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Re-Engineering Your Communication Strategy – 16 Things to Consider When Preparing for a Presentation or Meeting


Dave Hill – The Re-Engineered Engineer – Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Speech Coach

Imagine a town-hall type meeting where thousands of employees are attending in person or through online video conferencing. Everyone in the audience is aware of numerous rumors going around regarding company restructuring.

The presenter starts by listing subjects he is going to cover and amongst the list is a bullet point that simply states, “rumors.”

Almost immediately, he jumps into discussion on the rumors addressing them one after the other. He speaks briefly on the ones that are unfounded and gives details on the ones that hold some truth.

What strategy did this presenter use to succeed? He analyzed his audience and knew that most people would have heard about the news media discussing numerous changes that were apparently going to happen. He made a decision to address the rumors head-on. By addressing them at the beginning of his presentation, he was able to capture his audience’s attention right from the start and address their concerns.


  1. What major happenings, needs, or concerns are on the minds of the audience members?  Is the subject matter appropriate for the occasion and the audience?
  2. What is the theme of the meeting?
  3. What is the purpose of the presentation? Is it to inform or educate? Is it to convince people to accept your proposal, or to brainstorm with them to find a solution?
  4. What is the audience’s level of understanding of the information you are going to present?  It is crucial that you provide information your audience will understand.  Present it at a depth that will interest them.  For example, when presenting to upper management on a technical subject, make sure the information is not overly detailed. They may be more interested in the big picture, although you may want to have the detailed backup information available if they ask for it.  If they only have a basic understanding of the subject you are to present on, make sure you do not use technical jargon or acronyms, or you can lose the audience. It can be beneficial to use analogies to simplify complex information.
  5. Does this subject matter have the potential for conflict?
  6. Have you or someone else presented on this before, and if so, what was the reaction?
  7. What information or topics should I stay away from?
  8. What local characteristics could be incorporated into your presentation to lighten it up at the beginning (sports team, meeting location, etc.)?  This can help diffuse tension at the beginning of a presentation and can also help you build a bond with the audience.  This is also an opportunity to incorporate humor.
  9. What has been going on in the industry or company in the last year?
  10. Will the audience have an opinion on the subject?  Could there be a negative emotional response that could disrupt your presentation, causing people to go off on a tangent and eat up your allotted time?
  11. Will there be any other presenters before you who induce conflict that might have an impact on your presentation?
  12. Would humor be appropriate?  I strongly recommend incorporating humor or other light-hearted material into your presentation to keep the audience’s attention and to also help audience members remember the information.  Before using humor, however, ask yourself if the humor is relevant to your presentation and appropriate for the audience and occasion.
  13. Will some audience members not be fluent in the language you are presenting in? Speak clearly and avoid slang and acronyms.
  14. What types of jobs do audience members have?
  15. Will there be any special guests or dignitaries?
  16. What is the dress code?  (I like to dress slightly better than the audience to help me build credibility.  Your image as a presenter is important.)

What Do You Do When You Are Asked To Give A Keynote Speech To 600 Middle School Students?


Dave Hill – Speaker, Trainer, Author, & Speech Coach

What do you do when asked to give a speech to 600 middle school students…in the school gymnasium?

The answer to this question is…. you say, “YES,” you thank them for the privilege, and then you prepare like you have never prepared before.

This was my third middle school career day keynote event, and I still remember the first one I delivered in 2009 to over 1000 students. I smile, recalling the comment I received from a National Speakers Association (NSA) member when I told her of that upcoming event. “Good luck with that!” she declared jovially.

Prior to that first middle school career day keynote, I worked hard to develop material that would resonate with the students. I spent weeks talking to my middle school son to find out what was on students’ minds, what their concerns were, what they were talking about at school, what career aspirations they were discussing. I then started thinking back to when I was 12 years old and what was happening in my life in small town Ireland. Once I jotted this information on a mind map sketch, I recalled a personal story of crashing my homemade box-cart that I could use as a metaphor in my keynote speech.

This article discusses the uses of metaphors in presentations. A metaphor is a comparison between two dissimilar things, and the comparison is implied rather than expressed.  The purpose of the metaphor is to clarify your ideas, to illuminate your points, and to make them memorable.

Success strategies for using metaphors in presentations:

  • Make sure the audience can relate to the metaphor
  • The audience should immediately grasp that the metaphor relates to your points
  • The metaphor should be apparent and help clarify the information
  • The optimal metaphor is one that weaves its way through your presentation from start to finish, illuminated with visual details.

The metaphor I used related to when I was 12 years old sitting in my homemade go-cart on top of a steep hill. I was getting ready to embark on a journey which would have challenges. I wanted the students to relate the go-cart adventure to the journey from middle school to college and on to the workplace. I took them on a career journey embedded with stories that related the trials and tribulations I experienced along the way. The career journey included signposts that would give them direction and sharp bends where bad things can happen.

The following video on YouTube shows the correlation between the box-cart metaphor and my school/college/career successes and challenges: [youtube][/youtube]

The storyline included:

  • Young Dave failing his subjects when he was 12 years old
  • Making a decision not to follow my parents’ advice on career choice
  • Making stink bombs and an electric shocking machine
  • Changing my study habits so I could increase my grades & get a full scholarship
  • Nearly getting thrown out of college for an irresponsible incident
  • Becoming a successful engineer
  • Making mistakes as an engineer
  • Changing careers to follow my passion

How to make metaphors work for your presentations:

  1. List the core concepts you are presenting (e.g. managing an unpopular change, overcoming obstacles, highlighting a technology breakthrough, using a new workplace tool, learning from mistakes).
  2. Taking the first example – managing a specific unpopular change, we can now look at the list of metaphors linked below to see if anything strikes us as being relatable to the details of the presentation and is applicable to the audience.

If the audience was in the medical field, I could illuminate the content of my presentation by comparing the unpopular change to a foul tasting medicine:

  • Some medicines leave a bad taste in the mouth but are proven to have long lasting beneficial effects (supporting the change with credible statistics)
  • Change can be difficult to swallow (normal human resistance to change)
  • Taking the medicine sip by sip (implementing the change in small steps)
  • The change will improve ongoing health of the organization (identifying the financial benefit of the change).


Metaphor List –

Metaphor examples –

Humaphors: The Top 10 Metaphors of Stephen Colbert –


The Bulb On The Projector Popped And The Teachers Freaked!

Dave Hill – Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Speech Coach

It was just meant to be another parent-teacher meeting at my kid’s school. Little did the teachers know that disaster was on the way. The parents and kids slowly started filling the school gymnasium. The location was not ideal, as the metal roof of the building seemed to capture the many conversations going on before the meeting, and elevate it to the point of not being able to hear the person chatting to you. The PowerPoint projector had been set up ahead of time, and was projecting a picture of a bunch of happy kids on the screen.

Teachers were scurrying in and out of the room with an aura of stress; they were each going to present a section of the school happenings, goals and achievements. The teachers called for attention, parents started to take their seats, and the background noise started to diminish. Then it happened. There was a noticeable pop from the projector, and the screen went blank.

Imagine 6 female teachers looking at each other with eyes as big as golf balls and mouths wide open in silent screams. By looking at their stressful faces, I knew that they were trying to speak telepathically to each other. “I am not going to speak without the PowerPoint”. “I am on the verge of running out of this room”. “Don’t even think of asking me to speak”. “I feel a hot-flash coming on…”

The parents and school kids picked up on what was playing out in front of their eyes. Tension was building in the room as people were thinking, “I am really grateful I am not in their shoes right now“.
We wondered if they were going to call it off, but then we noticed that 5 of the teachers were staring at the 6th. They were making facial gestures at her, nodding, and subtly pointing at the speaking area at the front of the room. She was apparently the “chosen one” and hesitantly stepped forward, looking at the ground with her mind going at 100 miles per hour, trying to get her thoughts together. She started by immediately saying something funny, relating to the popped bulb. I cannot remember what she said, but it got everyone chuckling, and there was immediately a relaxation of tension.

I had heard this teacher speak before at a graduation ceremony. She was the only one who spoke without notes and from the heart. Her speech was memorable, compared to the others who were reading notes word-for-word in a monotonous voice, without any eye contact or engagement with the students or parents.

The “volunteer” teacher talked while maintaining a level of confidence, and managed to stumble through the presentation while trying to recall the main points she had to cover (for everyone). She completed her presentation and received loud applause from the parents and school kids. They recognized what she had just done, and were not only appreciative; they were relieved that she did not break down and cause an awkward moment.

Now that I have described someone else’s disaster, let me describe my personal embarrassing mess-up. I was scheduled to give a free technical presentation to a group of engineers in 2008. The meeting was being held in a private room at a local restaurant, and I was to speak after the business meeting. My contact had told me that he would bring the screen and projector so I could do a PowerPoint type presentation. I put a lot of work into the risk engineering technical presentation, and it even included videos of toxic clouds and explosions to help people understand how I help keep people safe in the unlikely event of a toxic or flammable release at a chemical plant. During the business meeting, as I was arranging my hand-out notes, my contact came over to me, red in the face, and stated that he had just noticed that he had forgotten to pack the cord that runs between the projector and the laptop. We jumped in his car and went to the local electronics store; however we could not find the correct cable. I was stressed and annoyed with myself.

Before departing for the meeting, I had considered bringing my own projector and cables. Somehow, I managed to convince myself that that would be a waste of time. The loud voice of “Murphy” rang loudly in my head- “If something is going to go wrong, it will!” It was ironic that Murphy would impact me, the Irishman, but it was a reality check for me, the person who knew to be better prepared for things going wrong. Luckily, it was a small group of people and I was able to get them to huddle around the laptop screen and see my slides and videos. Not ideal by a long stretch, but at least I managed to get my message across.

Some Considerations To Help You Prepare For Audio-Visual Problems:
1) Think of all that could go wrong- ask other presenters what could go wrong, and have some form of backup plan.
2) Have funny comments available ahead of time for each type of failure instance. Deflect the tension.
3) **Get to your venue as early as possible, set up the equipment, and test everything. Talk to the audio-visual technical person to get an idea of what problems have come up in the past in that specific room.
4) Find out ahead of time how you can contact the technical person at a hotel or conference area if things do go wrong.
5) Projector & Laptop Computer
• Check before you leave your house that you have packed all the necessary cables and extension cords.
• Find out if the venue has spare projectors, bulbs, and laptops at hand.
• Do you have a spare bulb for your own projector? Practice how to replace it in a hurry.
• Consider the possibility of using your handout notes to work from, if everything else fails.
• Is your computer set up so that distracting updating security software messages and similar messages do not pop up during your presentation?
6) Microphone – see my previous article on “Befriending the Microphone” at this link:
• Test it ahead of time to find the feedback areas and learn where the on/off button is.
• Is there someone qualified to make adjustments if feedback or anything else starts to become a problem during your presentation.
• When were the batteries last changed? Do you or the A-V technical person have spare batteries?
• Will the crowd size and room size be small enough for your voice to project to everyone without a microphone?
• Will there be a second microphone that can be used as a backup?

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