Effective Presentations

Author: Diana Martinez, Ph.D.

Posted: August 2019

Hello Lean Six Sigma lectors! While technical knowledge is important to your success (we have been discussing Process Capability during the last three blogs) of equal importance is your ability to communicate. That is why we have decided to change gears and take the opportunity to discuss Effective Presentations. This skill is important whether presenting at gate reviews, making technical talks at conferences, speaking to a group of executives, or even giving a tour to visitors.    

While some people have natural abilities to speak in public, most of us struggle when asked to do so. The good news is that presentation skills can be developed over time. Whether you are an experienced speaker or not, consider these tips to increase your ability to communicate your key ideas effectively.

  • Smile and Break the Ice – Your smile will be the first impression and is contagious. This will help to set a comfortable environment. Also, start with a compelling story, a joke, or an interesting anecdote. The goal is to get your audience to lean in to hear your talk. This is an easy way to gain attention and to reduce your level of nervousness.
  • Know Your Audience and Connect – It would be ideal to know in advance the type of audience for your presentation. This can give you a good indication on how to express yourself. However, if you do not have this information, try to figure it out by asking questions such as, “Who has heard about…? Please raise your hand”, “Is anyone familiar with…”, “Has anyone experienced…?”. Let the audience talk about their experiences. This generates interaction and provides information you can reference in your talk. Be a good listener when they talk and always make eye contact. 
  • Knowledge – This is critical. When you talk about something it is essential to understand in detail the information you are presenting and be prepared for any questions. Being passionate about the topic you are presenting shows even more credibility and engagement with your audience. One way this manifests itself is to share knowledge beyond what is shown on a slide (e.g., through stories or examples). Conversely, a golden rule for presenting is to avoid reading slides.  Just another reason why knowing your material is so important. Finally, this helps reduce the use of filler words such as “um”, “uh”, “so”, etc.
  • Tone, Volume, and Speed – Varying both tone and volume helps generate interest during a talk. You can increase the volume of your voice naturally to highlight important points. Decreasing your volume can also be a great way to emphasize points and regain attention. As for your tone, the first thing to keep in mind is to avoid a monotone since this could “kill” your presentation! Instead, vary your tone to stress key ideas. Finally, keep in mind pace. Pause periodically to allow the audience to absorb what you have said. Such pauses also allow you to observe the audience. Do they get what you are saying? If so, move on. If not, clarify what you are trying to say. Finally – some belts tend to rush through a presentation. Instead, strive for a reasonable pace, not too fast nor too slow.
  • Body LanguageEverything needs to be in sync, your words, your voice tone, your body! Without exaggerating and with natural and concise moves add some “flavor” to the presentation. Emphasize important points with hand gestures. Otherwise keep your hands at your sides – not in your pockets. As stated above, use eye contact to engage your audience. Finally, periodically walk calmly about the space in front of the room. This shows confidence and less tension while presenting. Do this in moderation – moving around too much could be distracting.
  • Material – Being a great speaker but not having good content is probably worse than being in the opposite situation. Set aside time to work on your presentation. Be concise and have a structure to the flow of information.  Use visuals when possible. About 65% of the population are visual learners and remember, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Provide examples and reinforce key points / learnings at the end of your talk.
  • Tell a Story – Our final tip is to approach any formal talk as if you were telling a story. Good storytellers are adept at making their talk interesting. Imagine telling a friend or family member about something unusual that happened to you when you were growing up. Now adopt that same approach in making a presentation.

To build your confidence you need to do one thing: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Take constructive feedback and improve next time you do it. There is always an opportunity to do it better. And last but not least, BE YOURSELF!

More about Diana Martinez, Ph.D.:

Diana is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with 10+ years of experience working with dozens of companies in a variety of industries, from healthcare to government to aerospace. She has taught more than 15 LSS classes and conducted dozens of coaching sessions for Green Belts and Black Belts. She has also worked closely with many firms in applying lean best practices resulting in reduced costs, higher productivity, and a more skilled workforce. Diana has a PhD in Industrial Engineering.

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