Be a VIP: how to make a presentation

Increasingly, professional occupational health practitioners are called on to present to an audience and need to learn how best to manage this for favourable results.

Presenting your message

Dress the part for your intended audience and above all appear professional and credible. Tailor your language to the audience whether it is the CEO or a group of colleagues. Do not use slang, three-letter acronyms, jokes or anecdotes the audience will not understand or which could cause offence.

Remain positive and enthusiastic even if you do not at first succeed.The NHS Management Executive (DOH, 1992) found that nursing directors identified a need for financial and business skills and political awareness. We in occupational health practice need to be business aware and align our messages to the business’s plan and culture.

Presenting yourself

Brodie (2007) suggests that presentations and training are not just to inform, they are intended to gain an outcome for the presenter. Deliver a presentation that the audience want to hear, not just what you want to say. The key to any presentation is not how great the content is but how it is targeted at and received by the audience.

The way a presenter delivers, rather than knowledge or information, is the most prominent dimension. Shuffling presenters with hands in their pockets can be off-putting. So where do you start? By following the principles: plan, prepare, practice and persuade.


Determine who your audience will be and ask them what they would like to know. Find out if they are are goal driven and like succinct facts and figures (senior managers), or would like a general picture (sales and marketing), need reassurance (shop floor workers) or attention to detail (engineers and scientists). With mixed groups, present to the decision maker or give a succinct and factual presentation.


All speakers adore Powerpoint slides with lots of words to remind them what to say, a script in fact. However, too many words on a screen are boring to your audience and should be avoided. Some speakers memorise their script and can be magnificent but this takes much practice. Flip charts or a story can be just as entertaining. Keep slides to a minimum and produce handouts rather than placing words on a screen or flip chart.

Write your structure and bullet points on cards to refer to throughout the presentation, unless you can memorise it. Audience attention span is short, so the first minute is vital to capture their interest. A catchy title will create interest such as ‘food for thought’ rather than food safety.

Tricks of the trade when making a presentation include vivid language (paint the picture as Nelson Mandela did with his ‘rainbow nation’), visual stimuli (such as charts, graphs and figures, pictures, cartoons, photographs, short video clips, letters which provide evidence to support your argument), press clippings, case studies and props.

Use examples, stories, rhetorical questions and analogies. Use figures creatively, for example: “for every case managed there is a pay back/cost saving of 3:1 for every case/hour spent on this”, or comparing the cost to one mile in a taxi or a day’s salary to illustrate your point.

Adopt the power of three – present points or sentences in threes which psychologically resonate with us all. Use reiteration as politicians do to make their point (such as Winston Churchill‘s “we will fight them on the beaches” and Martin Luther King‘s. “I have a dream” speeches) and give recaps to re-stimulate.

Take time to set the room up – the seating arrangement, environment and space to move and avoid blocking audio visual displays.


Rehearse and refine your presentation at least four times. Read through it in real time and remember that sometimes less is more. Do not over-run.

Presentation structure

Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them it, then tell them what you’ve told them.

  • 10% introduction – introduce yourself, briefly outlining your knowledge and experience of the subject rather than your job title. Present a ‘headline grabber’ – such as a story, press clipping, statistic. Tell them what is in it for them.

State your aim (to convince the audience of, or give them an understanding of) and the points you will cover. Check that your audience can hear and understand you.

  • 80% main body – present your points in turn with bullets beneath each point (on prompt cards noting emphasis on certain words, props to be used). Concentrate on the message you are giving, not the audience. Enthusiasm engages the audience so change your voice modulation and pitch, emphasise words, use open hand gestures and always be positive, even at the end of a difficult message.

Remain enthusiastic, breathe slowly and smile occasionally holding eye contact with individuals in turn for two seconds. Positive visualisation and controlled diaphragm breathing will assist in keeping you calm.

  • 10% conclusion – restate your aim and the points covered (you might ask for action and recap on benefits if trying to convince the audience of something).

Present a final thought. State “that concludes the presentation, if you have any questions I would be pleased to answer them now.” The audience will then know that the presentation has come to an end.

What next?

Obtain training and coaching in business and presentation skills and ask for feedback (maybe from family and friends first).

This article is based on one that appeared in the RCN Leader. Caroline Minshell is a regional health director (Middle East, Indian Sub-Continent and Africa) for BP.

The authors of this series are: Christina Butterworth is the former chair RCN OH Managers Forum Jo Henderson, cohort account manager, Tempus Software Caroline Minshell is regional health director, BP


Further reading


Presentation Techniques

Comments are closed.