Presentations For Dummies

Presentations For Dummies

by Malcolm Kushner

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Whether you’re dealing with one person or one thousand, the ability to transmit ideas in a coherent and compelling fashion is one of the most important skills you can ever develop. Want to impress your colleagues? Convince your clients? Prove your point? The key to success is what you say. To get what you want in life, you have to present yourself forcefully,


Whether you’re dealing with one person or one thousand, the ability to transmit ideas in a coherent and compelling fashion is one of the most important skills you can ever develop. Want to impress your colleagues? Convince your clients? Prove your point? The key to success is what you say. To get what you want in life, you have to present yourself forcefully, credibly, and convincingly.

If you need to land that big consulting job or launch a new initiative at the office, knowing how to present your case is half the battle. Luckily, Presentations For Dummies shows you the way. It gives you all the tools and tips you need to make your presentations flawless and effective, including proven advice on:

  • Relating to your audience
  • Overcoming stage fright
  • Adding flare with personal stories
  • Using humor to loosen up the crowd
  • Making your point with visual aids

From getting prepared to dealing with unexpected problems while you’re the focus of attention, this handy guide covers everything you need to make all your presentations flawless. You’ll learn how to create fantastic, effective visual aids that make your point with passion, and a whole lot more:

  • Gathering sources and compiling data
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Improving your timing for maximum impact
  • Using your pre-presentation nerves as an asset
  • Choosing the perfect word in every instance
  • Crafting an introduction, conclusion, and transitions
  • Using PowerPoint to make your point
  • Understanding what body language says about you
  • Simple tricks for every situation

Written by consultant, humorist, and professional speaker Malcolm Kushner, Presentations For Dummies tells you everything you need to know — and do — to get it right from the start. But be careful, this powerful resource could make your presentations so good that you might have to give more of them.

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Read an Excerpt

Presentations For Dummies

By Malcolm Kushner

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-5955-9

Chapter One

What Did You Say? Fielding Questions

In This Chapter

* Anticipating the questions you'll receive and other basics of a Q&A session

* Designing a perfect answer

* Going over some great techniques for handling questions

* Responding to delicate situations during a Q&A session

* Handling tough and hostile questions

* Getting the audience to ask questions

Many presenters let their guard down during the question-and-answer period. But doing so is a big mistake. Even if you gave a great presentation, a poor performance during the Q&A can totally change the audience's perceptions of you and your topic. That's the bad news. The good news is that if your presentation was mediocre, a strong performance during the Q&A can leave the audience with a very positive impression.

Reviewing the Basics of a Q&A Session

Want to give a sparkling performance during a question-and-answer session? You can stack the odds in your favor by following a few basic rules.

Anticipate questions

As any high school student can tell you, the secret to giving brilliant answers is knowing the questions in advance. In high school, this is called cheating. After you grow up, it's called anticipating the questions that you'll be asked.

How do you anticipate questions? Just use your common sense. Think about your presentation and your audience. Then generate a list of every possible question that the audience may ask. Don't pull any punches. Think of the toughest questions that may come up. Then ask your friends and colleagues to think of the toughest questions they can devise.

After you've compiled a comprehensive list of questions, prepare an answer for each one. Practice until you've got them down cold. Unfortunately, you may not anticipate every single question the audience is going to come up with, but you can think of some of them.

Answer questions at the end


Take questions after your presentation, rather than while you're giving it. If you take questions during your talk, it distracts both you and the audience, it makes your presentation harder to follow, and it ruins your rhythm. Tell the audience in the beginning that you plan to take questions at the end.

Don't let a few people dominate

Don't let a few people ask all the questions (unless they're the only ones with questions). Why? It frustrates everyone else who wants to ask you something.

You want to take questions from as many different audience members as time permits. And be fair. Don't favor one section of the room over another. Try to call on people in the order in which they raised their hands. (Yes, it's tough to do it, but try anyway.) Don't give in to bullies who don't wait their turn and instead shout out questions.


Establish the ground rules early. When you open the session up for questions, tell the audience that everyone is initially limited to a single question. Then, if time permits, you may take a second round of questions. If only the same few people keep raising their hands, ask if anyone else has questions.

Don't let the questioner give a speech

You just asked for questions. Despite the fact that you're standing at a podium, and you've just made a lengthy presentation, someone in the audience may want to give another speech.

You're the presenter. You opened up the session for questions - not speeches. When one of these people starts giving a speech, you must cut it off. How do you do it? Watch CNN star Larry King. Callers to his show are supposed to ask questions. If a caller launches into a speech, King immediately asks, "Will you state your question, please?" Want to be more diplomatic? Say, "Do you have a question?"

Listen to the question

If you want to be successful in a Q&A period, you must listen. I mean really listen. By really listening, I mean going below the surface of the words used by the questioner. Read between the lines. Watch the body language. Listen to the tone of voice. What is the questioner really asking? That's the question that you want to identify and answer.

For example, say you're leading a meeting of your department. After your presentation, you take questions. One person nervously asks about the company's strategy for the next quarter in light of its poor performance for the past few quarters. "Specifically, how does the company plan to become profitable?" After observing the questioner and knowing the context of the question, you respond, "I think what you're really asking is will the company be having any layoffs?" And, of course, that's exactly what is being asked.

Repeat the question

One of the biggest mistakes presenters make is not repeating the question. And it's an enormous mistake. There's nothing more frustrating than giving a brilliant answer to a question that wasn't asked. You get frustrated because it's a waste of a brilliant answer. Your audience gets frustrated because you didn't answer the question.

There are three major reasons why you should always repeat the question:

  •   You make sure that everyone in the audience heard the question.

  •   You make sure that you heard the question correctly.

  •   You buy yourself some time to think about your answer. (If you want even more time, rephrase the question slightly and ask, "Is that the essence of what you're asking?")

    Don't guess


    If you don't know the answer to a question, never guess. Never. It's a one-way ticket to zero credibility. Once in a while, you may get lucky, beat the odds, and bluff the audience. But most of the time, someone calls your bluff. Then you have a big problem. First, you're exposed as not knowing the answer you claim to know. More important, the audience members wonder if you bluffed about anything else. And they project their doubts backward to encompass your entire presentation.

    If you don't know, admit it. Then take one, some, or all of the following actions:

  •   Ask if anyone in the audience can answer the question.

  •   Suggest a resource where the questioner can find the answer.

  •   Offer to find out the answer yourself and get it to the questioner.

    Remember, nobody knows everything (except my grandmother).

    End the Q&A strongly

    The Q&A session is your last chance to influence audience opinion of your topic, your ideas, and you. So you want a strong ending. To achieve that, avoid the following:

  •   Don't wait for audience questions to peter out and say, "Well, I guess that's it." You look weak and not in control.

  •   Don't say, "We only have time for one more question." It may be a question you can't answer or handle well. Again, this makes you look weak.

    How do you achieve a forceful finish? Wait till you get a question that you answer brilliantly. Then announce that time has run out. (Of course, you'll be happy to stick around and speak with anyone who still has a question.)

    What if you don't get any questions that you can answer brilliantly? Don't worry. Just make the last question one that you ask yourself. "Thank you. We've run out of time. Well, actually, you're probably still wondering about [fill in your question]." Then give your brilliant answer. It works every time.


    End the Q&A session on time. Some audience members come solely for your talk. They don't care about the Q&A. They just want to get back to work or go to the next seminar, but they're too polite to go before it's all over.

    Coming Up with a Perfect Answer Every Time

    Experts are people who know all the right answers - if they're asked the right questions. Unfortunately, your audience may not always ask the right questions. This section presents some ways to make sure your answers are expert, no matter what you're asked.

    Knowing how to treat the questioner

    Questioners may be rude, obnoxious, opinionated, egomaniacal, inane, obtuse, antagonistic, befuddled, illiterate, or incomprehensible. You still have to treat them nicely. Why? Because they're members of the audience, and the audience identifies with them - at least initially. Use these suggestions for dealing with someone who asks you a question:

  •   Do assist a nervous questioner. Some audience members who ask questions may suffer from stage fright. They stammer and stutter, lose their train of thought, and make the rest of the audience extremely uncomfortable. So help these people out. Finish asking their questions for them if you can. Otherwise, offer some gentle encouragement. By breaking in and speaking yourself, you give nervous questioners time to collect themselves. They'll be grateful. And so will everyone else.

  •   Do recognize the questioner by name. If you know the name of the person asking the question, use it. This has a powerful effect on the audience. It makes you seem much more knowledgeable and in control. And the people whose names you say love the recognition.

  •   Do compliment the questioner, if appropriate. If the question is particularly interesting or intelligent, it's okay to say so. But be specific and say why. Some communication gurus advise never to say, "Good question," because it implies that the other questions weren't. If you're worried about this, then say, "That's an especially interesting question because ..." This statement implies that the other questions were also interesting - a compliment. It also eliminates all the value judgments attached to the word "good."


  •   Don't make the questioner feel embarrassed or stupid. Remember your grade school teacher saying there's no such thing as a dumb question? She was wrong. There are plenty of dumb questions, and presenters get asked them all the time. But you don't want to be the one to point them out. No matter how idiotic the query, treat the questioner with dignity. If you go into a scathing riff about the stupidity of the question, you make yourself look bad, generate sympathy for the questioner, and discourage anyone else from asking a question.

  •   Don't send the questioner a negative, nonverbal message. It can take a lot of guts to rise out of the anonymity of the audience to ask a question, so don't discourage questioners by looking bored or condescending while they're speaking. Even if you think the question is imbecilic, look fascinated. Shower each questioner with attention. Give full eye contact. Lean forward. Show that your most important priority is listening to the question. Nothing is more insulting or dispiriting than a presenter who looks around the audience for the next question while the current question is being asked. And the questioner isn't the only one who gets offended. The whole audience picks up on it.


  •   Don't attack the questioner. No matter how offensive the question or questioner, stay calm and in control. Use diplomacy and finesse to dispose of such annoyances. If the questioner is a major jerk, the audience can see it. Don't become a jerk yourself by getting defensive. The questioner wants to provoke you. Don't take the bait. (See Chapter 12 for more on handling hecklers.)

    Designing your answer

    You never know exactly how to answer until you hear the question, but I do have some general guidelines to help you prepare:

  •   Do keep it brief. Your answer should be a simple, succinct response to the question asked. Too many presenters use their answer as an excuse to give a second talk. Give everyone a break. If the audience wanted an encore, it would have asked for one. And remember, many members of the audience may not even be interested in the question you're answering. They're waiting to hear the next question - or to ask one.

  •   Do refer back to your presentation. Tying your answers back to your presentation reinforces the points you made earlier. This tactic also makes you seem omniscient. (You somehow foresaw these questions and planted the seeds of their answers in your presentation.)

  •   Do refer to your experience. You're not bragging when you make referrals to your personal and professional experience in your answer. That experience is one of the reasons you've been invited to give a presentation and is part of what makes you an expert. The audience wants to hear about your experience.

  •   Don't assume that you know the question. Unless the questioners are rambling or need help, let them finish asking their questions. Too many presenters jump in before the question is fully stated. They think they know what the question is and start giving an answer. They look foolish when the questioner interrupts, saying, "That's not what I was asking."
  •   Don't let the questioner define your position. An alarm should go off when you hear a questioner say something like "Well, based on your presentation, it's obvious that you think ..." Typically, what the questioner says that you think isn't what you think at all. Don't let anyone put words in your mouth. If this occurs, address the problem immediately - as soon as the questioner finishes asking the question. Point out the misconception contained in the question, and then firmly state your actual position.

  •   Don't get locked into the questioner's facts or premises. If the questioner makes assumptions with which you disagree, politely say so. If you dispute the questioner's statistics, say so. Don't build a nice answer on a faulty question. Start by dismantling the question.

  •   Don't make promises you won't keep. Don't say that anyone can call you at your office to ask questions if you know you won't take their calls. Don't say you'll find out the answer to a question if you know you won't. Don't offer to send information to someone if you know you'll never get around to it.

  •   Don't evade questions by acting like you're answering them. You're not obligated to answer every question. (You're really not under interrogation, although it may sometimes seem that way.)


    Excerpted from Presentations For Dummies by Malcolm Kushner Excerpted by permission.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

  • Meet the Author

    Malcolm Kushner, “America’s favorite humor consultant,” is an internationally acclaimed expert on humor and communication and a professional speaker. Since 1982, he has trained thousands of managers, executives, and professionals how to gain a competitive edge with humor. His clients include IBM, Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, Chevron, Aetna, Motorola, and Bank of America.
    A popular speaker, his Leading With Laughter® presentation features rare video clips of U.S. presidents using humor intentionally and successfully. He has performed the speech at many corporate and association meetings, as well as at the Smithsonian Institution.
    Kushner has also written presentations for some of the nation’s leading corporate executives. His work has included everything from remarks at annual shareholder meetings to commencement addresses and Congressional testimony.
    A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Buffalo, Kushner holds a B.A. in Speech-Communication. His M.A. in Speech-Communication is from the University of Southern California, where he taught freshman speech. He also has a J.D. from the University of California Hastings College of the Law. Prior to becoming a humor consultant, he practiced law with a major San Francisco law firm.
    Kushner is the author of The Light Touch: How to Use Humor for Business Success (Simon&Schuster) and Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers (Malcolm Kushner&Associates). He is also a cocreator of the humor exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
    Frequently interviewed by the media, Kushner has been profiled in Time Magazine, USA Today, The New York Times, and numerous other publications. His television and radio appearances include CNN, National Public Radio, CNBC, Voice of America, and The Larry King Show. His annual “Cost of Laughing Index” has been featured on The Tonight Show and the front page of The Wall Street Journal.
    Need a great speaker for your next meeting or event? Contact Malcolm at P.O. Box 7509, Santa Cruz, CA 95061, call 831-425-4839, or e-mail him at Visit his Web site at

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