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Public speaking and presentation skills for HR professionals

Tips and strategies for improving speeches and slide decks
HR practitioners are often called upon to deliver training programs and facilitate meetings, workshops, action learning sessions or other types of organizational development programs and sessions. Shutterstock

By Brian Kreissl

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the issue of learners expecting workplace learning to consist of “edutainment.” While I think that expectation may be somewhat unrealistic, I believe anyone who trains, facilitates or speaks in front of groups as part of their roles can improve their public speaking skills.

This is particularly important for HR practitioners, who are often called upon to deliver training programs and facilitate meetings, workshops, action learning sessions or other types of organizational development programs and sessions. Because of that, many of us should look at improving our public speaking skills (myself included).

It is also worth reviewing some of the principles of how to create effective presentation decks. Let’s face it, as HR and learning and development practitioners we’re often called upon to put together PowerPoint presentation decks (or presentations using other software tools such as Prezi).

There is a school of thought that says tools like PowerPoint should be used sparingly if at all. Some experts argue slide decks are unnecessary and distracting. If they are used at all, they say, presentations should only contain a handful of slides and be focused largely on visual images rather than text.

I personally believe PowerPoint has its place, but it should be used sparingly in some situations. According to this article by Witt Communications, PowerPoint isn’t really effective in situations where the speaker is trying to establish a sense of leadership, engage and connect with the audience or solicit audience participation, where there is limited preparation time or where the audience has been subjected to too many presentation decks.

The following are some tips and strategies for effective public speaking, followed by some best practices for developing presentation decks.

Public speaking tips and strategies

  • Consider the goals and objectives of the speech. Who is your audience and what are the main points you are trying to get across to them?
  • Practise your material and learn it cold if possible (but resist the urge to memorize it word-for-word). Try not to refer to notes if you can avoid it, but use small cue cards if you must (resist the urge to put your entire presentation on the cue cards).
  • Aim for a conversational style that is friendly, inviting and engaging. Vary your tone of voice, pitch, volume and other aspects of delivery for effect.
  • Speak relatively slowly and pause for effect. Let what you are saying sink in.
  • Don’t try to read your notes or slides other than perhaps the occasional short quote or definition. Try to avoid having your talk match your presentation deck exactly (if you use a presentation at all).
  • Remember the old adage of “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then remind them what you told them.”
  • Be yourself and try to let your personality shine through. Don’t try to use gestures, facial expressions, words or tones of voice that don’t come naturally to you.
  • Tailor your speech to the audience and try to understand their needs and perspectives.
  • Engage in storytelling and share personal anecdotes and humorous stories.
  • Remind yourself that you are excited rather than nervous.
  • Include numbers, statistics and facts for effect, but don’t overdo it with numbers.
  • Consider taking a course in public speaking or enroll in a group like Toastmasters to obtain feedback and practice delivering speeches in front of groups.
  • Avoid giving the audience excuses (such as a lack of preparation or too much content).

Presentation deck best practices

  • Resist the temptation to include everything you are going to say on your PowerPoint slides.
  • Avoid putting too much information on one slide. We have all seen presentations with multiple paragraphs and eight-point font no one could read while the presenter read the entire slide to a bored audience.
  • Don’t have too many slides. Slides should really be used for effect and shouldn’t try to include everything in the presentation.
  • Avoid slides that are too text-heavy. Use a larger font and limit the number of bullet points to four.
  • Consider taking a course in PowerPoint or using books and other resources to improve your skills with PowerPoint or other presentation software.
  • Try to make the presentation deck visually appealing with pictures and graphics, but resist the urge to include too many graphics, cheesy animation, clip art or pictures that don’t add to the presentation. Consider using pictures of people.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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