• Thomas A. Wilson

TOIL and Trouble—How to give a mesmerizing presentation, Part 2

Writing and delivering a good public presentation is a little bit of trouble, no doubt. For some, though, it’s beyond troubling—it’s terrifying. Since knowledge is power, we can defang the glossophobia (see last week’s blog) monster by shedding a little light on the subject.

This week’s header, TOIL and Trouble, is pulled from a line in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. If you think your family or workplace drama is unique, take a fresh look at this high school staple! Human conniving is nothing new. We’ve been at it, well, since the beginning.

Early in the play, three witches prophesy over Macbeth, saying that he will be king. He was an easy sell, but their presentation was pretty spiffy, too. Enthused by their rhetoric, and amped up by Lady Macbeth’s (who I don’t think was really a lady) enthusiasm, Macbeth commits regicide. Then he commits other murders, goes kind of crazy, and is killed and decapitated. (Game of Thrones, who’s your daddy?)

So, it’s a popcorn movie—um, play.

For our purposes, the important thing to understand about our Shakespearean reference is the power of words. Since art imitates life, the play is a commentary on the influence of narrative. Those toiling witches initiated a whole lotta trouble. Words can do that. They can curse. But they don’t have to.

I was once fortunate enough to give a speech at the successful completion of a competitive mentoring program. I didn’t know it at the time, but that presentation would become a required part of new employee orientation. For the seven years preceding my retirement, the boss ensured that I gave that talk to every group of newly hired staff! Many of those folks reported that the presentation was the most meaningful part of their initial training.

That speech was just one of hundreds that I’ve been privileged to deliver over the last decade. I like to think that those talks helped to create a positive culture—and feedback indicates they did. What follows are some of the insights I used to craft those successful presentations.

Last week, we talked about the foundations of a speech. This week, we’ll tackle form. Using the acronym TOIL as a reference, we’ll explore transitions, outline, illustrations, and language.

Transitions are the various places in a speech where a speaker moves from one point to another, anchors key thoughts, and brings clarity and/or cohesion to the talk. Two things to remember as you build your outline (we’ll explore outline basics next) are that transitions should enhance the flow of the presentation, and they should therefore be intentional.

Transitions can be as simple as, “This leads to our next area of focus…” or they can be as elaborate as a lengthy illustration. Either way, a good speaker keeps the audience progressing toward a clear understanding of the rationale of the talk.

Think of it this way. If one bank of the public presentation river is vision, and the other bank is action (and I assume you have the former and want the latter), then the bridge between the two is passion. Good transitions capture the passion of the speaker and the rightness of the cause so that the hearer is eager to get to the next layer of understanding.

In general, an outline should contain three basic parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. An old public speaking maxim is: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them!

The introduction should do two things. It should get the audience’s attention and it should orient them toward the talk. A powerful illustration, bold statement, humorous anecdote, etc., are all candidates for an attention-getting introduction. Once the audience is connected, the speaker should give an overview of what’s coming next.

The second part of the outline, the body, consists of one to three points that support the rationale and objective of the talk. Blame it on thirty-second commercials and the speed of electronic media, but most folks these days won’t tolerate a speech with eight major points, a poem, and a death-bed story. The points in the body of the talk should be the logical pillars of the presentation. So, don’t dally—get to it.

The conclusion, like the introduction, must accomplish two things. My terms for those two things are recap and rivet. A good conclusion offers a brief recapitulation of the main points, and it anchors the purpose of the talk in the minds of the audience. A riveting conclusion sets the hook and appeals to both logic and emotion. The conclusion is a good place for an illustration—a moving story.

Illustrations are perhaps the most important part of any presentation. People need narrative—they need interesting stories. A good story is what helps them care about the topic. Illustrations can be gleaned from personal experience, the experience of friends and family, books, and the web.

Finally, language is important. That is, know the vocabulary of your hearers. I once heard a speaker make an earthy reference to a body part—to the horror of his baby-boomer audience. His millennial buddies might have thought the reference was on point, but the people he was actually talking to sure didn’t.

Two other important aspects of language are diction and projection. Slow down and say the words like they’re meant to be said and use your voice like a tool. Reach the back row. Raise and lower volume intentionally. Change pace/meter when appropriate. Work it.

Using the TOIL acronym as a memory tool will help create a mesmerizing talk—and isn’t that what you want? Remember, the difference between a manipulative witch and a mentoring wise person is the behaviors they elicit from others.

Now, go make the world a better place through your confident public speaking. You can do it! As her ladyship intoned, "Screw your courage to the sticking-place." (Act I, Scene VII)


If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a fry, so the saying goes. Success demands more than a dream or a scheme.

Affirmation of the week: I enthusiastically prepare and practice for opportunities to present so that I effectively convey what matters most. I get results—it’s what I do.

Did you find this blog helpful? If so, you'll love my book, Man School: A Practical Guide for Next-Level Living. Check it out! :)

22 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All