Category Archives: Delivery Skills

Problems Presenters Face #1

Understanding the Audience.

Presenters have many perceived issues with their audience which need to be overcome for them to be successful. Here are some of the issues and how to avoid them.

They don’t like me. Unless you are harming them in some way, this is probably highly unlikely. What is more likely is they don’t like the position you have taken on an issue or proposal. Separate the two and focus on understanding their position and what their rational and emotional drivers are. As far as possible, address these before, during and after the presentation.

There are too many people in my audience. Find out who the most important people are and just focus on them.

They just won’t get it, they don’t understand. If the topic is complex break it down and deliver your presentation in different formats. For example; provide pre-reading, allow time for questions, understand your topic better than anyone else – because as Albert Einstein said if you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough! Don’t present, instead turn it into a workshop.

They are going to ask difficult questions. That’s ok, it’s part of the presenting game. As much as possible, understand what the issues are before the presentation and prepare your answers. In the presentation take time to understand and clarify exactly what the issue is and then if you can, answer it. If not, then say you’ll follow up and get back to them after the presentation.

I don’t have anything interesting to say. Sometimes we have been asked to present because it’s seen as a chance to practice and we should take full advantage of this opportunity. In order to make it interesting focus on how what you are presenting solves a problem for your audience, relate it specifically to them, how will it help them.

A final thought, a participant in a program was suffering from presentation anxiety which she never experienced at university. She worked out that it was simply because she didn’t know her audience like she did at uni, so here solution was simple – research!

Dealing with nerves

Feeling nervous is a good thing (just not too nervous) have a look at the chart below.

The Yerkes-Dodson (xi) law demonstrates an empirical relationship between arousal and performance. It dictates that performance increases with cognitive arousal, but only to a certain point: when levels of arousal become too high, performance will decrease.

When you present, you want to be in the grey zone, here your arousal or adrenalin is at the right level.  If you substitute the word arousal for fear you can conclude that a certain amount of fear is a good thing – too much is what we call stage fright where you stutter, stumble and sweat your way through a presentation.  So if you suffer from stage fight the trick is not to eradicate what you are feeling but to “knock the edge off” so you move into the grey zone.  Think of it like an athlete – if they are not pumped before going onto the field (in the grey zone) they won’t perform at their peak.  Too much adrenaline and they could perform poorly.  Listed on the next page are some techniques for “knocking the edge off”.

Ted Schredd has written a great article on the physiological similarities between fear and excitement, I’ve captured a piece of great advice here:

Most of your fears are imagined and should be treated as imaginary. Learn to distinguish the fears that are valid and those that are not. The next time you feel scared, challenge your fear and the thing you fear will disappear. Ask yourself, “What would I do if I wasn’t feeling fear?” then act accordingly. When you confront your fears, astonishing things will happen. Remember you are the master and you are in control.

The second thing I want to talk about is the importance of content and delivery.  Many presenters put undue pressure on themselves because they believe they don’t deliver well and as a consequence build up unbelievable levels of anxiety.  Remember if you get your content right using a solid strategy (like the one I’m taking you through here) the delivery will start to take care of itself.  You will come across as being confident, authentic and believable – your audience will sense this and will complement you accordingly. I’m not saying that delivery is not important; you just have to get the order right – content first then work on your delivery.

Some communication consultants site studies such as Albert Mehrabian’s work which states that the meaning of a message is communicated by:

Your words 7%
Your tone of voice 38%
Your body language 55%.

They then use this information to tell you that delivery is the only thing that matters.  In fact as Olivia Mitchell explains in Mehrabian has been miss quoted.  I would go as far as to say that to apply this rule in a business context is just plain wrong. The message here is don’t put undue pressure on yourself to deliver like your favourite business leader when it’s not necessary.

My top tips for reducing the effect of nerves and “knocking the edge off” are:

– Know your material inside out and try never to deliver someone else’s presentation unless you know the subject matter intimately. Know your environment; for example does all the equipment work? How much space do you have? Know your audience: even if you are at a conference mingle with the audience beforehand. Know yourself and be yourself; know what you are capable of, what you are not.and be the best you can be.

– Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse; as often as you can where ever you can. Get a measure on your performance, look after your personal branding (xiii), and get honest feedback on what you can work on next time.

– Meditate, swim run work out; some people manage their nerves by undertaking some form of exercise. Don’t drop off your regular exercise routine. Don’t change your diet; eat well and don’t skip meals or drop off your fluids

– Breathe – this is potentially the most effective exercise you can use to calm your nerves. The exercise goes like this: start by exhaling all the air from your lungs (don’t breathe in first), then breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds. Repeat this 4 times.  Do this on a regular basis, before the nerves kick in and prior to presenting.

Give yourself a break everyone makes mistakes – have a look at Steve Jobs bloopers

Be authentic in your delivery

There are two types of presentations; Presentations that are made to large groups of people that you see CEO’s, politicians and VIP’s give – when done well, these are the ones you typically and unfairly think you need to emulate.

The second type is the one you give every day to colleagues, clients and at social gatherings. In these situations don’t feel you have to present like your favourite politician. You have to present the best you can and your style of delivery will depend on 4 things

Subject: what you are there to talk about.
Occasion: is a product launch, conference or birthday speech.
Audience: think about their expectations, communication styles, motivations and titles.
Your Personality: don’t try and be someone you are not, just be the best you can be.

Why is delivery important?
If you want to effectively communicate with your audience, to influence, persuade or just create a good impression, you need to adapt your delivery style to match the expectations and communication needs of your audience

This is about increasing the size of your delivery skill toolbox, so you can use the right tool for the job.  This takes work and practice but the good news is your tool box is different to everyone else’s.  So your version of dynamic voice will be different to everyone else’s, and your version of serious is also different to everyone else’s. But here’s the thing, the audience knows if you are faking.  So have a look at the eight behaviours listed below and ask yourself what you need to work on.

Once that’s established just focus on that element. Watch videos of people who do it well, try and emulate that facet and make it your own.  Please note that I’m not saying copy other people, but observe them and learn and see how you can incorporate that element into your style. This may be such things as noticing how a presenter may smile a lot or pause or emphasise with a subtle gesture.

Eight Behaviours

1. Facial expression
Smiling is a powerful cue that transmits friendliness, warmth, and approachability.  Smiling is often contagious and others will react favourably.  They will be more comfortable around you and more open to the information you are offering.

2. Eye contact
Steady eye contact helps to regulate the flow of communication, encourages participation, and can be used to develop rapport with the audience.  When the audience feels that you see them as individuals, they are more likely to trust you and be more open to your recommendations.

Some tips for using eye contact to build rapport include

– Length of Eye Contact: Try to maintain eye contact with one person at a time for at least 2-3 seconds. This helps to establish a connection with people and helps you to avoid darting eyes, which can be distracting and communicate nervousness.
– Movement of Eyes:  Direct eye contact towards different parts of the audience throughout the course of your presentation.  Staring too long in one direction may cause you to miss important information and can make certain audience members feel less important.
– Search for Friendly Eyes: If you are nervous, look for a friendly audience member and establish eye contact with that person.  Gradually, work to establish eye contact with everyone.

Some habits to avoid include:

– Talking to the Ceiling: Don’t present to a spot over the tops of the audience’s heads.  They may think you don’t care or they may feel that you are “above them.”
– Talking to the Screen: Don’t speak to your notes, to the whiteboard, or to your visuals.  The audience may not be able to hear you and may become disinterested.
– Clutching Your Notes: Be familiar with your material.  Being tied to your notes or a manual keeps you from establishing eye contact and may cause the audience to question your knowledge, preparedness, and confidence.

When presenting to groups you need to have stronger eye contact than usual.  Have you ever been to a concert and thought the performer was looking directly at you?  Maybe they were, maybe not – either way they were using a technique called clustering.  In this technique you group the audience into clusters.  If you have a large audience your clusters are very small in the first row – one or two people and the cluster becomes bigger the further you go back. If it’s a very large audience then the clusters may be as big as twenty people toward the back

Now target an individual in each cluster, and hold eye contact with that person as you deliver a thought or idea.  When focusing on the clusters at the front of the room hold for a duration of 4 -5 seconds and when focusing on clusters at the back hold for up to 10 seconds.  Move randomly amongst the clusters.  This gives the impression that you are looking at everyone in the cluster.

4. Posture
You communicate numerous messages by the way you hold yourself while presenting.  A person who is slouching or leaning with arms across their chest may be perceived as being uninterested or unapproachable.  Standing erect, facing the audience with an open stance, and leaning forward communicates that you are receptive and friendly.  Speaking with your back turned or looking at the floor or ceiling should be avoided as it communicates disinterest.

5. Body movement
Moving naturally around a room or stage increases interaction, adds interest, and draws attention to the presentation.  Staying frozen in the front of the room can be distracting and boring for people to watch.  Shuffling feet and pacing can convey nervousness and lack of confidence.

6. Gestures
A lively speaking style captures attention, makes the material more interesting, and facilitates understanding.  Use natural movements to emphasize topics and free, easy arm and hand movements to add personality to your presentation.  If you fail to gesture while speaking, you may be perceived as boring and stiff.  Gesturing too often can also be distracting for some audiences.

7. Proximity
Cultural norms dictate a comfortable distance for interaction with others.  When interacting, a presenter needs to be aware of people’s defined levels of personal space.  Signals of discomfort caused by invading other’s space may include rocking, leg swinging, tapping, and gaze aversion.  Do not invade an audience member’s intimate space.  Most adults will feel uncomfortable, even if rapport has been established.

8. Voice
Voice is another area of communication that can affect the quality of audience retention.  An interesting and audible voice will be engaging, while a soft or monotone voice can cause boredom or disinterest among participants.  While it may be difficult to listen to and change your own voice, with awareness and practice, it is possible to use one’s voice effectively.  The first step to refining your voice is to understand the components of voice and identify common voice problems.  Once identified, most voice problems can be improved by being aware of the problem, altering some habits, and practicing new behaviors on a regular basis.

Pace is how long a sound lasts.  Talking too fast causes words and syllables to be short while talking slowly lengthens them.  Varying pace helps to maintain the audience’s interest. If you are continuously talking too fast or too slow:•be aware of your normal conversational pace and keep in mind how tension affects the speed in which you talk, •use breathing and natural pauses to slow down your pace, constantly vary your pace in order to maintain audience interest.

Projection is directing the voice so that it can be plainly heard at a distance.  Problems with projection are often the result of tension, breathiness, and breathing from your throat. Try to avoid projecting from your throat which can lead to sore throats, coughing, and loss of your voice. Take slow, deep breaths, initiated from your abdomen.  Open your mouth fully and speak to the people in the back of the room.

Articulation is the ability to pronounce words distinctly.  It often reflects your attitude towards the words you are speaking.  Clear enunciation reflects self-confidence and interest, while slurred or mumbled speech, indicate insecurity or indifference. To remedy this speak at a slower pace than your normal conversational tone, take the time to pronounce each letter or sound within a word. and listen for common articulation problems, such as dropping the “g” at the end of words such as finding or going.

Pitch is the normal range of the voice – its highness or lowness.  Think Pee Wee Herman for high and James Earl Jones for low.  Everyone is capable of a wide voice range.  Stress and poor breathing can greatly alter the pitch of your voice. Try to adjust your pitch to convey different meanings throughout a presentation. To alter pitch, control your breathing; breathe from your abdomen and slow your rate of speech, take pauses to relax between pitch changes

Inflection is the manner in which pitch varies as you speak.  Inflection serves as verbal punctuation and involves changing pitch to convey meaning.  Upward inflections ask a question, suggest uncertainty or doubt, and communicate hesitancy.  Downward inflections give information and convey strength and authority to the audience.

Use upward and downward inflections appropriately. Avoid constant middle inflection where the voice neither rises nor falls but just drones on and on.It may help to think of these seven things as a graphic equaliser – there’s one on page 37. Each event, meeting or interaction you have has a different setting and combination.  So if you have only one setting, every presentation better be exactly the same.

Have a look at these presenters and identify what you like about their style – they are different but they are all passionate.

Helen Fisher: The brain in love
Siegfried Woldhek shows how he found the true face of Leonardo
Aimee Mullins: It’s not fair having 12 pairs of legs

Physical Activity, Mindfulness Meditation, or Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback for Stress Reduction

In their recent” study  (van der Zwan et al. 2015) found that

“…physical activity, mindfulness meditation, and heart rate variability biofeedback can all play a positive role in the reduction of stress and stress-related symptoms when carried out in a self-directed way. Since greater compliance is often associated with better results, the best intervention for someone may be the intervention that one finds easiest to commit to. An advantage of these self-help interventions is that they provide easily accessible help for people with stress complaints.”

There are a lot of resources to help us exercise and practice mindful meditation.   HRV biofeedback can be achieved by downloading any number of apps and can cost anywhere from $12.00 to $380.00, as well as using your Apple watch.

In order to get ourselves practicing these body hacks we need a bit of discipline. Pat Framer  the Australian Ultra Marathon Runner gives us his top five tips in achieving your goal or personal best (Chander 2016):

  1. Have a purpose – what you’re working towards
  2. Work out your timing put times and dates to everything and keep yourself accountable
  3. Work on all the support mechanisms – make sure your diet and lifestyle are in good shape
  4. Give yourself the best opportunity to be the best – make sure you have all the gear, running gear, a place to meditate or a biofeedback device.
  5. Let your family and friends know – don’t do it on your own

So set an early NY resolution to reduce your stress!

CHANDER, C 2016, Five simple ways to beat your PB, @newscomauHQ, viewed 17 Dec, <>.

van der Zwan, JE, de Vente, W, Huizink, AC, Bögels, SM & de Bruin, EI 2015, ‘Physical Activity, Mindfulness Meditation, or Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback for Stress Reduction: A Randomized Controlled Trial’, Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, vol. 40, no. 4, December 01, pp. 257-268.

Nurses; night shift and performance using heart rate variability

Interesting article by Burch (et al. 2018) where the authors speculated that HRV biofeedback may improve HRV coherence (being in a balanced state – being calm and alert) for nightshift workers. This level of coherence has been associated with improvements in cognitive performance and sleep, as well as reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression.

Burch, JB, Alexander, M, Balte, P, Sofge, J, Winstead, J, Kothandaraman, V & Ginsberg, JP 2018, ‘Shift Work and Heart Rate Variability Coherence: Pilot Study Among Nurses’, Applied Psychophysiology and biofeedback, September 19

Gratitude and HRV

There are a number of articles written based on research conducted by Redwine et al. (2016) which links gratitude to HRV. See Allen (2018) for an example.

EliteHRV (2018) stated that “This line of research began in 1995, when a study found that people feeling appreciation (an emotion related to gratitude) have improved heart rate variability”

As Redwine et al. (2016) state more research needs to be done, however, there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that practising gratitude can have a positive effect for some.


Allen, S 2018, Is Gratitude Good for Your Health?, viewed 3 December 2018, <>.

EliteHRV 2018, HRVcourse onTwitter, viewed 3 Dec 2018, <>.

Redwine, LS, Henry,BL, Pung, MA, Wilson, K, Chinh, K, Knight, B, Jain, S, Rutledge, T, Greenberg,B, Maisel, A & Mills, PJ 2016, ‘Pilot Randomized Study of a GratitudeJournaling Intervention on Heart Rate Variability and Inflammatory Biomarkersin Patients With Stage B Heart Failure’, PsychosomMed, vol. 78, no. 6, 2016 Jul-Aug, pp. 667-76.

How do we know when we are stressing out?

A lot of you would be familiar with the Yerkes Dodson law which “demonstrates an empirical relationship between arousal and performance. It dictates that performance increases with cognitive arousal, but only to a certain point: when levels of arousal become too high, performance will decrease.”  (Wikipedia 2018)

You can find the original Yerkes Dodson paper referenced below (Yerkes & Dodson 1908).

Below we have referenced a diagrammatic representation of this law from Diamond (et al. 2007).

If we draw an imaginary line vertically down the centre of the solid line bell curve, we can conclude that we would want to be on the left side and not the right. If we want to stay on the left hand side we also don’t want to be at peak arousal and performance all the time, as this would be unsustainable and could possibly result in a physical and mental break down. So we want to stay on the left and move up and down the slope to achieve a ‘perform then rest’ sequence. The techniques for moving from ‘perform to rest’ also know as moving from a state of stress to homeostasis, are personal and vast – just Google stress relief and you will find an abundance of ideas.

Some fundamental techniques we should master according to openfit (2018) are:

  • Get more sleep
  • Do more cardio
  • Stress less: regular yoga, stretching, deep breathing, meditation
  • Be flexible with your work outs

However, some for some of us don’t know when we are over doing it and stressing out. That’s when heart rate variability analysis comes in.  By analysing our HRV consistently over a period we can readily identify when we need to slow down or have the capacity to do more.

We of course don’t have to calculate this ourselves, we can use apps from EliteHRV, HRV4Training, ithlete to help us. These apps will give us colour coded trends and scores and after some familiarisation we can put the appropriate strategies in place to rectify any downward trends.


Diamond, DM, Campbell, AM, Park, CR, Halonen, J & Zoladz, PR 2007, ‘The Temporal Dynamics Model of Emotional Memory Processing: A Synthesis on the Neurobiological Basis of Stress-Induced Amnesia, Flashbulb and Traumatic Memories, and the Yerkes-Dodson Law’, Neural Plasticity, vol. 2007, no. 2007, p. 3.

openfit 2018, What Is Heart Rate Variability and How Do You Measure It? | Openfit, viewed <>.

Wikipedia 2018, Yerkes–Dodson law – Wikipedia, viewed <>.

Yerkes, RM & Dodson, JD 1908, ‘The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit‐formation’, Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, vol. 18, no. 5, pp. 459-482.

Remote Measurement of Stress via Heart Rate Variability

Whether you are working in transport, operating machinery, programming in cyber security, trading securities, working in essential services or landing the InSight rover on Mars, lapses in concentration can be costly. Daniel McDuff (et al. 2014) conducted research into how our stress can be measured using a camera that captured  heart rate, breath rate and heart rate variability. It was breath rate and heart rate variability that gave accurate measures of stress.

Even though this was conducted in a laboratory situation the potential applications are vast. Anywhere a camera can be mounted, feedback can be received and actions put in place to ensure the best possible decisions are made at a given point in time.

This could be done locally or remotely. For example, a currency trader could receive instant feedback that there is an increased probability that they are likely to make errors and need to take a break for 5 minutes and undertake focused breathing to bring their system back into balance.

Remote feedback can be collected and evaluated from across a room or across a country. For example, a fleet of ambulance drivers could be simultaneously monitored to ascertain whether they have recovered sufficiently from attending a distressing call before being allocated to the next job.

This can all be done currently by using Bluetooth or a wired solution affixed to the person.  However the use of cameras will enable data to be collected and actioned upon much more efficiently, effectively and over longer periods of time.

McDuff, D, Gontarek, S & Picard, R 2014, ‘Remote measurement of cognitive stress via heart rate variability’, Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc, vol. 2014, pp. 2957-60.

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