Making Presentations to Community Groups
Guidance in the Media Outreach Guide also applies to making presentations to live audiences in the community:
Plain Language is More Persuasive than JargonIn presentations, “plain language” is more easily understandable and interesting to consumers, reporters, elected officials, colleagues in other fields, business people, health care workers, and others you are addressing. Research shows that listeners give greater credence and respect to experts who express ideas in simple terms than to those who indulge in a lot of technical and bureaucratic terminology.
Keep Statistics to a MinimumUse fewer rather than more statistics, so the most powerful numbers aren’t lost in an overabundance of figures. Make the statistics as simple as possible; for example, in all but the most technically demanding situations, use “two out of three” instead of the numbing “65.53 percent,” or say, “the number of new cases tripled,” rather than the confusing “we experienced a 200-percent increase.” Repeat the statistics you do use, to imprint them on listeners’ memories. Trends or comparisons such as “rates fell from 24 to 16 percent” tend to be convincing.
Research results and data can be strongly persuasive. For example:
The Power of StorytellingStatistics alone seldom convey a complete message. To stimulate awareness, and stir people to action, a speaker should:
Stories can be especially effective in accomplishing these ends. Consider the following examples—one relatively strong, the other weak—seeking volunteers, contributions, and a generally active community response to the arrival from a neighboring state of several hundred refugees who lost their homes in a weather disaster:
"These families are in the same calamitous position we would be in if the weather had followed a slightly different path. They need shelter, they need nutritious food, they need medicine and health care, they need counseling and support. Brian S. is 17 years old, autistic, separated from much of his family and his familiar routines. Edna M. is 83, widowed just one month ago, diabetic, with heart disease, and no children to help her. Jackie D.—these names are made up, but the people are real—is a teacher who broke her leg trying to rescue a student. They all need the services our community is able to provide. They all need a heart and a hand."
The first example was strengthened through:
By contrast, the second example was weakened through:
Stylistic Pointers for an Effective PresentationAn interesting presenter welcomes questions that insert breaks into the presentation. If you use PowerPoint or other slides, avoid letting them substitute for your own words and responses to audience concerns, and keep the number of slides to a minimum.
It's an especially good idea to start and end on a strong note. Audiences most remember the beginning and conclusion of a presentation or interview.
Tip: Be a Moving Target When Speaking to Groups
When introduced, start talking while walking to the lectern; vary gestures, inflections, and facial expressions; step down from the podium occasionally to directly face different sides of your audience.
The key to effective presentations is preparation. If you are very familiar with your information and line of argument, you will feel more at ease rearranging, cutting, adding, and adjusting the content to suit the circumstances. (You won't, for example, feel that you have to fit in every slide, even if that means rushing blindly through them.)
This flexibility will allow you to accommodate most challenges, such as:
Preparation also will help you to respond with agility to difficult questions, rather than having to shuffle through your notes to find the right piece of information or pausing for several seconds to think of an answer. Be sure to identify the question you fear most. Once you develop an answer to that, you'll be ready for anything!
Presentations for a Partnership or CoalitionPresentations on behalf of a partnership or coalition require special tact. The trick is to turn the group's diversity of views into a strength, rather than letting the group appear shaky or discordant or misrepresenting some members. To show a partnership or coalition to advantage and make as persuasive a case as possible, a speaker representing the group should strive to:
Some of these tough questions are avoidable through responsible action. For example, a question about the lack of minority representation can be avoided by including minority members.