Five Lessons in Making Better Presentations

tarkowskiIn marketing professional services, there is no more effective technique than giving an effective public presentation. It establishes the speaker as an authority, it makes an indelible impression in the viewer's mind and it's a great way to get new business.

I've given a lot of talks but I knew I had room for improvement. I got a fantastic speech training session from Kathy Tarkowski of KT Associates, Communication Consulting & Training last weekend. On the tranquil shores of Camp Madron in bucolic Buchanan, Michigan, she taught me five important lessons:

  1. Feeling butterflies before you speak is normal; this is the result of your brain pumping adrenalin in your bloodstream. It also causes a secretion called cortisol, which makes your mind go blank for a moment, usually when you're making an important point. This happens to everyone, so you need to have notes.
  2. Make eye contact with an audience member and hold it for three to five seconds. Don't break eye contact until you've finished your thought.
  3. Pause when you look at your notes, and stop speaking. I have a habit of continuing to speak as I look down at my notes, but it makes for an ineffective presentation. She videotaped me and I saw how poorly it came across. Kathy says when you've finished looking at your notes, look up at someone, make eye contact and then continue.
  4. Make big gestures when you talk; it makes you more interesting to watch (55% of what the audience perceives from you is how you look). Don't put your arms behind your back, clasp them in front of your fly or cross your arms. Open up your arms and move them away from your body.
  5. Move around and use the space you have to work with. It gives you presence and causes the audience to watch where you're going. She recalled an executive whom she coached who, despite her exhortations, refused to budge from the podium. Finally at a big presentation, he took a step away from the podium, but still touched it with one finger. Movement is difficult even for top leaders.

I personally recommend Kathy to anyone who has to sell, run meetings or get up in front of a crowd. She'll give you confidence and poise. You'll learn lots of practical pointers and a neat method she calls "The Echo System" to construct your speech. You can reach Kathy Tarkowski at 773.477.0490 or at

My next public presentation is at the ABA Annual Meeting in Atlanta on August 7. I'll be speaking at 2 pm at the World Congress Conference Center with several other experts on -- guess what? -- the topic of "Presentation Skills for the Courtroom and Beyond." I'll be using the techniques I learned from Kathy, so check it out and see how I do.

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