Eight Presentation Tips to Surprise and Inspire Your Audience


By Barbara Bucklin, PhD and Manny Rodriguez, M.S.

bSci21 Contributing Writers

This is the second article in our Presentation Skills series intended to help behavior analysts increase their presence in the public eye, which is crucial if we want our field to continue to make a positive impact on the world.

The first article gave you tips on how to prepare for your presentation. If you missed it, you can check it out here.

This article will help you design your presentation content. You can use the series of checklists to deliver a polished presentation; it’s compiled from Behavior Analysts to the Front! A 15-Step Tutorial on Public Speaking (Friman, 2014); 20 Public Speaking Tips of the Best TED Talks (Haden, 2014); and Tips from TED: 10 Commandments of Public Speaking (2013).

As we did in Part 1, we start with the checklist and then define each item in more detail. We also provide a few TED Talk examples to emphasize the tips and to help you dream big and create an inspiring presentation that your audience will remember and share with their friends and colleagues.

Dream Big

According to Tips from TED: 10 Commandments of Public Speaking (2013):

  • Strive to create the best talk you’ve ever given.
  • Reveal something never seen before; do something the audience will remember forever.
  • Share an idea that could change the world.

Say Something Important in Everyday Language

According to Friman (2014):

  • The talk is important to you, or you wouldn’t be delivering it. Make sure you’re clear about your talk’s ‘fundamental message’ before you even start creating presentation materials.
  • Your main point could be called “your punch line” or your “hook;” it’s the anchor for your whole presentation.
  • In addition to saying something important, say it in language your audience understands.
  • For example, to communicate about behavior analysis with people outside our field, our language needs to match what those people actually use and understand. It’s best to use plain everyday speech.

Tell Stories that Connect with People’s Emotions

According to TED and Friman:

  • Say “for example…” or “let me share a story that highlights what I want to explain…” When you start this way, all eyes are on you, the speaker. Why does this happen? Friman suggests, “The material that follows those words is much more likely to reinforce listening with understanding than the material that preceded the example.”
  • Use storytelling techniques; good stories have these ingredients:
  • A main character who’s the source of the action.
  • Something familiar to the audience or with which it can readily identify.
  • Something that makes the story interesting (surprises, conflict, moments of doubt).
  • Revealing details of the story.
  • An emotional payoff for the audience’s attention.
  • A clear meaning that’s linked to your talk.
  • Make the audience laugh and cry along with you. When you tell a story, let your emotions show. If you were sad, say so. If you cried, say so. If you felt guilty, let it show. Share genuine feelings to create an immediate and lasting connection with your audience. Emotion trumps speaking skills every time.
  • Watch this TED Talk Example: Elizabeth Gilbert – Your Elusive Creative Genius.

Share One Thing No One Knows

  • No one ever says, “I was at a presentation the other day and I saw an amazing spreadsheet…”
  • Find a surprising fact that relates to your topic. Audiences love to think, “Really? Wow…”
  • A surprising fact might be, “Did you know when you blush the lining of your stomach also turns red?” Or “Did you know it’s normal to fear public speaking!”
  • Watch this TED Talk Example: Susan Cain – The Power of Introverts.

Pose Questions you Can’t Answer

According to Haden (2014):

  • Avoid asking questions to engage the audience if it feels forced. Instead, ask a question you know the audience can’t answer and then say, “That’s okay. I can’t either.”
  • Explain why you can’t answer the question, and then talk about what you do know.
  • Most speakers have all the answers. The fact you don’t and are willing to admit it not only humanizes you, but makes your audience pay greater attention to what you do know.
  • Watch this TED Talk Example: Nigel Marsh – Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle.

Make Complex Plain

  • According to TED, don’t try to dazzle intellectually or speak in abstractions. Give examples, tell stories, and be specific.
  • “One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.” Occam’s Razor by William of Occam. This is an essential attitude of science, so be a good scientist-practitioner and don’t overcomplicate your presentation.

No Selling from the Stage

  • A TED commandment is ‘No selling from the stage!’
  • Unless you’re specifically asked to, don’t even think about pitching your products or services or asking for funding from stage.

Give the Audience Something to Take Home

According to Haden:

  • Always provide something specific the audience can do almost immediately.
  • No matter how inspiring your message, every audience appreciates learning a tangible way they can apply what they’ve learned to their own lives.
  • Inspiration is great, but application is everything, say, “Tonight, think of an employee who is really struggling and then tomorrow, do (this) and (this) to try to save them.”
  • Watch this TED Talk Example: Dan Ariely – Are we in Control of our Decisions?

Look for the next checklist, which will provide skills to help you deliver your presentation in a way that resonates with your audience!

Do you have any additional public speaking tips that have worked for you?  Tell us about them in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


Barbara Bucklin, PhD is a global learning and performance improvement leader with 20 years of experience who collaborates with her clients to identify performance gaps and recommend solutions that are directly aligned with their core business strategies. She oversees design and development processes for learning (live and virtual), performance-support tools, performance metrics, and a host of innovative blended solutions.

Dr. Bucklin serves as President and is on the Board of Directors for the Organizational Behavior Management Network. She has taught university courses in human performance technology, the psychology of learning, organizational behavior management, and statistical methods. Her research articles have appeared in Performance Improvement Quarterly and the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management. She presents her research and consulting results at international conventions such as the Association for Talent Development (ATD), International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), Training Magazine’s Conference and Expo, and the Organizational Behavior Management Network.  You can contact Dr. Bucklin at [email protected]

Manny Rodriguez, M.S. has worked with many organizations across the globe over the past 15 years.  He is an accomplished practitioner in the field of Behavior Analysis, highly regarded by his customers, and colleagues alike.  He has earned a reputation for his quick grasp of behavioral challenges and how to solve them offering a practical “real-world” approaches.  He has held positions both as an external consultant at the largest behavior based consultancies, Aubrey Daniels International and the Continuous Learning Group, and as a Global Environmental Health and Safety leader within FMC Corporation, an international specialty chemicals company, and today is Vice President of ABA Technologies, Inc.

Manny’s experience spans various industries working with some of the largest organizations in the world such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Kraft Foods, Syncrude, Cigna, Heinz, Canadian National Railway, Duke Power, ADM, Blair, Bell Canada, Stewart Enterprises, and FMC Corporation. Manny has led large scale change efforts, providing one-on-one coaching with executives and senior managers, developing and delivery engaging professional development learning events, and led teams of professionals to achieve significant performance.   His leadership in the science of human behavior has impacted the lives of thousands leaders and employees nationally and internationally.

Manny has worked with organizations across the globe, lending his expertise in behavioral science to make a difference in the workplace.  Manny’s experience spans various industries such as human services, nuclear power, government, oil and gas, transportation, telecommunications, banking, and chemical within the Fortune 1000.  Today, he focuses his time on bringing behavior analysis to executives and leaders through online learning, consulting, and training practitioners.

Through his leadership, Manny has consulted to various clients, launched Operant Leadership, the business consulting service division of ABA Technologies, co-authored with his Operant Leadership colleagues Daniel Sundberg and Shannon Biagi the four volume series OBM Applied! a practical guide to implementing organizational behavior management, and most recently co-authored with Dr. Paul Gavoni the book Quick Wins! Accelerating School Transformation through Science, Engagement, and Leadership.

In addition, Manny volunteers his time as the current Executive Director of the OBM Network, and as a member of the board of directors of the space coast human resource association. You can contact him at [email protected].

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