea of feedback is sharing information with the speaker about the speech — not giving advice.

1 Sprague, J., & Stuart, D. (1984). The speaker’s handbook. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Asking Questions of Speaker


If you are part of the inquiry group (questions group): pay close attention to the content of each speech in order to ask informed and provocative questions.

  • Be respectful – think of the content of your questions as well as the tone. If you come off in an accusatory tone, you are much less likely to receive a direct and respectful answer.
  • Do not be overly argumentative the goal is NOT to argue points with speaker. The goal is to find out more. What did the speaker mean by referring to genetically modified organisms as “poison”? Ask for clarification in an inquisitive manner, not one with demand or dispute.
  • Ask effective questions – use questions that delve further into the speech topic. This is where you want to think beyond yes/no questions and move into more of the how/why questions. For example, instead of asking, “what town are you from?”, ask, “what is the town like that you grew up in?” This is more apt to get the speaker talking and get the audience more detailed information.


Introduction to a Lesson – the “Flight Plan”

Preparing the introduction for my lesson reminds me of preparing a ‘flight plan” before take off.  Everything needs to be in order, in my mind. I go over my notes, my materials, do a run-through in my mind, check and re-check.

cockpit by berin

These “starter sets”, or introductions, can include a variety of different elements to “hook” your students into the lesson as you get started.  It is important to grab them at the beginning and begin to turn that attention into engagement with the lesson concepts.

Yesterday, in my public speaking class, we were focusing on using “attention getters” and “transitions” in a speech.  I began by asking the students about what exciting adventures they had over Spring Break.  That was my lead into the lesson, which began with my exciting adventure over spring break. The personal story that I shared with them to introduce the lesson was sprinkled with a variety of “attention getters” such as:

  • activity and movement (which you can’t “see” in this audio below)
  • proximity (referring to someone else in the room)
  • novelty (the type of therapy I spoke about)
  • familiarity (a different personal story I shared with the class a few weeks prior when we worked on introductions)
  • suspense (building the students up after telling them I got 50 injections)
  • a bit of humor (joking about how I handled the injections better than my husband who was only watching)
  • “the vital” (which appeals to audience sense of value, make life better, save time, save money, etc.).

I noticed that my transitions were not as smooth as I had hoped to demonstrate for my students. I used a lot of “ands” and “sos”, rather than varying my transition words, or using pauses.  We discussed this after my intro and did a fishbowl activity in which two groups were able to orally practice “attention getters” on a given topic. This was followed by a brief discussion of “transitions” as compared to driving a stick shift with smooth shifting (no grinding of the gears effect!). The students then had practice with coming up with transitions in the following “Transition Card Pair-Share”:

  1. Students partnered up and came up with one sentence (absolutely anything!)
  2. I passed out a sentence that I created on a slip of paper to each pair
  3. The pair worked together to create a transition statement to tie the two sentences together smoothly.
  4. Much hilarity ensued due to the nature of the funny statements I gave them, i.e.: There are many things you can say about your dog, but not your roommate.

Overall, this activity was very successful in that students really understood and practiced how to create transitions, which are critical to a fluid speech in order for the audience to follow.


Note: To get my audio recording, I did the following:

  1. Recorded my intro via my iPhone 5s (using VoiceMemo app)
  2. Emailed the VoiceMemo to myself
  3. Downloaded the VoiceMemo (Mp4)
  4. Logged into my SoundCloud free account and uploaded the Mp4
  5. Once uploaded, I selected the Share menu and copied the provided code and pasted it into this WordPress post (this last step can be a little tricky as free WordPress pages don’t seem to like the code). Feel free to keep in simple and just create a hyperlink to the URL of your SoundCloud audio file.

Impromptu speech topics

ideas for impromptu speeches


A lot of lists are available for impromptu speech topics. My topic list evolved regularly. I typed it up recently for someone on request and wanted to offer it here as well.

At the start of the semester, I would choose a topic then ask a question for the students. Later in the semester, I could just read the topic and let the students run with it. If you have a reluctant group, you could stick with the questions.

The persuasive topics can be a bit more difficult so I only used them for the last few days of the semester for the few students that had to finish up their impromptus. For the persuasive impromptus, I would give the students two topics and let them choose one.

Informative topics:

Web sites – what’s the best web site that we’ve probably never heard of?
Video games – what’s the best…

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In-class exercise: Transition cards

great activity ideas for public speaking


Practice with transitions

This is based on a “Whose Line is it Anyway?” game. At least one class day before teaching transitions, I have the students create the cards. The students organize into pairs and I give each pair three quarter sheets of paper. They are to write one sentence on each piece of paper. The sentences can be about anything, but I ask them to keep them clean and to avoid questions. They are often skeptical, so I will usually tell them about the “Whose Line?” game. I then go through the cards after class and discard any that will not work.

On the day we discuss transitions, I mix the cards up and again have students get into pairs. Each pair gets two cards. Their challenge is to write a transition sentence that will go between both cards to connect the sentences in some way. Each pair shares…

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Presentation Best Practices

Presentation Best Practices

Published: Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching, Humboldt State University, 2011

One of my my passions is presentation.  This likely stems from all the presentations I do myself, as well as sharing ‘best practices’ to my students and other colleagues.

We have all been faced, at one time or another, with the struggle of creating a fascinating, engaging, interactive presentation. How does one create a presentation that not only engages their students, but also provides the necessary concepts? Not only are there a variety of presentation tools out there, but also a wide variety of techniques and tips.

10 Tips

1.Create goals. What do you want your students to learn?

2. Reduce content. Make it simple. Too much content in a presentation can do the opposite of what you want your students to take away. There is so much to remember; they remember almost nothing. By reducing content, we give students time for thinking and therefore providing those ‘takeaways.’

3. Make it clear. This provides students with some direction so they know where they are headed. Emphasize the two to three major concepts at the beginning and conclusion so your students will know what you deem important and what is expected of them.

4. Don’t let the technology be the presentation. You want the students to focus on you and the concepts you are discussing, not your presentation tool.

5.Observe the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. Venture capitalist, Guy Kawasaki says a presentation should have 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain no font less than 30 points. However, research shows even shorter presentations (approximately 12 minutes or less) are more effective for maintaining attention. Try building in activities for each concept before you hit that 12-minute mark. This will break up the “presentation” and give time for critical thinking.

6. Use visual aids that are simple, easy to understand, and support the concepts you are trying to convey without too much clutter or animation. Visuals help students to learn more readily and retain more information. Using graphs and charts for statistics or data can often help drive home a point more clearly.

7. Add variety and interaction. Remember, your class will have students with a variety of learning styles. If you only teach to one style you will lose everyone else. This means adding visual, audio, and kinesthetic formats where appropriate. When students engage actively with material, they generally understand it better and remember it longer. Begin lectures with questions/problems for the students to consider. Invite students to participate. Using a tool such as Classroom Response Systems, i.e.: Clickers, can be valuable in active learning. Research has shown that clickers increase attendance, increase participation, and increase student enjoyment (Bruff 2009).

8. Resist the urge to read your slides. If you read every word, you will definitely lose your students’ attention. Limit one idea per slide.

9. Move around the room and make eye contact. A presentation remote gives you the flexibility of advancing your slides from anywhere in the room. Making eye contact is important in maintaining the attention of your students.

10. Plan for a disaster. Consider what could go wrong. Maybe the network is down or the computer won’t be working. Always have a back up.

Effective Presentation Tools:

Sometimes they say it is all about the tool. Again, the tool is there to support you, not be the focus. However, there is a mass of technology tools for presentations. Below is a list of the some of the more popular, suggested presentation tools.

Tool What does it do? Cost
Jing Easy to use screen capture software. Add visuals to documents, online conversations, and more. http://www.jingproject.com/ Free
Microsoft PowerPoint Slide presentation software. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/powerpoint/default.aspx $
Keynote Slide presentation software. (Mac only) http://www.apple.com/iwork/keynote/ $
Flash Creation of animation, interactive forms, games. http://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer/ Free
Camtasia Screen video capture software. Record on screen activity; captioning. http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.asp $
Prezi Live and on web presentations. http://prezi.com/ Free, $
OmniOutliner Flexible program for creating, collecting, and organizing information. http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnioutliner/ Free, $
iStockphoto Member-generated image and design community with over 4 million photographs, vector illustrations, video footage, audio tracks and Flash files. http://www.istockphoto.com/index.php Free, $
Flickr Online photo management and sharing application. http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/ Free
SlideShare Web-based slide sharing application. http://www.slideshare.net/tour Free
LecShare Creates accessible PowerPoint files. LecShare Pro has audio/video capabilities for $20 upgrade. http://www.lecshare.com HSU License

Tip References

Bauer, K. (1998). Effective Presentations. Retrieved Oct. 1, 2009, from Yale website: Effective Presentations (Bauer, 1998) http://www.med.yale.edu/library/education/effective.pdf

Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. (2006). Tips for Teachers: Twenty Ways to Make Lectures More Participatory Retrieved Oct. 1, 2009, from Harvard University website: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/TFTlectures.html

Hyatt, M. (2009). My Current Presentation Tools. Retrieved Oct. 1, 2009, from Michael Hyatt website: http://michaelhyatt.com/2009/01/my-current-presentation-tools.html

Eggleston, S. (2009). The Key Steps to an Effective Presentation. Retrieved Oct. 1 from: http://www.the-eggman.com/writings/keystep1.html

Take a peek at an article I wrote when I worked in Humboldt State University’s Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching: Effective Presentations

A recent TEDTalk with Garr Reynolds (a master on presentation!) on the changing nature of public speaking