Here’s the scenario: you are asked to present in your area of expertise at an upcoming event; you are honored and graciously accept the invitation. Or, you have finally gotten that meeting with the decision maker you’ve been trying to nail down for months, and it’s time to prepare your presentation. As you sit down to work on your content, you know this is your time to shine. This is what you’ve been working for! Unfortunately, instead of being buoyed by confidence as you imagine yourself in the spotlight, the only thing you feel rising in your chest is your heartrate.


First, let’s reframe this situation that is creating anxiety for us. We need to remember there is a reason we have been asked to speak or granted an appointment to present information–we have an important perspective this audience needs to hear. As Chris Anderson, curator of TED, says in an article in the Harvard Business Journal, “A successful talk is a little miracle—people see the world differently afterward.” Sitting down to prepare our delivery is our opportunity to translate our knowledge into a message that may allow people to see the world and their own lives with fresh eyes. To do this, we think in terms of the audience’s interests. What is the makeup of the audience and what knowledge do we have that will benefit or inspire them? Building the content of our message from this perspective takes our minds off of our fears and focuses us on how we can inspire our audience.


Each of us is the result of a unique makeup of genetics, personality, experiences, and a lifetime of choices. This means what we each have unique communication potential that simply cannot be replicated. Using strong eye contact and telling vivid, relevant stories to illustrate our points forges a connection with the audience. Reflecting our personalities, being relatable the way we would with a small group of friends, makes our delivery a conversation rather than a presentation. Shawn Doyle, certified professional speaker, suggests creating a few opportunities for interaction to increase engagement and remind the audience that we are human.


Finally, after developing content with an audience-first perspective and delivering our presentation with authenticity and personality, we need to ensure we leave the audience with a call to action. What is it that we want the audience to take away from this conversation? If successful talks produce a shift in world view as Chris Anderson suggests, we need to know what we want the audience to do as a result of that shift. If we have caused emotion to surface, this is the opportunity to encourage action. While we don’t want to be seen as aggressive, there will not be another moment when the audience is more motivated. An effective call to action is primarily three things: it is specific, it resonates with the audience, and it is simple for the audience to accomplish. Brad Phillips, media strategist, offers additional tips on effective calls to action on his website.

The next time we sit down to prepare for a big presentation or meeting, we need to remember that we have an opportunity to change how people see the world, we have a unique ability to present information in a way no one else could, and a good call to action can turn energy into productive response. Our presentations bring great possibilities!

Download Dale Carnegie’s latest white paper on “Recognizing Leadership Blind Spots.”


Posted by MaryAnn Means-Dufrene

As Market President for Dale Carnegie North Texas, MaryAnn partners with organizations and individuals to build leadership capacity necessary for breakthrough performance. Through strategic partnerships, she creates customized skill development plans to increase employee engagement, boost individual and team productivity, and develop the kind of leaders people actually want to follow. MaryAnn has tremendous experience in collaborating with organizations in Tarrant County, previously serving as Executive Director of Susan G. Komen Greater Fort Worth and as Deputy Chief of Staff to Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. She is a graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree in psychology and earned her Master of Public Administration and Master of Strategic Human Resource Management degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington. She is board chair for Presbyterian Night Shelter, board vice president for Girls Inc of Tarrant County, and serves on the board of directors of Women's Policy Forum and the Central Area Council for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. MaryAnn lives with her husband Matt, son Hogan, and two dogs Deuce and Lovey in Fort Worth, Texas.

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