Skillsoft Blog

Presenting with Confidence, Clarity and Credibility

We are pleased to bring you a guest blog post today from Tracey Matisak, Host of SkillSoft’s Live Events. Tracey has videos in SkillSoft’s Leadership Development Channel collection to help people with various types of presentations. Watch Tracey in action on May 1 at 11:00 EDT at a Live Event featuring General Stanley McChrystal, former Commander of U.S. and International Forces in Afghanistan. General McChrystal will be presenting from SkillSoft’s 2012 Annual Perspectives User Conference.

By Tracey Matisak, Host of SkillSoft’s Live Events

It’s the thing some people fear more than jumping from an airplane or death itself – presenting in public. Just the thought of it can induce sweaty palms, a racing heart and a stomach full of butterflies. But proper planning can make most of the jitters disappear; it’s the key to presenting with clarity, confidence and credibility.

So … what does proper planning look like, exactly? First …

Prepare Your Content: An effective, memorable presentation is filled with useful, relevant content that captures and keeps your audience’s attention.

  • Identify 3-5 main points (3 is the optimal number for memory’s sake) and write them down. Then, consider using alliteration or perhaps an acronym that will help your audience (and yourself!) tick them off easily.
  • Sprinkle in relevant and brief illustrations, appropriate humor, memorable quotes and statistics to support your assertions. When possible, choose stories over stats. Too many numbers tend to inspire doodling and watch-checking. Double-check your facts and above all, make sure your content is relevant and compelling. If it isn’t, why present?
  • Once you’ve composed the body of your presentation, create a high-impact conclusion. It should summarize your main points and lead to a challenge – that is, what do you want the audience to do as a result of what you’ve shared? Boil it down to a single, action-oriented statement and keep it in front of you as you build your content. For example, “I want the audience to define their priorities, determine their short-term goals and deliver 3 tangible results by year’s end.” End your presentation with that challenge in the form of a question or a powerful statement.
  •  Now that you’ve finished the body and conclusion, it’s time to create an attention-grabbing opener. Skip the formalities and start right in – with a question, an anecdote or a brief but powerful quote that sets the tone and theme for your speech. Use humor if you can. It’s a great way to help your audience – and yourself – “warm up.” Then …

Pick Your Props: Decide whether you will be using technology and/or physical objects to help illustrate your presentation.

  • Ask yourself, “Does this slide/video/object add to my presentation in a significant way? Does it really help drive home the points I’m trying to make?” Don’t use props for props’ sake.
  • To hand out or not to hand out? Handouts can be helpful – if they’re not cluttered with too much text. They should not distract your audience from you; rather, they should enhance and reinforce your presentation in a subtle way. Simply include your name, talk title and the main points with room for notes.
  • Preview your props. Make sure the flash drive works, that there’s an internet connection for the YouTube video, and that the audio is crisp and clear. Test-drive the remote control to make sure your slides change smoothly. In other words, leave nothing to chance. Technology can make or break your presentation. Finally …

Practice, Practice, Practice: Nothing builds confidence like thorough knowledge of your material. Know it so well that your notes are nothing more than a safety net.

  • Practice your entire presentation in front of a mirror. Multiple times. Time it so you’ll know how long it will take.
  • Practice making eye contact – first with yourself in the mirror, then with your imaginary audience. Choose certain “individuals” and speak directly to them for a few seconds at a time.
  • Visualize yourself presenting with power and energy and connecting with your audience. Achieve success in your mind and you’re much more likely to achieve it onstage.
  • Practice in the actual place you’ll be presenting if possible. At the very least, know the layout well beforehand so there are no surprises.
  • Breathe. Deeply and slowly for several minutes before your presentation. Pause between inhales and exhales. It works wonders for jittery nerves.
  • Be yourself! Authenticity matters. And if you make a mistake, correct it and move on confidently.

The bottom line: it’s all in the preparation. If you’ve done that well, you can truly present with confidence,  clarity and credibility – and have fun doing it! 

QuickTalks: Tracey Matisak: Constructing a Powerful Presentation


For a dynamic presentation, 1) use a compelling opener—a story, quote, question, or statistic; 2) provide a high impact conclusion that summarizes main points and points back to the beginning; 3) use three to five points, supported especially by stories, that provide compelling content; and 4) begin with the end in mind. Start with a sentence that describes what you want the audience to do. Everything in the presentation should support that sentence.

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