Volunteering as an Ambassador Manual

Who is this manual for?

This manual has been written for people who would like to be a CNIB Ambassador, telling their story – and the story of CNIB – to groups in the community. The Ambassador program plays a key role for CNIB, by helping people understand what it is to be blind today and spreading the word about the programs and services offered by CNIB so that no one accepts vision loss without help. While the manual has been written for CNIB volunteers, it can be used by anyone who wants to prepare themselves for public speaking in order to educate the public about a cause that matters to them.

This manual is available as a WORD document at the bottom of the page. We have done this to make the material as accessible as possible - and to allow people from different organizations to be able to adapt and tailor the manual for their needs. If you do so, please provide an acknowledgement that CNIB created the original document.

We’d like to thank everyone who made it possible for us to offer this manual in accessible, alternative formats - our braille room volunteers for creating braille manuals, our library volunteers for producing audio copies and Jim Parkin for formatting large print versions.

To request an accessible (braille, audio, large print) copy
, please email ontario.comms@cnib.ca.


Providing input into this document was a Working Group of volunteers and CNIB staff, including volunteers Betty Meacher, Brian Bibeault, Christopher Moore, Joe Eydt and Owen Parker as well as CNIB staff Jill Jukes, Kerri St. Jean, Mena DiRuscio, Rose Jobin-White and Shannon Simpson. Our sincere thanks go out to all of them.

Special thanks to Susan Ellis, founder of Energize, Inc. who provided valuable insights, and to the Strengthening Communities Through Volunteer Program Development Core Project Members – Jennifer Spencer, Kat Clarke, Marilyn McGale and Susan Cheeseman (all of CNIB).


Ambassador Program Overview

  • Ambassadors are people who have a personal CNIB story to tell.
  • Ambassadors are clients (people who are blind or partially sighted, and who have benefited from CNIB programs and services), friends or family of clients, donors or volunteers.
  • Ambassadors believe in the CNIB mission and are passionate about the work we do.
    • CNIB mission statement: To ensure all Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunity to fully participate in life.
  • Ambassadors make an impact. They speak from the heart and from experience about the challenges and successes of living with vision loss, about including and accommodating people with vision loss, and about the difference CNIB makes in the lives of people who are blind or partially sighted.

As an Ambassador, you will be empowered to put our cause and our clients in the spotlight by giving presentations on the needs, experiences and issues faced by people who are blind or partially sighted. Presentations are usually about 15 minutes long and are based on each Ambassador’s personal story. Audiences can be as few as five or as many as 500 people.

Ambassadors also volunteer at our information tables/booths at community events in order to raise awareness of CNIB and the spectrum of blindness.
Ambassadors’ audiences include:
  • Seniors’ groups
  • High school and elementary school classes
  • Community groups
  • Corporate groups
  • Event attendees
  • Healthcare students and vision health professionals

The Ambassador program promotes social inclusion by raising awareness, changing perceptions and inspiring action. Ambassadors’ presentations have four desired outcomes:
  1. Audience members gain knowledge and understanding of the needs, experiences and issues faced by people who are blind or partially sighted.
  2. Audience members learn things they can do to accommodate and ensure accessibility for people who are blind or partially sighted.
  3. Audience members expand our reach by committing to tell at least two people one thing they learned from the presentation.
  4. Audience members who are potential clients, or who know potential clients, request further information on CNIB programs and services. 

We receive requests for Ambassadors from all across Ontario. Geography and travel are considerations when assigning Ambassadors to presentations. You will have all the information about the location and travel arrangements before you decide whether to accept or decline an assignment.
Travel arrangements will be agreed upon with the host and may include:
  • The Ambassador choosing to travel independently to the site
  • The Ambassador being met by the host at a bus stop or other transit stop to be guided to the site from there
  • The host offering to cover return taxi fare for the Ambassador
  • CNIB providing a volunteer driver to accompany the Ambassador

The Ambassador role, for the most part, is a “set your own schedule” opportunity. You will finalize the presentation day and time with the host, based on mutual availability. Again, you will never be required to accept an assignment that does not fit with your schedule. Ambassador presentations could happen on weekdays, evenings or weekends.

  • The CNIB Ambassador Program Coordinator (APC) will communicate about the Ambassador Program to potential groups.
  • The APC will receive requests for presentations. In addition to responses from program marketing efforts, this may include internal requests – for example, to a new CNIB Board or Committee, or to attendees at a CNIB fundraising event.
  • The APC will have the host fill out the Ambassador Presentation Request Form. This will capture all the information, including: the type and size of audience, their goals for the presentation, the location, preferred dates and times, transportation arrangements, and the name and contact info of the host (your designated contact).
  • Based on geography and availability, the APC will identify which Ambassadors may be interested in the presentation and will send them the information.
  • Ambassadors are free to accept or decline assignments. If you feel you need more information, you are welcome to contact the host with clarifying questions.
  • Once you decide to accept an assignment, advise the APC. Then contact the host to finalize arrangements: date and time, transportation, etc.
  • Once the presentation is complete, you must fill out a short "Presentation Outcomes - Ambassador’s Report":
    • Name of the group and host
    • Date, time and location of the presentation
    • Size of the audience
    • How successful you feel the presentation was in terms of meeting the program goals
    • Any questions, issues, problems or concerns that arose from the presentation
    • Any other general comments
    • This report will be available as an online questionnaire through Survey Monkey, or you can copy and paste the template from your Ambassador's Toolkit into an email, include your responses, and send it to the APC.
  • The host, and in some cases, the audience members, will also be asked for feedback on the presentation by completing the "Presentation Outcomes - Host’s Report":
    • How successful was the presentation in meeting the program goals?
    • Do they have any constructive feedback to help Ambassadors improve their presentation skills?
    • Overall, how satisfied were they with the presentation?
Important: If you are not prepared to receive this kind of feedback, the Ambassador role may not be for you.

We need to ask these questions in order to evaluate program outcomes, to determine whether the Ambassador Program is achieving its specific overall goals.

Feedback received will be shared with Ambassadors when it is constructive and provides Ambassadors with opportunities to improve their presentation skills.

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CNIB's Commitment to You

As an Ambassador, you can be assured CNIB will:
  • Provide you with comprehensive orientation and training
  • Provide the support and supervision required for your role
  • Provide you with appropriate materials to assist you in promoting CNIB
  • Welcome your feedback on the program and provide constructive feedback to you on your presentations
  • Welcome you and treat you respectfully as a valuable and important representative of CNIB
  • Provide quick and courteous service when responding to presentation requests or inquiries
  • Recognize your contributions
  • Respect your privacy - your personal information is kept confidential according to CNIB’s Privacy Policy.
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Elements of a Presentation

Presentations usually last between 15-30 minutes, and you should leave at least 15 minutes for questions. Therefore, most speaking engagements will be booked for between half an hour and an hour, depending on the audience and other factors.

You can and should tailor presentations to specific audiences. Ideally your presentation to a group of eight-year-olds will be different from your presentation to a group of 80-year-olds. There will, of course, be exceptions when you are given more or less time. There may also be times when you are asked to deliver a custom presentation on a specific topic. Each Ambassador should develop a standard or base presentation they can build on.
Your base presentation should include these five elements:
  1. Your personal story
  2. Your CNIB story
  3. The CNIB story
  4. Accommodation and accessibility
  5. A call to action

Element #1 – Your personal story

Your audience is curious. They want to know how you became blind or partially sighted.

If you were born with vision loss, they want to know how your parents managed, how you learned, your experience at school, choosing a career, working, living and thriving.

If you experienced vision loss later in life – they want to know that too. How did it start? What were the symptoms? How did you feel? How did you manage? How did you get from there to standing here in front of them today confidently and independently?

They want to know about a “day in the life”. Describe how you accomplish everyday tasks that sighted people take for granted. How do you use a computer? How do you read? How do you watch TV? How do you get around? How do you make dinner?

What are the biggest challenges and issues you overcame? What issues continue to confront you?
Important: Your story is personal. If you are not comfortable sharing your personal story openly and honestly, and answering questions that may arise, then the Ambassador role may not be for you.

But if you are comfortable, the impact on your audience will be immediate and profound. Because you have an amazing story to tell.

Element #2 – Your CNIB story

Chances are that most people in the audience don’t know much about what CNIB does. This is your opportunity to tell them how CNIB helped you. Once they know that, they will remember and may pass the information along when someone in their life could benefit from CNIB's help.
  • What services did you receive?
  • What skills did you learn?
  • How did you become confident and independent?
Everyone’s CNIB story is different, because services are tailored to each individual’s needs. Some of the elements that might be part of your story include:
  • Emotional and practical support: counselling, adjustment to vision loss groups, other peer support groups, the Vision Mate program
  • Skills training: learning to travel independently using a white cane, learning skills for daily living, learning to maximize the vision you have using low vision techniques, aids or devices, learning to use adaptive technology (e.g. JAWS, Zoomtext, iPhone, etc.)
  • Social and recreational opportunities: camps, leisure programs, social groups
Element #3a – CNIB's Programs and Services

Ideally, there are three things an adult audience should take away about CNIB. They are easy to remember because they consist of the three CNIB pillars that provide programs and services to meet the needs of three different client groups.
  1. Rehab: Post-vision loss rehab therapy is an essential service, funded primarily by the provincial government, that allows a person who is blind or partially sighted to restore abilities that are critical to their safety, mobility and independence. It involves personalized training in the use of sight enhancement and sight substitution skills, strategies and assistive devices. It helps people of all ages in the following areas:
    • Spatial and directional awareness without visual reference points
    • Safe travel, use of mobility aids such as white canes, and way-finding
    • Essential self-management and personal care skills
    • Environmental modifications to enhance safety and daily function
    • Reading and writing with vision loss, including braille literacy
    • Use of optical and non-optical devices, and other adaptive technology
  2. Foundation: CNIB’s Foundation offers services that pick up where the Rehab programs end. These focus on social inclusion and improving the quality of life of people with vision loss over and above the rehab therapy they have received. Services include everything from peer support and public awareness programs like the Ambassadors, to camps like the one we have at Lake Joseph in Muskoka where people with vision loss can enjoy nature and outdoor activities. The Foundation works on two levels:
    • Working with external audiences to educate communities about the changes we should be making to have an inclusive society where people with vision loss feel welcomed and safe.
    • Working with our clients to help them gain the self-confidence they need to live fully and demand their rights, whether it is in the school system or in the workforce – or anywhere.
    Too many people with vision loss live lives of isolation. The Foundation's goal is to put an end to that.
  3. Deafblind Services: Imagine what it would be like to be born deaf and gradually lose your sight as well. Or to slowly lose both senses, with no way to stop the decline. CNIB Ontario has a pillar devoted to helping people who are deafblind to improve their quality of life. Most of the people we help have at least a degree of sight or hearing, but their ability to communicate is severely limited. We provide intervenors who serve as “eyes and ears” to assist clients in day-to-day tasks and larger goals. Our intervenors are funded by the government to work with clients, one-on-one, serving as translators at doctor’s appointments, taking them shopping, assisting them with school and job applications, etc. The Deafblind pillar also provides clients with instruction regarding literacy skills and communication methods for interaction with others.
For more information about CNIB, please see the many fact sheets on our Ontario website.

Element #3b – The CNIB Story for a younger audience

Ideally, children will take away one message about CNIB:

CNIB helps people who are blind or partially sighted learn skills and gain confidence so they can fully participate in life. What does this mean? Think about everything you’ve done today – getting dressed, making your bed, eating breakfast, walking to school, playing with your friends, paying attention in class, reading a book, writing a story…everything. Now, imagine that you couldn’t see. Can you imagine how you would do all those things? That’s what CNIB does – teaches people how to do all the stuff they need to do. People who are blind or partially sighted do almost everything you do – they just do some things differently.

Element #4 – Accommodation and Accessibility

Part 1: Individual Interactions
Now’s your chance! Your audience wants to know: “What should I do when I meet a person with vision loss? What should I say? Should I try to help them cross the street?”
You could start with a couple of anecdotes – an interaction you had that was less than successful (great opportunity to use humor here!) and an interaction you had when someone was helpful, accommodating and inclusive.

Share your “top five” tips for successful interactions. These may be different for everyone! You can provide a more complete print or emailed list (see "Guidelines for accommodating a CNIB Ambassador who is blind or partially sighted in your Ambassador's Toolkit for ideas) but for now the audience wants to hear what is important to you. These may include (or maybe not! Choose your top five):
  • Never assume someone can’t do something.
  • If it looks like I need help, it’s okay to offer. Say something like, “Hi, I’m Joe. Do you need assistance with anything?” I might politely decline – that’s okay too.
  • Be descriptive. Don’t point. Don’t say “it’s right over there”. Say “keep going the same direction you are going and it’s the second door on the left.”
  • Tell me your name so I know who you are. It can be hard to recognize voices out of context, or when there’s a lot of background noise. Don’t assume I’ll know who you are!
  • Leave things where they belong. Push in chairs. Leave doors all the way open or all the way closed. Close cupboards! Don’t leave things on the hallway floor or sidewalk.
Part 2: The Bigger Picture – Interacting with Society
It’s not just individuals. There are successes and challenges with institutions, businesses and public spaces. Provide a couple of anecdotes here too. For example, if you’re a transit user, you could talk about some of the improvements your local transit system has made over the years to improve accessibility. For a challenge – are there websites you can’t access? Forms not available in alternate formats? Commercial or public spaces where design makes it challenging – or even dangerous – for you to travel independently?

Your audience will be interested to hear of any advocacy efforts you have undertaken to ensure inclusiveness and equal access. Does your favourite restaurant now have a braille menu? Did a local shopkeeper move his sidewalk sandwich board to ensure a clear path? These don’t have to be huge, monumental, societal changes. They need to have made a difference for you, in your community.

Element #5 – Calls to Action

Every presentation you deliver should end with a few calls to action.

At the end of every presentation:
  • Tell them the goal of the Ambassador program is to raise awareness, and that they can help achieve this goal. Ask them to commit to telling at least two people the most interesting thing they learned today.
  • Tell them that CNIB is here to help, and that you don’t need to be totally blind to come to CNIB; in fact, 90 per cent of our clients have some vision. Ask them to think about whether they know someone who might benefit from CNIB services. If so – ask them to commit to telling that person about CNIB.
Other calls to action that you may choose to include:

Education: Invite the audience to learn more about vision loss, CNIB, and/or the experiences, issues and accomplishments of people who are blind or partially sighted. They can start with the website cnib.ca.

Experience: Invite the audience to challenge themselves to accomplish everyday tasks with their eyes closed. Inform them that the purpose of this activity is not to “know what it feels like to be blind” which of course can’t be done in a few seconds or minutes. The purpose is to get them to begin to think about doing things in a different way. You could challenge them to:
  • Choose their clothes and get dressed in the morning
  • Find a glass and pour themselves a glass of juice, milk or water
  • Count the cash in their wallet
  • Find their toothbrush and toothpaste and brush their teeth
Remind them – the goal is to think about how they would do this if they couldn’t see, or couldn’t see very well. How could they organize their wallet to be able to identify bills? How could they use tactile markings to identify their toothbrush and toothpaste? Their clothes? The stuff in the fridge or cupboard?

Impact: Chances are, at the end of your presentation you will have a captive audience of impressed and motivated people who are full of knowledge and inspired to make a difference in the lives of people in their community who are blind or partially sighted. Tell them they can make an impact by making a donation, or becoming a volunteer.

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Creating Your Presentation

There are two resources in the toolkit to help you begin to craft your presentation:

Use the Presentation Outcomes Worksheet to brainstorm information and anecdotes you can include in presentations to ensure the program goals (awareness, accommodation, expanded reach and outreach to potential clients) are met.

Use the Presentation Template to capture what you want to say for each of the five presentation elements. As an Ambassador, you may give presentations to a wide variety of audiences, over many months or years. So it’s a good idea to capture lots of options in each section, so you can continuously revise and renew your presentation.

Hint: A great starting point for your Presentation Template is to copy and paste your points on the Outcomes Worksheet into the relevant sections. Then add more content.

If you would like more information about CNIB, please see the many fact sheets on our Ontario website.

Sidebar: "It usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."
- Mark Twain

Think about the Best and the Worst

Think about presentations you’ve enjoyed and from which you’ve learned something. Think of what works in these presentations.

Maybe the presentation was efficient, got ‘right to the point’ and left you with valuable information; or the presentation amused you and then moved you to think. Maybe you’ve heard speeches that were downright inspiring, that made you want to change the way you do things - even change the world.

Think of the confidence of the speaker in those presentations.

Think of the role of energy and clarity in those presentations.

That energy and that clarity is no accident.

Inspired improvisation is possible, but the vast majority of ‘speeches that work’ begin with a speaker who has ‘done the work’ of organizing and preparing what he or she has to say. Having ‘done the work’:
  • the speaker is confident that the text is focused and is of value
  • the speaker is in control of the presentation, is ‘glad to be there’, is energized by the process
  • the speaker has practiced the speech, especially some of the key passages ‘out loud’
When it comes together in such a presentation, it’s a pleasure to listen.
Sense of Purpose; Sense of Self

Much is made of the ‘fear of public speaking’ and, rightly so, it is the number one fear after the fear of death. And there are physical actions that can help you relax before you’re “on” – stretching, deep breathing, staying centred and still. And ideally you should have an ‘edge’ of excitement going in, and use that adrenalin surge to bring energy to your words.

More importantly, if we can concentrate on our goal then we can know that some days we will be good and some days great, but regardless, we will have served the purpose. The stronger the sense of purpose, the easier it will be to present the information.

So what does bringing a Sense of Purpose to a presentation mean?
  • It means respect for the material you're about to present
  • Ask yourself: is the material of value? Should people know about it?
  • Does it represent worthwhile work done by good people?
  • Is there news here? Is there a message worth repeating?
  • If the message is worth repeating, realize that there is a real reason that you are there - you are standing up to present something of value.
  • It’s not “all about you”; you’re part of a process of bringing value to a listener. Let your information shine and you’ll shine as well.
Motivate yourself: bring A Sense of Purpose to what you have to say.

Why does a Sense of Self matter? It matters because the speech will work best if you’re convinced that you’re an appropriate person to be presenting this material. Given that this material has a reason for being, that it has purpose and value, ask yourself these questions:
  • Do I understand this material?
  • Do I think it's worth talking about – even being proud to talk about?
  • Do I think – in the right circumstances – I could speak about it well?
If you answer ‘yes’ three times, then welcome to the right circumstances: you are the right person to be delivering this material; you’re bringing the proper sense of purpose and a proper sense of yourself to the presentation.

What it takes is a positive attitude and a willingness to give your presentation the work it deserves. Don’t worry about making a ‘truly great speech’. Your audience isn’t expecting a master orator or a peerless entertainer. They just hope for a clear delivery of a message that’s worthwhile.

Be realistic; if you don’t do as well as you’d hoped, the world will not end. You’ll do better next time. Your public speaking skills improve with effort and practice – that is simple truth. So follow a process of preparation and be yourself. The audience will be grateful you took the trouble.

Body language

Some pointers on body language
  • Your posture should be upright, but not rigid. If you look comfortable, your audience feels comfortable. If you look sloppy, you’re showing disrespect to your message.
  • Stand with your feet about as far apart as your shoulders. That will give you a firm foundation and will loosen you up.
  • Never turn your back on your audience. If you aren't sure about how you are standing in relation to the audience, ask the audience on your right and left to say hello – that will help you orient yourself.
  • By all means use your hands to add emphasis to your message; it will free you up and give you energy. But don’t let it get to the point where it might be distracting and don’t point your finger at the crowd (it’s considered hostile behaviour).
  • Be aware of any nervous physical habits (drumming your fingers on the podium, jingling change in your pocket) and try to eliminate them. (Put a ring or a watch on a different finger/hand as a reminder. When you think of the ring on the wrong finger, it will remind you.)
  • Whether you can see the audience's faces or not, you can still make ‘eye contact’. Look where one person could be sitting while you complete a thought. Complete that thought directly to an individual in one part of the room, then move your eyes to another part of the room. One way to do this is to divide the audience into three or four zones. During the presentation, deliver (or finish) a complete thought to a person in each “zone”, then turn to a person in the next zone as you move on.
  • Nerves negatively affect your voice. Good physical conditioning and deep breathing affect your voice positively. Warm up by speaking out loud.
  • Just before you begin, take in a deep breath and let it out slowly until your lungs are empty.
  • If your chest is open and your head level, your shoulders are down and you’re breathing well, your voice is probably at its best.
  • Speak slowly to give people time to take in what you are saying. To learn about proper pacing, watch Peter Mansbridge on The National (CBC TV) or listen to CBC radio hosts – they take their time so the audience can follow them.
  • Breathe between phrases, not during them. Don’t be afraid to take a pause and to breathe deeply, then go on, as this indicates confidence and authority.
  • If you find you are uncomfortably "full of breath" during the speech, just take a moment to breath it all out.
  • Highlight key words on your text, then slow down and “punch them out” when it’s time to make the point.
  • You can be enthusiastic and truly connect with an audience. Nothing communicates like sincere enthusiasm.
Finally, remember to show that you feel a commitment to what you are saying. That commitment will energize you. And when you are organized, prepared and confident you can relax and enjoy presenting.

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Organizing and Preparation

Once you’ve agreed to speak, there are no real excuses for not being organized or prepared when you present the material.
  • Clear some time to organize and prepare – to think it through, to become comfortable with the logic of what you’re saying, and with the structure of your presentation.
  • Once you’ve completed a draft, rehearse – out loud – even if you are alone. Get used to hearing yourself saying these words. Never let the moment you get up to speak be ‘the first time’ you hear it.
If you organize and prepare early, you:
  • remove obstacles that will hurt your performance
  • give your thinking and writing a chance to evolve, become clearer
  • develop a comfort level with your material that can relax and energize you
Being organized means dealing with the physical preparation for the event – everything from what you wear, to ‘knowing the room’, from knowing how you’ll be introduced, to where you’ll sit before the presentation and where you will go afterwards.

If you’re organized, you’ll have a clear sense of the room in which you’re to speak (try to visit it ahead of time or when you first arrive if you can, walk around, visualize it filled with an audience, build your comfort level).
  • Know the room
  • Know who will be introducing you
  • Ask to stand where you will be presenting from before the session starts – make sure everything is where you need it – podium or chair/table to orient or stabilize yourself
You must also have a firm grasp of any technology involved– ask to test the sound system.
  • If you meet people before the event starts, feel free to introduce yourself “Hi – I am your speaker today and I am happy to be here"(smile)
  • Once you are ready to begin your speech, put your shoulders back, have your hands touching each other at stomach height in front of you. This will allow you to gesture comfortably with them.
  • It is always better to stand while giving a speech because it gives you more energy, but if you will be sitting, make sure you lean forward. It will make you feel and look more engaged and interested in what you are saying and in the people around you.
Getting organized also includes organizing yourself ahead of time

Make the decisions that work for you and your presentation.
  • You get to decide whether or not you have an energy reserve or if you’re tired and overbooked going into the presentation
  • You choose what you’ll wear (style, with comfort, is best)
  • You choose whether you arrive in plenty of time to settle in
Meeting the Needs of Different Audiences

Answer these questions:
  • Who will be in the audience and what will they expect from you?
    • Choose language, stories and examples that speak to them.
  • How will you be introduced?
    • Do you have a brief bio prepared? Is your job title easy to understand? Have you helped whoever is introducing you learn how to say your name?
  • Is a “Q&A” expected?
    • Have you thought through the questions your speech inspires? Don’t think, “I hope they don’t ask me that". Be positive. Be ready for any question, especially the ‘tough ones’.
    • Don’t be embarrassed if there are no questions. Prepare some and then offer “what people often ask me is ______________” and continue with a strong message.
“You must talk to yourself. Clarify the message in your own mind before you communicate it to your audience....A speech has to have at least one of four objectives: to inform, to entertain, to touch the emotions, to move to action. A great presentation covers all four.”
– Peter Urs Bender, “Secrets of Power Presentations”

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Preparing your Speech

What’s your point?

Preparation means feeling confident about your material. You’ve thought through carefully what topic or stories might work best with the audience, and you’ve done the work of finding that material – whether it’s through a phone conversation or spending some time on the internet.

What’s your point? Could you express it in a sentence? If you can, then that’s your message. Keep it handy for writing your headlines (we will explain what this means below).
“...remember one of the oldest and sturdiest cliches in all of communications: Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em -- tell ‘em -- then tell ‘em what you told ‘em...This may seem simple-minded, but it isn’t. It helps refocus your audience, yanks them back if they’re starting to daydream. And it keeps you focused too.”
– Peggy Noonan, former White House Speechwriter and Washington Post Columnist


So you have a presentation – Excellent! Now you can focus on effective delivery.  One of the ways to do this is to create headlines in your story. These are small breaks in the story that cause the audience to take note that you are about to tell them something new, something they need to listen to.

Beginning headlines could be;
  • "I am really happy to be here today and share my story"
  • "I don’t know what you know about vision loss… I thought I would start by sharing my story"
  • "If you saw me on the street, if we were waiting for the same bus, would you say anything to me? Would you say hi?"
  • "Do I look partially sighted?"
  • "I have to tell you I am a little nervous – I have a speech prepared that I hope to get through… because I know this story is important"
Headlines are especially helpful when they come in the middle of your story. Take a look at a newspaper page to see how the editors break up the stories to create interest and keep the audience focused.
  • "And then came the worst two years of my life" (if you were daydreaming and heard someone say this, you'd pay attention again)
  • "And then I learned to never give up"
  • "Now let me tell you the story of a can of soup"
  • "Here are three things that you need to understand"
  • "This is the important part"
Or you can create headlines that follow Peggy Noonan’s ‘tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them’
  • Sample Open – "Today I am going to tell you about my story, how CNIB assisted me to be independent and how you can make a difference for people who live with vision loss."
  • Sample Finish – "I hope I have helped you have an idea about my life and that for anyone that might be in the same position that there is help out there…"
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Handling Questions and Bridging to Your Agenda

Key messages are the two or three things you want to leave the audience thinking about after you've wrapped up. They are short. If you can't say them in an elevator ride, then you need to think about them and shorten them.

Use a key message structure to build and internalize your messages before answering questions. Create messages that answer the tough questions clearly and make a positive point.

Keep it simple. The more lengthy and complicated your responses, the less impact you’ll have.


Remember to bridge to your key messages; be alert for the opportunity to get what you want to say ‘out there’. This is not ignoring questions however (the way politicians often do – and that's one reason why so few people trust them!). Bridging phrases can redirect the conversation towards your message after you've addressed the person's question.  Bridging phrases include:
  • "That's true, but it's also true that…"
  • "What people most often tell me they care about is…"
  • "What I really want to get across today is..."
  • "I'm not an expert on that, but what I can tell you is..."
Don’t fake it; don’t wing it. Far better to say:
  • "I'm not the best person to handle that question. You could speak to…"
  • "That's a new one to me, I'm stumped"
  • "I should think about that a bit before I give you an opinion"
Once you’ve met the question head on, then go to your own agenda:
  • "What I can tell you is this…", or
  • "What I should stress is this…"
When nobody asks a question

And as noted earlier, never let a good Q&A opportunity pass. If there are no questions, start off with:
  • "You know; the question I most often get is this…”
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Presentation Skills Video Series

Take your presentations to the next level with these helpful tips from Peter Feniak of Peter Feniak Communications.

Part 1 - Presentation Theory

Part 2 - Planning Your Presentation & Dealing with Nerves

Part 3 - Practice Matters (Tips for Presenting with Confidence)

Part 4 - Performance Goals

Part 5 - Breaking the Ice

Part 6 - Being Prepared

Part 7 - Mental Performance Tips

Part 8 - Physical Performance Tips

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*Download a WORD copy of this manual:

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