The science of presentation or the art of speaking

Today I want to talk about presentation as part of the compagneur programme, as it is relevant for both employees and self-employed in one way or another.

The modern form of presentation is to become a speaker which is getting more and more popular in today’s business world. The reasons, of course, are manifold:

  • Selling your products and services from stage
  • Inspiring people with your story
  • Pitching for “fun and funds”


Let’s leave the field of motive and results and move to the actual presentation on stage (i.e. to stand in front of people, not necessarily on a pedestal).
All forms of presenting have in common that a lot of attention is given to the presenter. Thus, unconscious moves, habits and traits of the presenter will seem more prominent. Sometimes have the potential even to distract from the content and message, like twisting your finger ring and filling words like “ahhmm”.
We are all humans and should not be judged by our “nervous habits” and ticks, but the truth is, we are. So, if your motivation for becoming a speaker is to sell, inspire and pitch and if you even paid to be on stage, it’s my advice to put some thought into the setup.

What follow is a collection of experiences from watching my performances on stage, listening carefully to others when speaking and reflecting on these points. I hope you will find this of value and share your experiences, too.

1. First words

NEVER, NEVER say that this is your first time. Of course, it’s understandable that you are not perfect at your first presentation and you want the people in the audience to feel sympathetic towards you. Also, an “icebreaker” is a great tool to start off and kill nervousness. Yet saying “This is my first time here” is NOT it and you will not get the desired results. People may think this is your excuse for underperformance, it shows your insecurity, people may ask why you are even up on stage – no one forced you into it, right?
Be catchy, be smart, show that you too are only human, don’t take yourself too seriously but act as if you belong on the stage. AND most importantly rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Do it in front of the mirror, tape yourself, ask friends to watch and give feedback and stop the time.

2. Introducing yourself

Don’t take for granted that people know who you are or can remember your name from a flyer or the moderator’s intro. Thus, make sure you mention your name and why you are here. If you have a seemingly difficult personal or company name, develop an introduction that helps people to remember you. My name Maike is difficult to pronounce and hard remember for many people outside Germany. So, I draw pictures of how to pronounce my name like “Michael without the l”, the mineral mica or even “my car” and “my key”.

3. Gentures

Nervousness makes us do funny things. I stopped wearing rings and chains because after watching me on video, even I got distracted. If you are a woman and often touch your hair during a presentation, maybe you want to tie them into a knot. If sweat has left its trace on your armpits, you might want to use fewer “open gestures”.

4. Timing

Another big trap that should be avoided is to run out of time. Often these days, the organisers give clear presentation windows and will make you stick to it. If you don’t manage to finish on time: a) it does not give a good impression on you and your time management and presentation skills b) your message might be lost altogether because at the end you usually summarise, ask for the sale etc which you can’t if you are ushered of the stage.

5. Sharing the stage

One of the most difficult situations is if you are on stage with another person. There is hardly anything worse on stage then presenters not synchronizing, a pause that is too long, both speaking at the same time, one standing around with no functionality…
I can speak from experience with Lilli, that it is one of the hardest tasks. What you need is either total harmony, separate areas of expertise or practicing beforehand. We actually do all three.

6. Introducing slides

There is no argument against presentation slides on screen as such. It helps people to follow, make useful notes, underlines your content BUT often enough the technical part is not working properly, or the spoken content does not match with the content on screen.
Also, many presenters are tempted to look on the screen and turn their back towards the audience. That way you lose rapport with the audience and without a microphone the room might not be able to understand you anymore.
I recently watched a presentation of a famous neuroscientist. He started of with a 20 minutes aural introduction and had everyone’s full attention. Then he used the stick to kickstart his presentation, but nothing worked. It took him and the team 5 minutes to fix it, the momentum was lost and every time he was flipping a slide, he had difficulties.
Be especially careful if your presentation consists of slides and videos and if you need an internet connection to play the footage.

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