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Help! I Have a Presentation!

By Blondell Peterson
November 2005

dress the part
(Photo by Lauren Stagnitti)

According to William Shakespeare all the world's a stage and all the men and women are merely players. Sarah Wiggin, an NIH scientific public speaking teacher, elaborated on Shakespeare's concept in her own way. Wiggin spoke on the subject, "Help! I Have a Presentation to Make" at Nottingham Hall Sept. 28.

Wiggin is a speech coach with Premier Public Speaking in D.C. On a good day she said she wears her favorite hat-that of an actor.

Wiggin said whether it is one on one communication or a presentation before thousands of people, the same rules can apply. Understudies have a short time to learn the lines, and often they do not get a chance to rehearse on the stage with the props. According to Wiggin, the same is true for an impromptu speaker or one who has little time to prepare. Throughout the presentation she gave examples of how understudies for actors must prepare in the same way that any speaker would prepare to make a presentation.

Her basic suggestions included practicing a speech standing up in the same clothes the speaker is going to wear. Other key points to remember are:

  • The audience wants the speaker to succeed, so it's alright to use note cards. The audience hardly notices. Wiggin held cards during her presentation.
  • Only refer to the notes. Use presentation aids as visuals and not a script. "You know the material better than you think," said Wiggin.
  • Don't mimic another speaker. The best way to do this is to use examples, and put your experience in your speech. "Be yourself," she said.
  • Sit down and shut up. Embrace limitations like time constraints, and stick to the topic designated for the presentation.

In a performance as an understudy, Wiggin had to wear a wedding dress that was several sizes too big. Understudies don't get to choose their own wardrobe, and speakers don't always get to choose their topic. "Dress the part," she said. "If you can't change your clothes, change your attitude," she said. She decided to make the best of it by inserting humor into the part. She also called all her friends. She told them that if they ever wanted to see her in a wedding dress, they'd better show up that night.

Wiggin said two very key points to remember are to always end early and to use the two-minute-per-slide rule for PowerPoint. That is, a one-hour presentation should have no more than 30 slides.

She suggested using the three step process rule with slides:

Step 1: Preview. Let people know what they are about to see.

Step 2: Highlight. Point out the important information on the slide

Step 3: Spin. Tell what's important about the information you just pointed out.

Her final suggestion is to remember that it's worth it. "Look at presenting as an opportunity to share your knowledge and expertise," she said.



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