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One thing: The art and science of meaningful change

Instead of endless New Year's resolutions, try doing one thing better. Here's how to apply that to presentations and public speaking.

7 min read


Public speaking

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In the new year, our thoughts naturally turn toward the future. If you’re looking to grow your team, organization, or business, you’ve likely made a list of 2019 goals. And if you’re looking to grow on a personal level, you’ve likely also thought of a New Year’s resolution (or 10).

Having goals is important for improvement, no doubt. But there is an art and a science to making meaningful change. While it’s tempting to think of all the things we could change or would like to improve, it’s often better to focus our attention on just one thing.

The same is true when it comes to improving business presentation skills. Whether you need to create a new presentation or refresh one you will be giving again in 2019, it is easy to get overwhelmed or lost in the weeds. But if you return to one thing you can do to elevate your skills, you will find your ground. Let me explain further.

The art and science of making meaningful change

Consider New Year’s resolutions as a case in point. We all have that friend who vows each year to give up sugar, exercise every day, stop eating fast food, save an extra $500 per month and pay down debt. What happens when our New Year’s resolution balloons to a laundry list of items we’d like to “fix” about ourselves?

For some, a long list can be overwhelming and lead to paralysis. For others, having so many items on the list can bring on apathy because they already foresee failure.  It can be hard to know where to start! Even those who set out with resolve may find a relapse in one area can lead to such a feeling of defeat that they give up entirely. Others attempt to make changes in several areas of life and become a jack of all trades, master of none. They may see some changes, but never fully accomplish any of their goals.

What’s the solution?

  • Choose one thing you want to focus on. And make sure there’s something in it for you!
  • Make sure it is specific and measurable. For example, when it comes to giving a powerhouse presentation, focus on clarifying your core message, that one simple sentence or phrase that summarizes the essence of the presentation.   
  • Break down your one thing into “bite-sized” pieces and focus on taking one “bite” at a time.

When we focus on the tangible and immediate gains we get from making even small changes, we have a greater chance of success. Believe it or not, how we think about our setbacks can make a difference when it comes to achieving our goals. So, don’t beat yourself up for every little mistake!

Often the simplest things make all the difference

Whether your goal is to lose weight or give a presentation that will have wholesale distributors clamoring to be the first to stock your latest product, it’s often the simplest things that make all the difference.

In the run-up to presenting to buyers or giving a pep talk to community leaders, you probably spend most of your time thinking about content. Do the numbers support the narrative you want your audience to remember? Is your messaging clear, consistent, and captivating?

This makes sense. As the expert called upon to speak on this topic, you know you need to deliver on content. But have you also considered simpler aspects that can cause all that carefully crafted content to be lost in translation?

Presentation style can make or break a high-stakes business presentation. I have seen something as simple as stepping into a new pair of shoes totally shift the energy and presence of a professional preparing to present.

In cases like this one, simple things are just that: simple things we hardly even notice but can be easily fixed. In other cases, however, simple things can reveal something deeper.

Here are a few examples:

1. Maybe your one thing is to eliminate the filler words from your speech or presentation. Those little “ums,” “ahs,” “likes,” and “rights?” do more than fill the silence. They produce a psychological response both in our audience members and in ourselves. When we use a lot of filler words, we convey a lack of confidence. Your audience hears each of those little words as you questioning yourself, and you hear it, too.

Tip: Get comfortable replacing those filler words with a pause and you’ll project confidence because you’ll feel more confident and in control.

2. Perhaps you tend to speak very quickly. When we get excited or have a lot of important information to convey in a short period of time, we may unknowingly pick up the pace in our speech. In addition to making it harder for those listening to comprehend our message, talking quickly can erode credibility. We naturally associate fast talking with the “boundless enthusiasm” of youth.

Tip: If you slow down and go deep, rather than trying to rattle off everything you know, you will come off as strategically thoughtful instead of boundlessly enthusiastic.

3. Maybe you wander and pace around too much when you’re giving a professional presentation. While moving deliberately and using the entire space when you’re presenting can engage your audience, if you appear to wander, you come across as nervous. Any type of awkward movements can distract your audience. Explore the deeper reason behind your pacing. Perhaps you feel inclined to move because you have excess energy built up in your body and you don’t feel grounded with all those eyes on you.

Tip: Think about how you can use your energy more productively. For example, take the time before your presentation to circulate and get to know your audience. Introduce yourself, shake hands, and ask individuals about their interest in your topic and expectations for your presentation. Walking around and greeting colleagues will help you burn off nervous energy.

The toughest thing about changing simple things is that they often escape our notice. For this reason, it may be helpful to think in terms of what might enhance your presentation. It may be that you discover nothing big needs to change. All you really need is to tap into the one thing that will boost your confidence and ensure that you are “on” when it comes time for that high-stakes presentation.

As you prepare for the presentations and leadership moments coming in 2019, keep your mind focused on the simpler aspects. You may be surprised at what you discover about the art and science of change. And who knows? What you discover might even help you succeed in keeping that New Year’s resolution.


Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor 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

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