Life’s a Pitch: The Essential Guide to Presentations

by Terry Ward

Terry Ward uses a broad definition of the word presentation. “Every time you want to persuade, motivate, or inspire, you are making a presentation… The spoken word is a persuasive media… If you want to move people to action, speak to them.”

“The most important aspect of being an effective presenter is your state of mind… We are talking about adopting a state of mind that is listener focused…The more you disappear into your message, the more your audience will trust and respect you… The speakers we remember most are the ones who talked to us in plain English and with sincerity and simplicity. They were authentic in their intentions to bring value to the listeners.”

A recurring theme in this book is to keep things simple and concise. “Present only information that is CORE—concise, organized, relevant, and essential—to your listener… Make it simple and easy to understand… In fact all four essential elements of communication—behavior, content, interaction, and state of mind—benefit from a focus on keeping it simple.”

“Most presenters lose their listeners within the first fifteen to thirty seconds of their presentations.” The author advises using his CAB formula (conviction, action, benefits) to structure a strong opening.

“The content is the meat and potatoes, and the various elements of your delivery are the SPICE that makes it taste delicious.” SPICE stands for stories, pictures, involvement, comparisons, and examples… “Make your story brief—no more than a minute.” Ward cautions against “death by data” in a presentation. “Information is best shared in written form.”

Ward advises speakers not to use their slide deck as cue cards. “My notes are for me. My visuals are for my listeners… Simply learn to rely more on your trigger words and notes as your primary bases of support… John Medina tells us in his book Brain Rules that retention goes from 10 percent to 65 percent when we use pictures… If you have fewer visuals, they have greater impact… As soon as you reveal a visual aid, pause for a few seconds, giving the listeners time to digest what is on the slide.”

The author gives advice on some key behavioral skills:

  • Voice—“People can tell how you feel about something simply by the tone of your voice… The simple rule is: lower tones denote conviction and authority, upper tones denote enthusiasm and commitment… We have to make sure our voices do not betray our words.” Ward also writes about proper breathing and vocal projection. “You want to train your body to talk and breathe, talk and breathe. Not talk, talk, talk, gasp for breath.”
  • Eyes—“Eye connection is the single most important skill in any communication situation… When you use eye connection effectively, you will project confidence and credibility and keep your listeners’ attention and it will actually calm you down… Work the room randomly. Don’t go down the line from one person to the next like a water sprinkler… And include everyone—don’t just pick the people in authority or the people you like.”
  • Movement—“If you are standing up, you want to move in order to engage your listeners… However, please do not pace. Pacing indicates nervousness and will drive your listeners crazy. Move toward someone, and when you get there speak to the individuals in that area for a minute or two before you move again.”

“How you handle challenging questions can often make or break an effective presentation.” Ward says to use the ARC Model: Acknowledge, Respond, and Connect with others. “By acknowledging, not agreeing with, the question, you will make the questioner feel heard… When you are finished with your response, you may want to bridge to some positive element of your presentation that you want to reinforce… Remember that questions are part of your presentation, so stay in control and make sure you continue to engage your listeners… Give the questioner the first one or two sentences and then look at someone else and give him or her a sentence… Try not to end your answer with the questioner. This makes it look as though you are seeking approval for your answer.”

Overall, the author comes across as an experienced speaker sharing sound advice. I have two general criticisms. Several times he writes that “studies have shown” without citing a specific study or researcher, leaving the impression that he is referring to hearsay. Second, a good copyeditor could have improved this book.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book.

Ward, Terry. Life’s a Pitch: The Essential Guide to Presentations. 2014. Buy from