by Steve Adubato, PhD

Q: When I'm giving a presentation, sometimes I can't even hear what I'm saying. I go on autopilot and that's when I get lost, and then really nervous. My fear is that the audience can sense it. What should I do?

A: One of the best ways to stay on track in a presentation is to work from a bulleted outline with three, possibly four, key points. These talking points should be boldly printed and easy for you to read. There should be about an inch between each point. These bullets can be a word, phrase, number, visual (like a triangle or a smiley face). Whatever it is, make sure when you glance at it you know exactly what it signifies so it triggers you to say what you want to say. Don't stray from the bullets. If you do, you lose your anchor. When lost in a presentation, go back to the bullets right away. The first bullet is usually the opening of the presentation. (I also use this same technique for important meetings or phone calls). The last bullet will remind you of how you want to conclude. Finally, when you get lost-relax-the audience doesn't know, only you do. Casually get back to the bullets and act as if nothing is wrong.

Q: What do I do with my hands when I make a presentation? I tend to put them in my pockets, behind my back or hold on to the podium. I just feel like they are in the way.

A: What do you do with your hands? Use them! Why did so many of our teachers tell us to keep from using our hands "too much?" What's too much? Sure, waving them in front of your face like some kind of a nut is distracting. But the average person doesn't do that. Think about it-When you are in a conversation, don't you use your hands to make or emphasize a point? We use our hands and fingers to count or keep track of points. We use our hands to express disagreement ("Don't go there!"). If we use our hands so naturally in conversation, then why isn't it okay to do the same thing in a presentation? It is okay. The best technique is what I call "soft hands." Take your hands and form a relaxed teepee in front of you. Then, don't think about them again. Trust me, as you talk with passion and enthusiasm, your hands will follow. So get your hands out of your pockets and from behind your back and stop holding on to the podium for dear life. What do you do with your hands? Use them!

Q: I've been told that I speak in a monotone when presenting in front of groups. How can I change that and be more engaging?

A: Monotone presentations are way too common. We don't like monotones because they lack the vocal variety and inflection that helps us put a presentation into context. We know what points are more important than others. We know what the speaker feels most passionately about. One of the biggest reasons for monotone presentations is people reading verbatim. If you're doing that, stop now. As I mentioned earlier, talk from bullet points in a more conversational and natural fashion. If you do, you will create more vocal variety and inflection because that's how most of us converse. Get in touch with how you really feel about what you are saying. The more you speak from the heart, and less from your script, the greater chance that you will avoid that monotone style that we all hate. It's impossible to speak with passion with a monotone voice. Go ahead, try it, it doesn't work.

Please write to me with a communication question that has been nagging you. I'll do my best to respond.