Failure is Not an Option but All-Too Often Is ! — Critical Speaking & Presentation Tips from “Highest Scores” Ever Presenter

Smile !

By Thomas B. Cross @techtionary

This article represents more than thirty years and giving more than thousand presentations to audiences, classes and executives.  I am really tired of going to meetings, webinars, classes, speeches and more when the presenter is so tired, scared, dumb or ill-prepared to walk a dog much less than give a presentation that is worth listening to.  If you want to give a great speech, it’s really simple, keep rehearsing until you do and then work on improving that.  All the webinar, audio/video conferencing, projector manufacturers along with those who portend to know how to run a meeting all focus on the agenda, participation, collaboration, scheduling and others aspect of the meeting rather than the presenter(s) and others who are running and otherwise leading the meeting.  I dedicate this to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas great song, “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide” as if you are giving the speech, leading, a meeting or wanting to inspire a nation, then it’s up to you take it on, weigh into the battle and go to win.  If you read these tips and then really use then, add some of you your own, you will never fail !


Smile and Smile Often

Personal Appearance and Voice Preparation Tips for Live or Online Presentations

Aside from rehearse and rehearse again, so you know the slides and the flow so not to have any surprises and be able to pace yourself based on the length of the presentation, here are more tips for your consideration:

– Do a short rehearsal of key points as well as slides you may not really know well so you can make sure your answers are succinct

– NEVER-EVER say om, ah, dah, so or other in-between words, just pause remember it gives the listener time to digest your words in their mind.  If you stumble or stutter they will think you are an ….

– Go stand in front of a mirror and smile and smile and check your smile again

– Give yourself a face massage

– Stretch your neck to relax the muscles

– Yawn a lot to open up the neck

– Try tongue pushups-stretches

– Meditate before class and between sessions

– Start thinking of key words to help you strengthen your voice

– Talk up and out rather than down and back

– Take all the coins, keys and anything else out of your pockets and the pens in your pockets

Breathing – Take a deep breath which you press the slide change button, this helps cool the body, helps you relax a little, gets you to slow down a little, while you have seen the slides before, these people have never seen the slide before, so taking a breath allows the slide to come up and let the student see the slide.

For live presentations, check your appearance closely in the mirror and repeat after any meal. Never-ever lose control of yourself or the class – “claaass” – if you do and it happens, then take the class break and visit with the person challenging you or causing the problem.

Last but certainly not least, have a great time, smile all the time and even if you are scared to death, never-ever show it and just smile as they won’t hate you if they like you.

The following is about training classes conducted to over 3,000 students in sales, technical skills and technical sales.  If you want help in preparing yourself for a webinar, training class or building training classes, email


Some of the follow suggestions and recommendations are more appropriate for live presentations rather than webinar but I think you will know when to use which one.


Sample PPT slide – keep it really simple and have lots of them, they don’t know the ending but you should

1 – SLIDES – In building your slides remember the laws of human communication that a person can read about 5 times faster than you can speak.  That is a person can often read 500 words and a minute and you can really only speak about 100 words a minute.  This means you should limit the number of bullets on each slide to 1-3 bullets with about 5 words each as you really don’t want the audience to get too far ahead of your speaking ability.  ­­Just remember the information is on the slides and you are there for the entertainment.



In other words, DO NOT CHANGE the words. WHY, because viewers don’t want to SEE one thing and HEAR something else because they will get confused and stop learning or listening.  However, if you don’t like the words, tell course developer for future changes BUT READ THEM as they are.

After you have presented the slide then tell them WHY they should know not WHAT they saw, tell a short story if you like but seriously don’t turn it into a WWII saga.  Most importantly ask the class a question to get them involved because viewers DO NOT learn anything by you talking.

Note: For classes with coursebooks, forget the coursebook – that is, focus on the slides not the coursebook, that is it is likely that the slides are more recent than the coursebook.  If there are differences, then it will be just another reason for confusion, so focus on the slides, the coursebooks is for REFERENCE purpose anyway.


3 – FOCUS on the slides, there are an often lot of slides to get through, so don’t waste a lot of time talking on sidebars, that is direct, the focus of your presentation on the slides as people learn visually that is why we have so many great slides.   If you feel there is something missing or needs CORRECTION, then tell the course developer and if that is you, try to write down the question as it will be helpful in the next presentation or next time you give the class.


4 – TERMS-R-US – every industry has a crazy large number of acronyms which typically only insiders know.  To make sure you are all “on the same page” go around the room having each person read and define the term – it helps all of them understand the term and forces them to pay attention.  Explain purpose of defining terms – “to give them confidence and not talk “techno-babble” in front of others which is generally not appreciated.


5 – QUESTIONS – answering questions may be the trickiest part of any presentation.  Teaching classes again and again you will get your own rhythm to managing this process but here are a few to help you along.

Importantly, always repeat the question as they asked it, not as you heard it to make you both understand what you are saying.  If you need to you can repeat what they said and say, “did you mean.”  Then repeat the question to make sure everyone can hear in the back of the room and this also reinforces in your mind the question, it also gives your mind to think of a good answer.

Here are some specific ways to answer questions, park them but ALWAYS tell the student that “that was a great question.” Other comments you can use are:

– “That was a great question”

– “Great question – NO one ever asked that before”

– “Thank you for your help in clarifying that issue.”

– NEVER-EVER when someone asks a question, SAY NO, it is . . ., if you do you kill their interest and makes them loose FACE, ask yourself how often you like that – never !

– If you don’t know the answer, you can say, “I will be HAPPY to look into the answer for you”

Parking Questions – You can always park the question by writing it on the flipchart (or notepad if online) but tell them WHEN (in which section) it will be answered.  If you do use a flipchart or whiteboard, make sure that the people in the BACK of the room can see it and make sure the COLOR you use can also be seen. If you know the answer will be covered later in the presentation – tell them when and in which section of the course you will cover the question or topic.  If you park a question, make a mental note who the person is and get back to them during BREAK to see what they want to know, if the question is very technical you may say to them, “I need to call the other Wizards at Cross” to see what they think.  When in doubt change the slide, they don’t know what is next so if you like – move on.  If you clearly do not know the answer the question or when in doubt, park the question – add it to the flipchart.

Bottom-line – never duck the question, as others will wonder why you didn’t answer it or park it

Reinforce to the person asking the question and always say “good question or good observation – get extra credit.” Show appreciation of give applause to the student for giving the right answer or tell them “Give yourself a pat on the back.” If you need to get back to them when they ask questions at the break, end of day or via email

6 – Student Engagement

Remember they are not there to hear you speak, they are there to learn.  The more you talk, the less they learn.  You can visible see how they are engaging with you.  Here’s three.  First, if you see many students looking at you like “deer in the headlights” (glazing over) you are going too fast.  Second, the opposite of students being “glazed over” is falling asleep.  Remember it is embarrassing to them and to you – sometimes it cannot be helped especially after lunch – so if you see someone fading off, ask them a question, ask them to help you explain a concept.  Keep coming back again and again to get them engaged because if they sleep other people will notice and they will not learn anything and worse yet, they will tell their colleagues back at the office that the training (not the meal) PUT THEM TO SLEEP. Third, talk to them as people – walk up to them and look into their eyes like you would talk to someone across the table


Here are few other suggestions for engaging students:

– Use the “ventriloquist” trick to get all of them involved – that is, pretend they asked the question and call them by name and say “Thanks Fred, glad you asked” – it will certainly wake them up.

– Waitress trick – like when you are eating, they ask you how is the meal?

– Jokes – got them, use them, just be careful that they will likely offend someone

– Stories – look no one has experience doing everything we are teaching about, so if you read a story in the newspaper say, “a colleague of mine was involved in a project that did . . . . .” or change stories to fit what you are teaching about, use your imagination and tell a story that relates.

– Remember every person’s name and say it as often as you can

– Rewards – nothing engages a corporate training than some prizes or incentives.  I have found that buying $1 lottery tickets really engages the students.  The rules are that each person can only win one per day and that the winner must share the winnings with the entire class.  Always fun though no one has ever won. But check with the client beforehand to make it is ok and state lottery rules.


For Live Presentations and Training Courses What To Do Before You Leave Home


1 – Get the course assignment and get the name of the hotel or office with night-evening telephone numbers.

2 – Arrange your flight, car and hotel arrangements

3 – Packing

– Check presentation device and computer and have alternative cloud access and stick backup copies

– Check power cable

– Check infrared pointer

– Review clothing – have at least two changes of clothing though remember that hotels can arrange for laundry which makes it easier because you can bring shirt(s) and have them cleaned and starched for the next day which also means that your shirts are not wrinkled as a result of being packed inside your baggage. This applies to men or women – dress for success not for the night club.

Hotel Issues

– Call the hotel where you are STAYING to confirm your reservations and room requirement. If you have special needs like – away from elevators, highways and other needs, it is your responsibility and obviously your desire to get what you want.

5 – Call the hotel where you are PRESENTING, if different, to get directions, confirm your meeting room and see if your contact person is available.  If you talk with the contact person, let them know if you have any special needs like special meals, water, etc. and to see if they have received the PREFERRED ROOM REQUIREMENTS outline if not, email it to them.  Then review any open issues.


Meeting Room Issues

– Important Contact Hotel Banquet/Sales office and make contact with your “room manager” and review details and have names and telephone numbers for:

– Contact for Audio-Visual problems

– Check heating/cooling controls and get contact for room temperature and know heating-cooling system – know how to do both and how LONG it will take to do it, that is it can take more than one hour to get it warmer or colder, then let you students know so they may want to dress different or bring additional clothing.  Note: Had a class held on a Saturday in an office building where the building heating system was turned off on weekends and so the students wore ski parkas.

– Check temperature controls

– Breakfast should always be set and ready for all at least 60 minutes prior to meeting

–Lunch – you decide what time you want lunch but first you must know what time the hotel has it planned for, then decide accordingly

– If lunch has been planned for your teaching room, ask if they can arrange for another room, we did that and there was another room at no additional charge

– Determine your own personal eating diet to help maximize your performance and consider meals that reduce indigestion

– Afternoon break – set the time that fits your teaching schedule

– Check with hotel to see if coursebooks can be left for the next day, if any

– Contact security about equipment optional equipment security

–Public address – even in a small room it helps get your voice to the back of the room

–Check out lighting controls – set the lighting for inclass or onbreak lighting or know what your options are

– Check screen, if built-in or portable.

–Arrange or re-arrange for V-shaped seating or change to suit audience size – V-shaped seating allows you easier access to walking and talking directly to the students and also makes it easier for everyone to see you even for those who get stuck behind John Wayne.


– Make sure you have the current course PowerPoint version check date and

review slides to make sure you are familiar with all the slides and the changes.  You can do that on the plane or the night before your presentation.  It really doesn’t take that long to click through the slides to see new animation effects and quickly review all the bullet points.

–  If you have problems call training helpdesk, if you have one.

– Double check your PC/Mac equipment and Video Projector – you can do teach the class without notebooks, but you can’t teach it without a PC or projector.  Also have backup options should either fail.


Coursebooks – Make sure you have shipping delivery records. Then know where they are in the hotel and make sure they will be in the room before you. Then take a random sample of the coursebooks to ensure that the course is the right course and that all sections are printed correctly

–Distribute coursebooks to student tables

–Distribute with coursebooks NAME tent cards or arrange to have blank stationery card stock for cards along with large marker pens, water, notepads, optional candy and other items needed

–Leave YOUR business card onto of each coursebook


Deliver – make sure people can see your slides – go sit in the back of the room and pretend you are David sitting behind Goliath and see if you can still see the slides.

– If I forgot anything, let me know and I will add it to the list because there are always other things and THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A “GOTYA” THAT WE COULD ADD TO THE LIST.


Additional Details for All Day or Multi-Day Training Classes

Here are a few more tips for longer training classes.  This can get really complicated as some classes will also have business meetings, sporting events and other non-course events.  Here are few ideas:

1 – Review break issues

– Start time is 09:00

– Goal is 10 minutes every 60 minutes

– Lunch is 60 minutes

– Tell the audience what IS for lunch

– ASK them if anyone has any special dietary needs

– Tell them that the End time is 16:00

2 – Review hotel issues

– Where are the bathrooms

– Where are the telephones

– Where are the fire exits

– What to do in case of a medical emergency

– Parking validation if appropriate

– Tell the audience to tell you if they are uncomfortable and remind them you are “not psychic” so they may be colder than you are

– Ask them once an hour or as you start your coffee break, if they are comfortable or if they have anything you can do for them

3 – Review course issues

– Review the PowerPoint files.

4 – Review course issues

– What sections will be covered in the class and each section

5 – Breaks and Meals

– Eat with the students, they are customers now and may be customers with their existing companies or others in the future

– Tell them about other courses and presentations you may have

– Ask them if they want to be added to the newsletter email list

– Get their business cards

– Brush your teeth and use mouthwash after and check your smile for food particles and your clothing for food spots

6 – Practice speaking every day.  Almost every interaction you have with another person is a chance to practice your presentation style, mannerisms, smiling (the best), avoiding problems (ah, so, and other speech transitions and other speech abuses).

7 – Have fun and be yourself.  e.g., audiences like speakers who are enthusiastic about their topic and relate to the topic and to them and you in a personal way.  Always, thank them at the end as they took time to listen to what you had to say.

After Class

  • Better than the course evaluation form is go around the room and ask each person what they thought
  • Then complete the course evaluation form
  • Get their business cards
  • THANK THEM for attending the session
  • If anyone has issues, deal with it before you leave, if not then you may not get a chance to come back

I am always seeking additional ideas and glad to give credit to anything you have to say.

*I can provide proven documented results of my scores – email

Want to give a talk on how good you really are – Signup, Showup, Shoutout and Showoff at Social Selling SympoXpo

social selling sympoxpo



Comments are closed.