Getting Your Point Across: Presentation Skills


Michael Chiviendacz, CD CISSP ISSPCS

December 2007

Summary: This article supposes that you have been asked to make a presentation, and asks you to consider how you will approach your topic and how you will break it down to get your point across. (8 printed pages)


Critical-Thinking Questions

I haven't failed. I've found 10,000 ways that don't work.
–Thomas A. Edison


Situation: You have been asked to present the team's design to the client. Worse yet, you have been asked to justify it. All of a sudden, it's high school all over again. You picture yourself at the front of the room: sweaty palms, initially speechless. When you finally start, you speak too fast for anybody to understand. Your 20-minute presentation is over in 5 minutes; but, at least, you can sit down again.

According to The Book of Lists, the fear of public speaking is the number-one fear in the minds of the majority of people. (Yes, above the fears of death and disease.)

In high school, I had the same fear. I would rather accept a failing grade than speak in front of the class. Between high school and college, however, I learned some skills for public speaking and instructional techniques. By college, I was so comfortable in front of the class that, during my second year, one of my professors invited me back to her class of first-year students, to speak to them about public speaking.

The two most useful acronyms that I recall from that experience (and the two that I use to this day, whenever I have to speak publicly) are ICEPAC and CREST. One is to help you remember principles of instruction, and the other is to help you remember the most useful types of verbal support or training aids.


ICEPAC is an acronym that represents the Principles of Instructions [CFP, 1992]. Each of these principles must be addressed in your presentation to make it successful. Here is what each letter means, as well as some tips to help address the related principle:


The members of your audience will pay closer attention to your presentation if they are interested in it, so you must find a way to generate interest. Some methods to generate interest include:

· Making them understand the personal value of the information in the presentation. How will it benefit them in their day-to-day lives? How, where, and when will they use the information?

· Making them understand the impact of not understanding the information in the presentation. As an example, if you are presenting to an audience on the importance of reliable software, explain that unreliable software can cause death (as in the Therac-25 Incidents) [Virginia Tech, Jan 2007]. The threat of death, injury, or other negative consequences often generates interest as a natural result of wanting to avoid it.

· Finding a new and innovative way to present your material. Avoid "death by PowerPoint."


You must ensure that your audience is ready to receive your presentation. Before starting into the meat of your presentation, try to ask questions of your audience members, to gauge their level of knowledge and expertise as it applies to the subject matter at-hand. If your audience does not have the requisite background knowledge to comprehend your presentation, you have only two choices:

· Adjust your own presentation to correspond to their level of knowledge.

· Raise their level of knowledge to a level that is required of your presentation.


Use presentation aids to emphasize important points. This will help the audience get the critical points of your presentation. Some suggested methods of emphasizing a particular point include:

· Using a visual-presentation aid such as Microsoft Office PowerPoint.

· Doing something out of the ordinary, or involving your audience. For example, I once had to teach a class the proper technique for teeth-brushing. To make it interesting and ensure that the students paid attention, I had a bunch of them line up shoulder-to-shoulder at the front of the class and used a (clean) automotive snow brush as a toothbrush to demonstrate (on the students' teeth), the proper technique.

· Using one of the verbal-support techniques described later.

· Repeating the point (this is a sure sign to the audience that something is important).

· Saying, "This is important."


People learn and remember by "doing." Get your audience as involved as you can in your presentation. Physical participation is best, but it is not usually appropriate for the type of presentation that an architect will likely give. As an alternative to physical participation, ask questions. Ask your audience questions about what you have said so far; ask your audience for their own views on the subject of the presentation. Do not just talk at your audience; get them thinking by getting them involved in the presentation. Use leading and thought-provoking questions to promote mental activity in the audience.


In a teaching situation, it is vital that the students have a sense that they have accomplished the goals of the lesson. In a presentation situation, it might be helpful to review the agenda at the end of the presentation and help the audience review where each thing that you presented fits into the agenda. That is, they have accomplished the goal of the presentation, whatever it was.


Confirm that the members of your audience understand what you are saying, and do not continue your presentation until they do. Your presentation should be broken into stages (discussed later), and each stage should build upon the previous one. This means that you should not leave the current stage until its contents are well understood and the audience has the proper base of knowledge to support them as you move to the next stage.

By following these basic principles of instruction, you can ensure that your audience gets the most out of your presentation.


CREST is an acronym that represents some of the most effective verbal supports or training aids that you can use during your presentation. Try to use a variety of different elements. Each critical point you are trying to make in your presentation should be backed up by at least one verbal-support mechanism. Here is what each letter means:


Compare the concept, item, or process you are trying to describe to something else that the audience understands and can relate to. Along with providing emphasis, this can also track back to the principle of comprehension.


Provide a valid reason that the information you are presenting is important. Along with providing emphasis, this can also track back to the principle of interest.


Provide examples to illustrate your point. In this article, I have used this method in describing how to teach people to brush teeth.


Provide simple statistics to support your position. Do not rely too heavily on statistics; often, competing statistics are available, and the audience might find too many charts and numbers boring. Remember "Fear of public speaking is the number-one fear amongst the majority of people"? This is a simple statistic that helps emphasize the importance of the contents of this article.


Bring in an expert from outside the group to provide testimony that what you are saying is true, and present that expert's perspective on it. You could also quote experts to support the information you are presenting.


Never give an unplanned presentation! Even if your boss asks you to stand up and speak without warning, request five minutes to organize your thoughts. Your presentation should follow some strict rules:

1. Always plan your presentation.

2. Always approach the presentation in stages, each of which builds up the base of knowledge that is required to move on to the next.

3. Always follow a logical path, and lead your audience from one point to the next.

4. Each critical point that you want to get across must be supported by at least one visual/physical and one verbal support. For example, use a picture or graph and a statistic in support of the critical point.

5. The presentation should pursue the general pattern that follows.


This should constitute approximately five percent of the total presentation time:

1. Introduce yourself, and, if possible, explain why you are a good person to speak about the topic.

2. Describe what you are about to speak about.

3. Tie back to previous knowledge. Ask questions based on previous (applicable) presentations. Establish the basic level of knowledge of the audience, to decide how to proceed.

4. Describe why it is important that the audience understand your presentation.

5. Explain where, in their jobs or lives, they will use the information you are about to provide to them.

6. Explain the approach you will use to impart the information that you have (it can be an Office PowerPoint presentation, a demonstration, a formal lesson, and so on). Here is where you describe the stages of the presentation.

7. Offer a control statement, explaining how the audience should go about asking questions (do they raise their hands or just blurt them out), requesting that you go back over a point, asking you to speak louder, and so on. In addition to letting the audience know how you expect it to participate in the presentation, making a control statement places you firmly in charge and in control of the situation; and people who are in control have no need to be nervous.


This should constitute approximately 85 percent of the total presentation time:

Stage 1

1. Tie back to previous knowledge, if possible, to get the audience in the right frame of mind for the stage.

2. Introduce the stage by explaining what the stage entails.

3. Present the information in the stage by using visual, physical, and verbal support to emphasize critical points.

4. Offer an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.

5. Ask leading questions of the audience, based on the contents of this stage. This confirms that the audience has understood the information that you have presented and is ready for the next stage.

6. Offer another opportunity for the audience to ask questions.

Stage 2-n

1. Tie back to/quickly review the previous stage, to put the audience in the right frame of mind for this stage and send a clear message that the previous stage is over. The audience will get a sense of progressing through the stages that were outlined at the very beginning of your presentation.

2. Introduce the stage by explaining what the stage entails.

3. Present the information in the stage by using visual, physical, and verbal support to emphasize critical points.

4. Offer an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.

5. Ask leading questions of the audience, based on the contents of this stage. This confirms that the audience has understood the information that you have presented and is ready for the next stage.

6. Offer another opportunity for the audience to ask questions.


This should constitute approximately 10 percent of the total presentation time:

Final Summary

1. Review the major points that have been presented (basically, this can simply be a review of the agenda) to remind the audience of what they have just learned. This is also a final opportunity to emphasize the critical points/messages that the audience should take away from your presentation.

2. Offer a final opportunity for the audience to ask questions.


1. Restate the high-level objective/subject of the presentation.

2. Explain why it is important that the audience remember the information that you have just presented.

3. Explain where the audience will use the information that you have just presented.

4. Thank the audience for listening/participating; if appropriate, give them your own assessment of how well they did (in the case of an instructional session), as well as points that might require work in the future.


Always have some instructions telling the audience what happens next. This could be sending them on coffee break; turning them over to an MC; or telling them what, where, and when the next presentation will be.


Turn your presentation from an exercise in anxiety and nervousness into a simple matter of following a template. Concentrate on meeting the objectives that are outlined here, instead of concentrating on the fact that you are standing in front of a room full of people. Follow these simple steps:

· Plan every presentation, even if it's as simple as determining how much time to spend on each stage and writing that on a crib note. You can then refer back to it, to ensure that you are "on track."

· Consistently follow the presentation structure that was outlined previously for every presentation.

· Apply the principles of instruction to your planning.

· Remember how to use verbal support to emphasize critical points in your presentation.

There are two final "nuggets of wisdom" that I can offer:

· Take control of the venue by rearranging the room, even if you only move some chairs around and then put them back. This helps you ensure that all members of the audience are able to see you; but, more importantly, it gives you a sense of control and, therefore, less reason to feel nervous.

· If, after doing all of the above, you find yourself a little nervous during your presentation, ask the audience if there are any questions about what you have covered so far. This takes the focus off of you and allows you to gather your thoughts while they think about potential questions. In addition, answering the questions is like a virtual "CTRL+ALT+DEL" in your presentation that allows you to respond to any questions and quickly get back to your material with a fresh start.

Critical-Thinking Questions

As you prepare your presentation, consider how you will approach your topic and how you will break it down. Ask yourself these questions [UC Davis, 2006]:

· What are the basic concepts or terms that are being used? How do these definitions affect the framing or understanding of the problem?

· How would someone from a related but different-discipline look at the problem/solution/issue, and could an interdisciplinary approach improve the analysis/discussion/evaluation?


· [CFP, 1992] "Instructional Technique, A-P9-000-009/PT-000." Manual of Individual Training. Volume 9, March 9, 1992, Chapter 2 and Chapter 5.

· [Virginia Tech, Jan 2007] Leveson, Nancy, and Clark S. Turner. "An Investigation of the Therac-25 Accidents." Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science, Professionalism in Computing Digital Library. Reprinted with permission, IEEE Computer, Vol. 26, No. 7, July 1993, 18-41. (Last checked January 6, 2006.)

· [UC Davis, 2006] "Critical Thinking Questions You Can Ask About Anything." University Writing Program, University of California, Davis, 2006. (Last checked January 6, 2006.)

· [CFP, 2002] "Conduct of Instructional Programmes, A-P9-050-000/PT-006." Manual of Individual Training and Education. Volume 6. Canadian Forces Individual Training & Education System, 2002.

About the author

Michael Chiviendacz is the Chief Architect for Entrust's Canadian Professional Services Team. Michael has several patents pending in the United States and Europe that are related to user authentication and identification. With over 15 years of experience, he has worked in every role related to software development, from architect to instructor. Michael was also a member of the Canadian Forces Primary Reserve for almost 18 years, where he served as an instructor and leader in various appointments.

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