Good bye "Past Tense," Hello "Present Perfect"

For someone who’s 5’6″ and weighs about 120 pounds, Christine McKay sure knows how to make her presence felt in an Aldrich classroom. From the start of her presentation entitled “Presentations, Nerves, and High Heels. Mastering Your Delivery Style,” the former founder of a contract negotiations firm practiced what she preached and captivated her audience from start to finish.

This event, organized by the Women’s Students Association and the Public Speaking & Negotiations club, was intended especially for the RCs to give them a head start on preparing for interview season. Judging from the response and the feedback that followed, the tips they received were valuable indeed.
To start off, Christine asked her audience how they felt about giving presentations. Many students shared that they were nervous before giving presentations, feared saying something wrong, and preferred to present to strangers than to peers. In response, Christine described one of the most important rules of public speaking: The Presentation Is Not About You. It is about your audience, and understanding how to keep them engaged, regardless of whether it’s an audience of one (for instance, during an interview) or of ten thousand in an auditorium. And in order to do so, it is important to do the groundwork ahead of time to understand what makes them tick. To quote Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Before the presentation starts, speak with a few audience members seated in the front row to ask what they’re expecting and what they would like to hear about. When the interviewer asks “Tell me about yourself”, it’s okay to ask them back “well what exactly would you like to know about me?” to ensure that you’ll be giving them the relevant information.

A graduate of HBS herself, Christine has worked in a variety of functions and industries in the past but is currently a senior manager in the Mergers & Acquisitions Strategy Practice at Deloitte Consulting, where she gets to put her presentation skills to use everyday. However, even though she’s already a public speaking expert and is an Adjunct Professor of Negotiations for Bentley College, Christine makes sure to keep improving her skills by taking classes relevant to public speaking such as impromptu acting lessons that teach you flexibility in your presentation. She encouraged the students to videotape themselves and observe how they use their bodies, how they use the room and how they use their voice.

One of the things that surprised students the most about Christine’s presentation was that she did not use Powerpoint at all. (How can anyone be in consulting and not use Powerpoint!) In her opinion, Powerpoint was a “deliverable” and not a presentation. Christine’s idea of the best way to give a presentation was with a flipchart or a white board, so you can talk your audience through simple concepts rather than overloading them with charts and diagrams in 16 point font. She encouraged her audience to scrutinize each slide before a presentation and ask, “Does everything in this slide communicate something to my client?” and if the answer is no, throw it out. “I know a CEO who throws people out of his office if they come in with anything more than two slides. He just doesn’t have the time!”

Finally Christine closed with a handful of practical tips:

If you are comfortable walking as you talk, use a “Triangle Approach” for walking around the center of a room during the delivery of a presentation. Start at the top of the triangle at the introduction, then take two steps forward when you move into the main body. At the first main point you make, move forward again to one leg of the triangle. At the second point, move across to the other leg of the triangle, and at the last point, move back to the top. Then when you deliver the final conclusion, take one more step forward.

For women with long hair, consider putting it up in a ponytail so that it’s not distracting.
If you wear glasses and are frequently pushing them up your nose, consider getting contact lenses.

Practice talking with your hands firmly by your sides. This is actually very unnatural and uncomfortable to do, so practice it often, even when you’re talking to your friends.

And if you get nervous before presentations, write out “I AM CONFIDENT!” on a piece of paper and read it out loud! It works!

Hopefully these tips will come in useful as the RCs get ready to put their best foot forward as recruiting season draws near.

January 28, 2008
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