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Moving up the value chain of public speaking: Expert, interpreter or catalyst?

7 min read


What’s your goal when you step up to speak? Winning that next big piece of business, getting that hard-earned promotion, or becoming known as a mover and shaker? To achieve results, your presentation has to provide the value your listeners want and expect. If it doesn’t, your all-important goal may slip through your fingers.

Does your approach to speaking add the value your listeners need?

Developing an effective presentation is akin to the value chain in business: a series of activities performed to deliver a valuable product or service. What activities do you perform to deliver a valuable presentation? One of the most important ones is choosing the appropriate speaking approach to accomplish your goal. Depending on your skills, attitude and preparation, you might speak as an Expert, an Interpreter or a Catalyst. Consider these speaking approaches and the value each one offers for listeners.

Want to learn how you can?


In the series “Moving Up The Value Chain of Speaking Approaches: Expert, Interpreter or Catalyst?” you’ll learn how to choose the appropriate approach for each speaking opportunity and how to gain the skills you need to speak effectively as an expert, an interpreter and a catalyst.

This post, we focus on speaking like an Expert.

When to take the Expert approach

If you need to present information about a topic that’s intimately familiar to you, it may be a good opportunity to adopt the Expert approach. If your presentation doesn’t need to be interactive and your audience is a like-minded group with a similar level of knowledge and interest in the topic, you may find the Expert approach is ideal. This type of presentation is often the cultural norm in business and scientific communities.

Review the following characteristics of the Expert presentation and consider how your opportunity compares.

Presentation goal: You need to communicate facts and expertise about a given subject efficiently.

Who’s driving: Often, your boss or someone else requests you to provide information to a group. They may or may not provide specifics, and you may find yourself having to determine what to cover.

Audience and development: In an ideal Expert environment, you’ll be speaking with others in your field or people of like mind who want efficient delivery of crucial information. Usually Expert presentations are data-driven, including:

  • Internal reporting or project status meetings
  • Poster presentations at a trade show
  • Financial, medical, engineering or scientific presentations

Point of view: As an Expert, your goal is typically to accurately share your knowledge and experience.

Content and message: The presentation’s core message is based on facts and logic. The content may include statistics and figures, scientific research data and/or product characteristics. Personal stories and anecdotes are not called for here; the focus is on clarity, efficiency and accuracy, rather than any kind of interpretation.

Build these skills to be an effective expert

Using the framework of Professionally Speaking’s C.O.D.E. process, the following are the critical skills to be an effective Expert:

Clarify your content. As the Expert, you’ve got it all in your head. The trick is to use your critical thinking to determine how much and precisely what your audience needs to know. If you do a data dump without attempting to hone your core message and content, you run the risk of overwhelming your listeners with too much information. Be sure to focus your message on one core takeaway message. Can you describe your core message in one simple sentence?

For more information about how to avoid information overload, see The “Curse” of Overthinking Your Presentation.

Organize your information. Since the Expert approach depends on logic, arrange your points into a logical schematic. You may want to storyboard your presentation with a core message that you support with three main points. Then provide evidence for these key points. Continue to refine by eliminating unnecessary detail and anything that distracts from the core message.

To help omit unnecessary information, ask yourself, “so what?” or, “what do my listeners absolutely need to know?” as you review your specifics.

Develop your media and presentation aids. Expert presentations are frequently PowerPoint-centric, and often that’s the expectation in business and scientific environments. Sometimes the slide deck is both a visual aid and a take-away reference document (sometimes called a “slideument”). As such, many include too much information. Here’s how to avoid overwhelming listeners with a slide deck:

  • Keep the text size no smaller than 30-point type
  • Edit out any words that are not needed
  • Use visuals that help listeners grasp concepts
  • Avoid using the slide show as your script
  • Create callouts (circles, boxes, and highlights) to indicate key information so that you can avoid using a laser pointer

Express yourself. When choosing this approach, you may find that the audience cares more about your credibility and accuracy than a personal connection. Therefore, more sophisticated techniques of audience engagement are not as crucial here. However, employing the basics of competent delivery will make the message loud and clear. Use effective:

  • Eye contact
  • Gestures
  • Posture and movement
  • Vocal volume, pace and rhythm

For more tips about how to use delivery skills to express yourself, see “Going Live: Tips for First Time Corporate Speakers.”

Caution for the Expert

Remember: less sophisticated Experts may make the mistake of inundating listeners with too much information. If you hear a speaker say, “I know this is a lot of information, but …” or “I know you can’t read this slide, but let me tell you what it says …” then you’ve experienced a less-than-effective Expert.

Be careful when you have a mixed audience where people have different levels of interest and understanding about the subject. In this case, use words everyone understands — often called “plain language.”

Are you an effective Expert?

Before you present, ask yourself the following questions to make sure you’ll communicate what your listener’s need:

  • What am I providing that the audience can’t get from reading a report?
  • What does my audience need to know?
  • What is my core message?
  • What are the main points supporting my core message?
  • Have I included too many details?

As you move up into positions of leadership in your field, you’ll naturally find yourself needing to expand beyond the Expert role. Your speaking opportunities will require more than a simple presentation of the facts: you’ll need to develop the Interpreter and Catalyst skills in order to influence and inspire.

Don’t miss the next installment in our series: “Moving Up the Value Chain: The Interpreter.”

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication adviser specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at and

Sharon McMillen Cannon serves as clinical associate professor of management and corporate communication at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has a passion for teaching public speaking, business writing, intercultural communication, and the effective use of social media. Find her on Twitter.

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