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Education competencies: Presentation skills

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies.


Is effective in a variety of formal and informal presentation settings; commands attention and manages group process during the presentation; is cognizant of audience response and able to adapt content and style accordingly.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Can effectively present to small groups Is effective in a variety of formal and informal presentation settings: one-on-one, small, and large groups Gives interesting and well-received formal and informal presentations to large and small groups and organizations Is a popular master presenter and draws a crowd by his or her reputation, leaving them with the sense that his or her presentation was well worth their time
Is a good communicator Communicates effectively, both inside and outside the organization, on both simple and complex topics Comfortably presents to a broad and diverse population, easily adapting content and style to his or her audience Transitions skillfully within the presentation, using an appropriate blend of significant details and anecdotal discourse
Uses a variety of presentation methods to maintain group focus Commands attention and manages group process during the presentation Maintains group focus with fresh information and appealing narrative Responds with finesse when faced with on-the-spot questions or challenges during or after presentations
Is cognizant of audience engagement while delivering a presentation Changes tactics midstream when something isn’t working Articulately responds to unrehearsed comments and questions

Overdoing presentation skills

  • May try to win with style and presentation skills over fact and substance
  • May be able to wing it and dance without really being prepared
  • May be able to sell things that shouldn’t be sold

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:
  • Have I been regularly asked to make presentations, both inside and outside my organization?
  • What methods will I employ in my next presentation to provide variety and interest?
  • What questions can I anticipate and prepare for in my next presentation?
  • If a member of my audience were interviewed after my presentation, would his or her actual comments match up with what I hope this person would say? If not, why not?
  • Have others commented that my presentation was well worth their time?
  • Do I have a good track record for keeping within my allotted time slot?
To avoid overdoing presentation skills, ask yourself:
  • Am I presenting with substance and not just relying upon my style and charm?
  • Am I obsessed with preparing and incapable of smoothly handling unanticipated events?
  • Am I overly concerned with influencing my audience with my opinions or preferences?

Interview questions

  • Describe a situation that demonstrates your ability to give interesting and well-received formal and informal presentations.
  • Tell me about a time that demonstrates your skill at comfortably presenting to a broad and diverse population by adapting your content and style to your audience.
  • How a presentation is designed greatly influences a presenter's ability to maintain the attention of the audience. Describe a situation that demonstrates your ability in this area.
  • Tell me about the time you found it most difficult to respond effectively to on-the-spot questions or challenges during or after your presentation.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Prepare for the presentation: Make a checklist; include your stated objective, five things you want to remember, who the audience is, the equipment you need, etc. Keep your presentation within the allotted time, and anticipate questions that may be asked.
  • Prepare the speech: State your message or purpose in a single sentence. Then, outline three to five chunks of your argument to support your thesis. Choose an introduction that will grab the audience (a story, a fact, a quote, a photo). Use various means to support your message (examples, stories, facts). Write your speech to be spoken (not read), and record your delivery before presenting for purposes of self-assessment.
  • Read your audience: Adjust your tone, pace, style, and content according to your audience. Consider differences in audiences, such as level of expertise or sophistication, audience expectations (information, entertainment), and anticipated audience participation.
  • Rehearse: Practice your presentation with a video camera or a person who can give you feedback. Vary your volume and tone, and don't overwhelm your audience with too much detail. Use your hands, body language, facial expressions, and pauses for effect. Try to do the presentation on autopilot by rehearsing thoroughly, appearing as natural as possible.
  • Anticipate questions: Think about the 10 most likely questions your audience will ask, and prepare brief responses. Clarify questions by restating, if necessary. Determine ahead of time where you will accept questions, and let that be known. If you don’t know an answer, offer to get the answer if you think you can.
  • Anticipate stage fright: Know that everyone gets nervous presenting in front of a group. Take a drink if your mouth gets dry, and refer to your notes if you forget something. Find and look at two or three people in the audience who are smiling and attentive.
  • Consider your visual aids and logistics: If you use visual aids, be sure to check their operation before using them for your presentation to verify that they work properly. If you use slides or transparencies, keep your words few and use bullets rather than lengthy sentences. Distribute handouts before you begin. Maintain good eye contact with someone, smile, and move around the area, without turning your back on your audience. Thank them for their attention when finished.
  • Manage your time: Underplan your time usage, and resolve to not go over your allotted time. Skip over some things and go to your conclusion if it seems you will go too long.
  • Be prepared for hecklers: Try to deal with anyone who interrupts your presentation politely, but briefly (30 seconds or less). Respond with information, if appropriate, and remind them that your time is limited. If the person continues to be actively rude, ignore him or her and proceed with your speech or other questions.
  • Be presentable: Wear appropriate clothing, appear prepared and organized, and consider the impression you want to make on your audience.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Study humor and funny people around you. Keep a cache of cartoons, jokes, and humorous anecdotes. Practice your delivery.
  • Make speeches or be a spokesperson for your organization to the community.
  • Write a proposal for a new policy, process, or procedure, and present it to others.
  • Teach a course, seminar, or workshop on something you know well.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Envision yourself succeeding. Visualize what a successful presentation will look like, and aim for that.
    • Rehearse successful tactics, strategies, and actions. Mentally imagine how you will act before you actually present. Anticipate audience reaction and your response to it. Consider best- and worst-case scenarios, and rehearse staying under control.
    • Study people who have successfully done what you need to do. Interview them, summarize their approaches, and adjust your presentation if needed.
    • Pre-sell an idea to a key stakeholder. Identify those whose support you need. Collect information needed to be persuasive, and try to pre-sell your solutions.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than from the whole person.
    • Learn by observing others. Objectively study what they do.
    • Get feedback from those in authority. Communicate that you are open to constructive criticism and are willing to work on issues they view as important.
    • Get feedback from peers and colleagues. Promote trust to get honest, quality feedback.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Take a course designed to offer feedback, such as how to develop negotiating skills or influence people.

Recommended readings

  • Antion, Tom.Wake 'Em Up: How to Use Humor and Other Professional Techniques to Create Alarmingly Good Business Presentations.Landover Hills, MD: Anchor Pub.; Minneapolis, MN: Creative Training Techniques Press, 1997
  • Baldoni, John.Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders.New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2003.
  • Booher, Dianna.Speak With Confidence: Powerful Presentations That Inform, Inspire, and Persuade.New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2002.
  • Collins, Patrick J.Say It With Confidence.New York: Prentice-Hall, 1998.
  • Davidson, Jeff.The Complete Guide to Public Speaking.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.
  • Griffin, Jack.How to Say It at Work: Putting Yourself Across With Power Words, Phrases, Body Language and Communication Secrets.Paramus, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1998.
  • Harvard Business School Press (Ed.).Presentations That Persuade and Motivate (The Results-Driven Manager Series).Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
  • Hendricks, Dr. William, and Micki Holliday, Recie Mobley, and Kristy Steinbrecher.Secrets of Power Presentations.Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1996.
  • Hybels, Saundra, and Richard L. Weaver.Communicating Effectively.New York: McGraw-Hill Text, 2001.
  • Leeds, Dorothy.Power Speak: Engage, Inspire, and Stimulate Your Audience.Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2003.
  • Morgan, Nick.Working the Room: How to Move People to Action Through Audience-Centered Speaking.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
  • Pearce, Terry.Leading out loud.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2003.
  • Weissman, Jerry.Presenting To Win: The Art of Telling Your Story.New York: Financial Times/Prentice Hall, 2003.
  • Williams, Renee Grant.Voice Power.New York: AMACOM, 2002.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.