Guila Muir and Associates

Presentation Skills: How to Prevent “Drowning”

open-water-pic2-150x150These skills will keep you afloat.

There are many parallels between swimming in open water (the English call it “wild swimming”) and giving a great presentation. These skills will keep you afloat, no matter how choppy the water.

1. Be totally present.
When I swim, my focus is completely on what I’m doing. I’m not thinking about anything except moving forward. I am aware of each stroke, and often “course-correct” when I feel my form getting lazy.

Great presenters have this same focus. They inhabit their bodies. They don’t wish they were somewhere else, doing something else. They totally commit to the activity of presenting.

2. Ignore the environment at your own risk.
The minute I enter the open water, I begin a wilderness adventure. Unlike a pool, open water offers seaweed, sea animals, hidden objects, floating logs, jellyfish, currents, waves, swells, and…well, you get the difference.

If I swim blindly, I may run into something. This happened recently to a co-swimmer who was so focused on winning our race that he ran into a submerged piling and broke his nose.

Presenters, too, can “break their noses” by barreling along with little sensitivity to the environment. Environmental input takes many forms, including disinterested or enthusiastic participants, room acoustics, hecklers, heat or cold, and ambient noise. Presenters who shut themselves off from this input risk failure. Great presenters retain their sensitivity to the environment, without letting it overwhelm them.

3. Discovery is key.
While swimming, I have discovered iridescent seaweed, a Weber grill, and curious seals with puppy faces. I have also discovered my own physical limits. Every time I swim, I discover something new, even if it is just the way the sun shines through the water (or not).

Great presenters do this too. No matter how many times they’ve given a presentation, they discover new ways of saying things. They may develop new handouts or slides, or develop new questions to ask the audience. Boring presenters are those who never risk discovering new ways to present.

Take these lessons to heart. When you invest yourself totally in the act of presenting, it all becomes easy. You’ll glide through your presentation like a fish.


Love Your Struggles

images-1If you’re like me, it can sometimes feel hard to love and accept yourself when you make a mistake. I was shocked when, years ago, a Presentation Skills client began a diatribe with the words “I condemn myself for…” I had never heard someone treat themselves with such harshness.

WHY do we presenters, trainers, and facilitators sometimes berate ourselves with words we might never use for another person? This year, resolve to be kinder to yourself. Seemingly unrelated, your presentation and training skills will benefit from a boost in self care.

5 Quickie Self-Care Techniques for Presenters, Trainers, and Facilitators

1. Know That It Was Bigger for You Than For Them.

If you get flustered or make a mistake during a presentation, realize that you’re taking it about 90% more seriously than anyone else in the room. Relax and move on.

2. When You’re Done, You’re Done.

After a presentation or training, I always wash my hands. This ritual helps me transition from the “Intensified Me” mode into a more relaxed place.

3. Give Yourself (or Another) a Treat

Whether it’s a special cup of coffee, a turkey sandwich, a run or a movie, give yourself a reward for the energy you spent and the exposure you experienced. Double your good feelings by treating a co-worker or friend.

4. Sing Loudly and Hit Those High Notes

If you’re stuck in a car after an event, crank up songs you love. Research shows that simply listening to familiar sounds can “up” your mood to the point of goose bumps.

5. Get a Few Hugs

When you get home, improve your oxytocin, serotonin, and heart rate with some hugs from a family member (including your pets).

Resolve to love and accept yourself no matter what. As the yogis say, we are all perfect inside. A few gaffes will never change that.

Perfect Presentations: What Not to Wear

duddy-looking-presenter1-300x299How to dress for credibility, while remaining true to yourself.

What to wear for a perfect presentation? As you design and polish your speech, developing visual aids and handouts, this question may fall into the background until dangerously close to the presentation. Suddenly, you look up: “Yikes! What am I going to wear?”

Your appearance impacts your credibility as a speaker. Don’t leave it to chance, and don’t wait until the last minute to decide what to wear. Just think of preparing your appearance as part of your overall speech preparation. Here are my favorite, possibly competing, guidelines:

  • Stay authentic.
  • Dress like your audience- but one step better.

Stay Authentic: Within reason, your attire must express who you are. If you feel like you’re wearing someone else’s costume, your verbal message may not ring true.

Dress Like Your Audience, But One Step Better: Appearing similar to, but slightly more dressed up than your listeners conveys respect both for them and for your subject. It enhances your credibility.

Use these five tips as a guide to dressing for credibility, while remaining true to yourself.

1.  Wear well-made and well-maintained clothing.

Granted, no one will be checking your clothing’s seams or labels. But image consultants counsel that your audience can tell if you’re wearing a cheaply made dress or suit. You can probably feel it, too. Whether you choose to look conservative or creative, wear well-made clothing made from high-quality fabric. Avoid linen and other easily-wrinkled material.

2.  Pay attention to details.

Even if your audience won’t see your shoes, make sure they are polished and that the heels are secure. Men should have a recent haircut and trimmed facial hair. Search for loose threads or inopportune gaps between buttons.

3.  Wear your “Confident Clothes.”

Wear something that makes you feel sprightly and energized. This could mean sticking to the tried-and-true, so long as it’s one step above your audience and expresses your personality. Use a solid color that suits you near your face. (How do you know which colors suit you? Ask one of your color-savvy friends.)

4.  Make sure it’s comfortable.

You are NOT allowed to tug at or re-arrange your clothes while presenting. Wear your outfit around the house a few days before your presentation to ensure that you can move comfortably. Then put your outfit aside, including all underwear, jewelry and shoes, and go back to prepping your speech.

5. Dress to look taller.

Consider wearing a solid color for both pieces of your outfit. This will help you appear taller and help you tap into the “Intensified You.”

So—to pull together both my responses to the question “What should I wear?” I leave you with these words: Let your personality shine through even as you “fit in” with each specific audience.

3 Words to Weaken Your Presentation

istock_000013088071xsmall-200x300I’m here with some good news for most presenters—along with some cautions you’ve probably never thought about.

The Good News: “Ums” Won’t Kill You

Speakers, don’t worry so much about using fillers like “um” and “uh. ” These only become problematic when other distracting factors are in play. Your audience will only notice your “ums” if:

  • You haven’t practiced, so you don’t know where you’re going next.
  • You don’t enunciate clearly.
  • You don’t exude enthusiasm about your subject.

To some degree, a speaker’s occasional “um” gives the listeners’ brains an opportunity to catch up—we can speak faster than we can listen. Michael Erard, bestselling author of UM…Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean sums it all up by saying: “Want people not to notice your ‘um’s’? Be interesting.”

The Caution: Three Words to Weaken Your Presentation

Some words we use to strengthen our presentations paradoxically weaken them instead. Which example below sounds more powerful?

I love you.

I actually love you.

I recall watching a woman presenter, extremely confident in most situations, speaking to a hostile and primarily male group. Not only was this group opposed to her message, it had the power to sway mass opinion throughout the organization.

To my surprise, this usually dynamic speaker came off extremely unconfidently. Her voice, dress, and manner were the same as usual, but I noticed that she used the word “actually” in nearly every other sentence. Unconsciously, she was attempting to ingratiate herself to this powerful audience.

Research by Erickson, Eind, Johnson and O’Barrr discovered that a few specific words deprive a speaker of power. Surprisingly, we often use these words to underline or “pump up” the importance of our message. By over-reinforcing our message, we seem to be “protesting too much.” Our credibility takes a hit.

These words are:

Really, (really) As in: “It’s really, really a good cause.”

Truly, As in: “It’s truly the best software.”

And, or course, actually.

Watch your use of these words, particularly when faced with an audience that challenges you. Strip them out, and your speech will be more powerful, direct, and credible.

Wild Classroom: How to Prevent the Chaos

childish-rude-bully-woman-sticking-tongue-out-closeup-portrait-funny-foolish-middle-aged-you-camera-gesture-acting-isolated-52028970Have you ever worried about your participants going wild, tuning out, or exhibiting other potentially disruptive behaviors? The concept of “classroom management” will help.

Good classroom management is the ability to run your training sessions smoothly. Research shows that good classroom management enables students to learn and retain more.

Surprisingly, research also shows that good classroom management has nothing to do with the trainer’s personality, or even whether participants like the trainer. Rather, it has everything to do with the trainer’s behaviors–how you act in the classroom.

Dominance and Cooperation

Research shows that a trainer keeps control of the classroom by exhibiting appropriate levels of both dominance and cooperation.


A trainer’s dominance doesn’t mean forceful command and control. Instead, educational researchers define appropriate dominance as the trainer’s ability to provide clear purpose, strong guidance, and consequences for unacceptable behavior.

Think of the best classroom experiences you have had, either as a trainer or as a participant. Did the trainer set out clear goals for the session? Were expectations about behavior clear? Did the trainer provide clear instructions, both visually and verbally?

It’s important to use assertive body language. Maintain an erect posture. Speak deliberately and clearly, especially in the face of inappropriate behavior. Keep your cool.

Very rarely, a trainer must ask a participant to leave the session because of behavior that is impeding the learning of others. This consequence is at the far end of the continuum of classroom management. In more than twenty years as a professional trainer, I have never had to take this step.


Cooperation is characterized by a concern for the needs and opinions of others. Whereas dominance focuses on the trainer as the driving force in the classroom, cooperation highlights a sense of teamwork between trainer and participants.

Often, a trainer models cooperation by asking what participants want to get out of the session, and then integrating these elements into the lesson plan. Cooperation involves other aspects as well, including:

  • Taking a personal and authentic interest in participants.
  • Learning about participants’ interests and passions outside of class.
  • Talking informally before and after class.
  • Greeting each participant by name.

You can also demonstrate your interest in non-verbal ways. These include making eye contact with everyone, moving toward the participants, and ensuring the seating arrangement allows clear and easy ways to move around the room.

Good Classroom Management: Just a Set of Behaviors

There have been many quests for the essential traits that make a teacher great, and each quest has come up empty-handed. According to a special report in the New York Times, extensive research shows that neither an extroverted personality, politeness, confidence, warmth, or enthusiasm make a great trainer.

However, the educational researcher Doug Lemov has identified one trait that separates great trainers from the rest: good classroom management. Lemov discovered that what looks like natural-born teaching genius is often deliberate technique in disguise.

It all boils down to two sets of behaviors on your part. By balancing your dominant behaviors with your cooperative behaviors as a trainer, you’ll create an environment that encourages learning and is pleasant for all. Have fun!

Read more articles about Training Development. Learn about Guila Muir’s Trainer Development Workshops.

Guila Muir is the premiere trainer of trainers, facilitators, and presenters on the West Coast of the United States. Since 1994, she has helped thousands of professionals improve their training, facilitation, and presentation skills. Find out how she can help transform you from a boring expert to a great presenter:

3 Tips to Deal With Audiences From Hell

istock_000006129446xsmall-150x150Resis­tant dynam­ics can be found in any audi­ence. Here are three essen­tial tech­niques to stay sane as a presenter.

1. Check Your­self.
Ask your­self: What am I feel­ing about this audi­ence? Why? What’s the worst that could hap­pen?

Pre­pare your­self emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally. Make sure you’ve had enough to eat, and drink plenty of water. If you find your­self going “on stage” expect­ing the worst, or not being pre­pared for  many ques­tions and chal­lenges, you set yourself up for failure.

2. Don’t Let the Hostile Faces Hook You.
Your goal is to present to the best of your abil­ity, to everyone in the room. Don’t get emotionally connected to the few unhappy audience members.

Acknowl­edge and respect the dynam­ics in the room. Detach from them. Most likely, these have nothing to do with you.

3. Present as if Every­one Were Uncom­mit­ted.
I bor­row from Don Pfarrer’s book, Guerilla Per­sua­sion, for this incred­i­bly help­ful final tip. I’ve used it often, to great success.

Assume that every audi­ence is comprised of four different groups. Each group is either friendly to your mes­sage, hostile, indif­fer­ent, or sim­ply uncom­mit­ted.

Here’s the strategy: Focus on the uncom­mit­ted. In this way, you will successfully address everyone in the audience. By focusing on the uncommitted, you will con­struct and present your mes­sage more thoroughly and per­sua­sively.

All 4 Audi­ence Seg­ments Ben­e­fit When You Focus on the Uncommitted.

Audi­ence Segment What Do They Want From Listening to You?
Dan­gers of Focus­ing Only on This Segment
How This Seg­ment Ben­e­fits When You Focus on the Uncommitted
“Friend­lies” Sat­is­fac­tion, affin­ity. Too easy — you may assume too much. Their knowl­edge and com­mit­ment is deepened.
“Hos­tiles” To see you fail. Increases your own defen­sive­ness. You may come off abra­sively and unlikable. They expe­ri­ence human respect, open­ness and rea­son from you (and are likely to mir­ror the behavior).
“Indif­fer­ents” To be left alone and unchanged. You may tie your­self up into knots try­ing get a response. They may get the mes­sage, while not being ham­mered by you.
“Uncom­mit­teds” To expe­ri­ence a rea­soned, well-thought-out, good-natured expo­sure to the issues. NONE! They get the best of YOU: affin­ity and reason. You won’t cut cor­ners by assum­ing sup­port where it might not exist.

The bot­tom line is: KNOW YOUR STUFF. Be ready for ques­tions and chal­lenges. By check­ing your­self, not getting “hooked” by hostility, and focus­ing on the Uncom­mit­ted, you take great strides towards more resiliency and professionalism as a presenter.

Avoid Audience Overload: Less Is More

istock_000005896614xsmall4-150x150Pic­ture it: You’re a stu­dent in a class­room. The instruc­tor is throw­ing out fact after fact. At first, you lis­ten intently, try­ing to grasp every­thing that’s going on. After about 15 min­utes, your atten­tion drifts.  After try­ing to focus a few more times, you feel so over­whelmed (and pos­si­bly irri­tated and bored) that you just give up.

Hey-how did you like being on the receiv­ing end?

Trainers, have some sym­pa­thy. The instruc­tor was just try­ing to “cover the mate­r­ial.” (How many times have YOU used this line?)

The fact is, more content does not produce more competencies. Information overload can produce confusion, anxiety, and indecision. It does NOT help students transfer learning into the real world.

Training Rule: “Less is More”

Identify the most important pieces of content. Spend training time to ensure that participants can process the information and apply it to real-world situations.

Here is a short list of instruc­tional strate­gies you can use to bring your lesson’s con­tent alive:

  • Dis­cus­sions
  • Sur­veys
  • Con­tests
  • Case stud­ies
  • Drills
  • Reflec­tive writing
  • Mind maps
  • Jig­saws
  • Brain­storm­ing
  • Role-plays
  • Sim­u­la­tions

The moral is: By trying to “cover all the material,” you do just that—cover up what’s really important.

What Separates Great Trainers From the Merely “OK?”

istock_000009219951xsmall4-300x214Many training participants would respond,”Great trainers make the learning easy and fun.” If probed further, they might mention the use of engaging training activities, or the trainer’s personal style.

But most won’t be able to identify an important action that differentiates expert trainers. This action is subtle and powerful. It helps lubricate the session and increases learner retention. Though mostly invisible to the untrained eye, it truly separates the “Greats” from the “OK’s.”

What is this seemingly magic characteristic of great training? It’s the use of transitions.

What are Transitions?

Transitions are verbal checkpoints. They connect disparate pieces of material and move the session forward. In using transitions, the trainer operates much like the pilot of a plane: “We’ve just gotten a good look at the Colorado River. Next, we’ll be flying over Hoover Dam.”

This verbal framing helps the participants’ brains organize all the new content they’re receiving. It also readies them to process new input.

What do Transitions Look Like?

Transitions typically have two parts, the summary and the transition statement.

  • Summaries reiterate, check for, or test key points.
  • Transitions move the training from one stage to the next.

Here are three examples of effective transitions.

A.  “We’ve just introduced (reviewed, talked about, etc.) ___________.

“Now, let’s move on to_____________.”

B.   “We’ve just reviewed ___________.  What are the _______, ___________, _____________?”

“Next, we’ll take a look at ____________.”

C. “Each of you has demonstrated that you can _____________. Now, you will have the opportunity to ________________.”

By building in transitions like these, the trainer makes the whole session flow better. There is a built-in silkiness, fluidity, and logic between chunks of content. And best of all, the trainer has the opportunity to test for participants’ understanding before moving to the next issue.

Try using a few well-thought-out transitions between modules in your next training session. You’ll be amazed at how much more smoothly the class goes,  and how much more the participants retain.

Can You Hear Me Now? Three Tips to Rise Above the Crowd

istock_000004487061xsmall3-201x300WOW, the pressure on public speakers is great. Speakers and audiences realize that PowerPoint won’t save anyone anymore. The focus now shines on YOU more than ever before. How can you be heard above the crowd?

1.  Do your homework.

What are your audience’s needs, wants, anxieties, biases, “personality?” What history do people bring into the room? What do you need to know to ensure that your message fits this audience?

Presenters who don’t ask these questions are like basketball players trying to dunk in the dark. All they can do is hope for the best.

2.  Raise your fitness level.

Quality presentations demand energy. You owe it to your audience to exude vitality. To increase your energy and vitality, you must build your physical endurance outside of speaking situations.

It really doesn’t matter how what size you are. It does matter that you increase cardiovascular fitness in your everyday life. Do whatever turns you on, from walking the dog faster to taking up some scary and exciting new sport.

3.  Start with the end in mind.

Always ask yourself: “What do I want to this presentation to achieve?” Don’t move ahead to organize your presentation until the answer satisfies you.

Yes, audiences expect more from speakers these days. But you can rise to the challenge–and rise above the crowd–simply by integrating these tips into your life as a speaker.

The “Intensified You:” Key to Giving a Great Presentation

guila-workshopWhen people describe the best speaker they’ve ever seen, the word “energy” always comes up. What are the secrets of exuding energy, vitality, the life force, as a speaker?

Be Big

Regardless of what size you are, take up more room. Become the “Intensified You.” Practice in front of a mirror:

  • Stand up straight.
  • Use your arms and hands to create space around your body.
  • Pump up the volume in your voice. Try saying, “Hello! My name is…” in a healthy and robust voice.
  • Pour yourself in. Be 100% present.

Practice “being big” before you get in front of a group!

Come Alive in the Magic Circle

Once you stand up and speak, you step into the Magic Circle. This is your space to shine. This little patch of earth is your Real Estate—so own it. Show what you’ve practiced-be big, take up room, and pour the energy on.

When you step out of the Magic Circle, you can relax. You no longer have to take up space…you can go home and “be little” as you watch TV. But you owe it to your audience to shine when you’re in the Magic Circle.

Energy is Key

Your ability to exude energy plays a huge role in your success as a speaker. Just try “pumping it up” a little in your next presentation, and you’ll experience a true difference.

Read more articles about Presentation Skills. Learn about Guila Muir’s Presentation Skills Workshops.

Guila Muir is the premiere trainer of trainers, facilitators, and presenters on the West Coast of the United States. Since 1994, she has helped thousands of professionals improve their training, facilitation, and presentation skills. Find out how she can help transform you from a boring expert to a great presenter:


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