How to Improve Your Delivery in a Technical Presentation

Christopher Witt —  November 28, 2012

I just finished coaching a team of engineers as they prepared and rehearsed an oral proposal for a large government contract.

The lead presenter, the VP of the company, was charming, intelligent, and engaging. He wasn’t glib by any means, but he spoke easily, confidently, and with authority…until he began his presentation. Then he became overly formal, stiff, and boring.

My work as a coach was both simple and challenging: how to get him to be as he naturally was — charming, intelligent, and engaging — when he was in front of an audience.

I gave him two pieces of advice that I give most technical presenters who want to improve their delivery.

  • Be Yourself

Most technical experts go into what I call their “presentation mode.” When they tell me what they’re going to say, they’re fine. They’re lively and interested. They use appropriate vocal variety and a range of natural gestures. They look me in the eye. They use words I understand, and when they realize that they’ve confused me, they explain themselves. 

Then something happens to them on the way to the podium. They become stiff and formal. All vitality drains out of them. They speak in overly complex sentences, and they use as many big words, acronyms, and jargon as possible. And they think that’s the way things should be: they’re giving a presentation, after all.

So don’t do it. Don’t switch into your presentation mode. Be yourself — your best self — and talk the way you normally do.

  •  Be louder and bigger.

Talk to your audience the way you talk to everyone else…only louder and bigger. Raise your voice and you’ll inject energy into it. (You can’t shout in a monotone.) Use your natural gestures (not rehearsed ones), but make them just a little bigger than normal.

There are other things you can do to improve your delivery, mind you, but if you’re yourself in front of the audience…louder and bigger…you’ll be good enough.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

2 responses to How to Improve Your Delivery in a Technical Presentation

  1. Chris, I couldn’t agree more! So happy to see this post. In my experience, technical professionals often believe they need to be “objective, analytical, non-emotional” in order to be taken seriously and considered a professional. They are trained by their mentors that speaking clearly, simply, and with enthusiasm is what “marketing” people do and if they speak like that they will be dismissed by colleagues.

    I try to point out that while the data they present needs to remain objective, analytical, and non-emotional the presenter needs to express themselves with enthusiasm, energy, and emotion. I explain that often the interesting part of science and technology is learning the about the process of discovery and the thoughts that ultimately lead to the results. People can read the results in a paper or document, but they come to presentations to hear the “whys” behind the results.

  2. Hi Chris,

    The delivery of a presentation is so important, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into the prep, a boring delivery or stiff performance can throw it all out of the window. And it’s the hardest thing to rehearse and get right.

    So I love your comments – they show it’s not about studied expressions and tactics, but simply being natural. “Be your best self”.