Your voice and body are tools that can be used to enhance your message. While content is always the most important factor in any technical presentation, the impact of delivery style on the effectiveness of a presentation is not to be underestimated. To see this, all you have to do is think back to some of the best presentations that you have witnessed. No doubt that in addition to compelling content, that presentation had some other outstanding qualities that can be attributed to the presenter’s delivery.  

At the top of most audiences’ list of attributes of a good speaker are energy and enthusiasm for what they are presenting. This is the most important element of an effective delivery style. You should determine what it is about your topic area that you are enthusiastic about and allow that to come through in your delivery. You can see this evidenced in different ways as you view the videos of the featured presenters on this site. There is no “formula” for effective delivery, instead the key is that each presenter should develop a delivery style that is natural for them.    

Although it is crucial that your delivery is natural for you, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any control over your delivery, and you are stuck with whatever currently happens when you present because you aren’t “naturally” comfortable. Instead, it takes practice to develop a natural and effective style. Many presenters feel that because they are so nervous when they give presentations that they can never be “one of those” presenters that seems so comfortable in front of an audience. Therefore, they resign themselves to just trying to survive their presentations instead of trying to thrive within them. With some practice, most presenters, regardless of nervousness, can dramatically improve their delivery style.

The key to developing an effective delivery is to practice A LOT. You will need to become aware of what you are doing with you voice and body and then work on becoming comfortable with incorporating some new strategies, such as more vocal emphasis or moving throughout the space more effectively. Many presenters want a “magic bullet” to help them become more comfortable with presenting, but the real answer is to practice and prepare. Every effective presenter has worked very hard to become that way—this should be encouraging news because this means that if you are willing to put in the effort, you too can significantly improve your delivery. This preparation will ultimately lead to confidence in your material and your presentation. Work hard and then take comfort in the fact that you have prepared for your presentation situation. Have confidence that you know your content because you have put in the time and turn your focus towards conveying understanding to your audience about the subject and to allowing your passion for your subject to come out. 

There are many resources available in public speaking textbooks and online that discuss elements of delivery (volume, rate, gestures, etc.) quite well and you are encouraged to review those, if needed. 

Let’s take a look at a few areas of delivery that are especially relevant for a technical presentation: 

  1. Rate. The speed at which you speak matters in a technical presentation.  Because there is often so much dense information to be communicated, it is important that you provide enough time for your audience to keep up with your material. Many presenters feel that they must speak quickly in order to get through all the material that they have planned, but If you find yourself in such a position, it is usually better to cut out some information so that you can speak at a more reasonable pace. If you choose to try to cover everything at a rapid speed, there is a high risk that your audience will retain very little of anything, which will have made that extra material counterproductive.
  2. Using Pauses. Pauses are an important delivery tool for a presenter. Pauses serve two very useful functions—they allow your audience a moment to absorb what you have said and they communicates emphasis, but also, they can give you a needed moment to organize your thoughts about what you will be discussing next. Just be sure your pauses don’t become those dreaded verbal fillers by filling them with meaningless sounds like “umm” or “uh”.  
  3. Eye contact. Make specific and sustained eye contact with individual members of your audience and be sure that you don’t spend too much time talking to your slides. Many presenters feel uncomfortable with looking at the audience and instead they retreat to spending their whole presentation talking to the projector screen. Again, practice will help you to be more comfortable with making eye contact with your audience. Eye contact also provides you with a valuable feedback mechanism—you can see if you audience looks confused and perhaps you need to spend more time on an explanation. Finally, it is important to note that in a technical presentation you are expected to speak to the audience from your knowledge of your material and not rely on notes. When a presenter relies on notes for their information this can have a negative impact on the presenter’s credibility because it implies to the audience that you don’t have a firm grasp on your content. It is fine to briefly refer to a note card for precise information (statistics, quotes, etc.), but refer to that note card only when necessary and keep it out of sight otherwise. Ideally, you will not utilize notes at all.  
  4. Be aware of nervous movements. Many presenters’ nerves visibly manifest themselves in small repetitive movements such as swaying side to side or fidgeting with hands. This can quickly become distracting to an audience. A great tip to help mitigate these distracting movements is to scrunch your toes inside your shoes. This provides an invisible outlet for that nervous energy. It might sound unlikely, but it works. Try it! 
  5. Video yourself. It is well worth the effort to videotape yourself giving a presentation (or just practicing). While many people do not enjoy seeing themselves on camera, you can often be your own best critic and you will learn a lot about what areas of your delivery need to be improved simply by watching yourself.  

Video Examples for Delivery



Example #1

Jill Bolte Taylor, "My Stroke of Insight"



Example #2

Ben Russo, "Improving the Audio Quality and Safety of MP3 Players"


Discussion of Example #2

This speaker’s delivery of the material is a key strength of the presentation. He has a delivery that is both comfortable and dynamic. He is very conversational with the audience and seems genuinely interested in the material that he is presenting.


His strongest delivery attribute is his use of his voice. He uses his voice as a tool to emphasize and explain his content. He changes his tone at different points when he is trying to highlight a key concept. For example, at 7:13, he tells the listener specifically that sound absorbing foam is more effective at higher frequencies and that the listener needs to remember that because it is important. When he delivers that line, the tone changes and the importance of remembering this fact is underscored. This type of vocal variety and energy is present throughout the talk. While some of these tone changes can be subtle, and might not be specifically noticed by many listeners, the powerful result is that you are focused on his information because of his engaging vocal quality.


Perhaps the most key element part of this presenter’s delivery that helps his presentation succeed is his rate of speaking. In technical presentations, there is usually much material to be covered, and when that is combined with the nerves that accompany giving a talk, the result is often that the presenter speaks much too quickly. Notice how this presenter takes his time as he explains Slide 1 (1:49). He points out the key aspects (“Each of these red curves represents an equal loudness contour.”) of the graph, but does it slowly so that the audience has a chance to study this information.

Use of Pauses 

His use of pauses is powerful as well. At 3:40, notice how he pauses briefly after discussing the table to allow the audience to study the table and take in the significance of the numbers. You can also notice that he pauses briefly between each main point to emphasize the transition. During the conclusion of the talk (8:10), you can observe several points of pause during this important part of the talk. The conclusion is the final opportunity for the audience to “take away” the important parts of the talk, and this speaker is sure to emphasize those parts with both his tone and use of the pause. 


Speakers often wonder how much movement is appropriate, and as was mentioned in the general discussion of delivery, there is not a specific formula for movement. What is important is that it is natural and not constant. Interestingly, we notice with this speaker that he has very little movement, yet he is very dynamic. This illustrates that effective delivery can (and should!) be a different formula for each presenter. Ultimately, this speaker is successful without movement because of his excellent vocal qualities and natural gestures. He uses quite a lot of gestures, so he is using his body to emphasize the message, even without much movement. Although he has a lot of gestures, they are varied and natural and support what he is saying. Remember: It isn’t so important how many gestures you have, instead it is that your gestures are natural for you and not distracting (repetitiveness is a key cause of distraction). 

Use of Notes

Finally, this presenter uses his notes appropriately. He has an excellent grasp of his material and he speaks directly to the audience from what he knows and does not hold or read constantly from notes. He does refer to notes a few times in his talk and this is when he is referring the results of a specific study or a direct quote from a source. In these types of instances, precision is very important, so it is appropriate to refer to notes. However, these instances should generally be limited. In a technical talk, it is of paramount importance that you speak to the audience without relying heavily on notes or slides, to do otherwise can be potentially damaging to your credibility. 







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