Presentation skills: 5 ways to sound good when presenting

In one of the best books written for acting, A Practical Handbook for the Actor (1986), Bruder et al. postulate that “acting, like carpentry, is a craft with a definite set of skills and tools.”

Giving a presentation is very much like acting – you are alone on a stage, you are there to convince people to believe you and your message and, you darn well better know your lines.

Bruder et al. tell us that acting is practice, hard work, and it involves the following ingredients which I list here selectively:

1. A strong clear voice, good clear speech

2. Good, clear vocabulary

3. The ability to work off the other person

4. Will, bravery

5. Common sense

presentation skills


1. The other night, when I was watching KQED (PBS in the SF Bay Area),a moderator was interviewing well known CEOs. Imagine my surprise, when the CEO of a well known company opened his mouth and out came a high pitched voice which didn’t fit my image of how the head of a large corporation would sound. Now obviously, a. he was at the top, b. he was otherwise very well spoken and c. didn’t need voice lessons for success. However, my point is that presenters, like actors, should know what they sound like and have themselves videotaped, analyzed, directed, and led in any way they can to sound and look good. By the way, there are many voice coaches who specialize in helping people change their voice pitch.

2. Sounding good is when you pick dynamic, active, physical words to make your points. Clear language = Clear thoughts.

3. In the case of the presenter, the “other person” is the audience. Haven’t you ever been to a presentation and thought “what planet is this guy [or woman] on, how can he speak to us this way, does he think we’re stupid?”

Even if you are speaking off of your PowerPoint slides, you have to be aware of your audience. Are people shifting frequently during your speech, do they exchange glances after many of your points, are they laughing at the right places or are they grabbing their iphones or start texting?

I remember giving a talk and quite obviously my choice of stories didn’t go over well with that particular audience so I hurried through the talk as best I could and vowed to be better prepared the next time – that is: to know my audience better, and ahead of time.

However, I actively listened to the audience and was able to cut off the stories before I told them and knew the wouldn’t work. I could have fallen flat on my face instead of just sounding bad (small consolation).

4. Getting up and talking in front of groups – big or small –takes a good amount of will power and lots of bravery/courage; and leads to this last point.

5. To put on a good presentation, you should also be pragmatic. Don’t get hung up in a theoretical framework, relate what you are saying to the real world with stories, anecdotes and everyday vocabulary.

Some of my clients don’t realize and then don’t believe me, that excellent presenters – these people who casually get up and amaze people by their dynamic productions – have in fact, spent hours and hours preparing and practicing their performances, frequently helped by trainers with a team such as ours.

Common sense tells us that almost no one can spend just an hour or two writing and practicing the delivery of a talk and sound great. As actors do, presenters must take the time to hone their set of skills to put on a good show and, if you feel that you need to be encouraged and prepared to look good, please contact us at

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