Hone Your Presentation Skills for Free: 4 Video Tutorials and an Interview with David Pelton

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

It is important for geologists to be polished and dynamic technical presenters, and Dr. David Pelton is committed to helping everyone achieve that goal by develop a series of four video tutorials for AAPG. Welcome to an interview with David Pelton, who shares tips and lessons learned in helping individuals engage audiences and be extremely effective communicators and presenters. At the end of the interview, you will see links to the four video tutorials.

1.  What is your name and your experience in preparing petroleum geologists for success?
DP:   My name is Dr. David Pelton and my training and experience as a conductor of orchestras and choruses around the world and as an opera/concert singer both in the US and abroad have given me considerable practice in how to communicate with audiences and how to work with ensembles and teams to produce results which, as you well know, are two of the tools petroleum geologists need to use well in order to succeed.  As my performing career wound down, I began looking for ways to use the communication skills and techniques I’d learned in school and perfected on the concert/opera stage and found to my delight that passing these skills and techniques on to others was a natural “next step” for me to take – hence my work these past 15 – 20 years with petroleum geologists to help them become more effective communicators and more polished “performers.”  

2.  Why do geologists need to be good presenters?

DP:  Because how a geologist says what he/she wants to say is often times as important as – if not more important than – what he/she says.  Think about it for a minute – it goes without saying that content is basic to presentations, but for the content being presented to have any real value it needs to be presented in such a way that audiences will want to receive it and do something with it once they have.  So the more skilled the geologist is in designing and delivering content, the more worthwhile and valuable his/her presentation will be to those who listen to it.       

3.  What are a few key tips for success that geologists generally are not aware of?
DP:  Here’s a story:  once upon a time, an eager, young, perky petroleum geologist went online to pick up a practical tip or two on how to deliver an exciting, memorable, and “off the wall,” cool presentation.  ‘Lo and behold, she couldn’t believe her good luck when she came across exactly what she was looking for with only one click of her mouse.  “Wow,” she exclaimed and began jumping around her cubicle with unbridled glee and joy.  What popped up when she clicked her click was a list of “unawares” that, when used, would send her into the Presenters Hall of Fame where she would be hailed as a master of all things presentational - story to be continued……  

There were some dozen key “unaware of” tips for success on her newly unearthed list, but three are worth noting here:  

1)    Geologists generally aren’t aware that their voices show emotion and that, depending on the type of emotion shown, their voices will directly affect how audiences perceive them.  This is called “paralanguage” in non-verbal communication lingo and it is extremely important that geologists refrain from vocally showing irritation, frustration, exasperation, even anger when they speak since audiences will respond to the emotional tone of their voices and not the content.  Keeping voices pleasant to listen to will go a long way to ensuring success.    

 2)    Geologists generally aren’t aware that using the voice, gestures, facial expressions, and repetition to periodically emphasize and underscore what they’re saying will do much to improve the quality of their presentations.  Just doing the same thing over and over and over without variation will cause audiences to become bored with their presentations and lose interest.  Being more “dramatic” will help geologists succeed.  

3)    Geologists generally aren’t aware of what’s going on around them.  They’re often get so focused on what they’re saying that they forget the people in the room.  A good geological presenter always, always, looks directly at the audience when he/she speaks (not down at the floor or up at the ceiling or off into space); rarely, if ever, turns his/her back on the audience; is quick to adjust and adapt when he/she sees or senses that he/she’s losing the audience; and doesn’t read from slides (if slides need to be read, get the audience to do it and then ask it questions about what it read).  Keeping in touch with audiences will greatly help geological presenters succeed.   

4.  How can a presenter capture and hold the audience's interest?
DP:   No matter how technical the presentation, it needs to immediately grab the audience’s attention and the best way to do this is to start the presentation in an unexpected, unanticipated, even unusual way.  Go back to the answer to question #3 – what did you notice?  It began with a story that, if nothing else, caught your attention because it wasn’t the kind of answer you were expecting.  So, tell a topic related story at the beginning of the presentation or at a specific point during the presentation, put something on the screen that makes the audience take notice, or leave the screen blank and start the presentation with a relevant conversation between you and the audience.  But, whatever the presenter does, he/she needs to design the presentation in such a way that it will “hook ‘em, hold ‘em, and not let ‘em go.”   Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter and shorter all the time so it’s equally important that the presenter holds his/her audience’s interest by not doing one thing for too long at a time.  If the presentation lasts, say, a full 20 minutes, make sure to interlace it with questions, tell a story, or do something else to change the pace and focus every 5 to 6 minutes.  By doing this the presenter will keep his/her audience engaged so it won’t feel the need squiggle around, turn on iphones, or play Pokemon Go.      

5.  What was your goal in creating the presentation videos?
DP:  To introduce or reintroduce AAPG members to the “fine art” of presentation-making and to pass on a few of the basic design and delivery skills and techniques members will need to use when producing presentations that are as well-constructed and well-executed as they can be with the information provided on the videos.     

“When This Geologist Speaks … People Listen”

A series of 4 video tutorials to help geologists become more polished and dynamic technical presenters

Tutorial #1        Presence & Demeanor

What to do to make yourself appear credible, comfortable, and confident
 in front of your audience

Discussion Points:
Physical appearance – posture / carriage / mannerisms / habits
Non-verbal communication – eye contact / gestures
Ethos – credibility and competence

Tutorial #2       Delivery

What to do to make what you say worth listening to

Discussion Points:
Vocal variety / energy / tone
Slowing Down
Pathos – enthusiasm / passion

Tutorial #3      Production

What to do to get – and keep – your audience engaged and involved

Discussion Points:
“LOQtion” – listening / observing / questioning
Flow and rhythm
Getting the audience to work

Tutorial #4    Construction & Organization

 What to do to make what you present appealing, compelling, and memorable

Discussion Points:
Structure – exposition / development / recapitulation
Primacy and Recency
Logos – order and design

Dr. David Pelton

Dr. David Pelton has been a professional communicator for over 40 years and has taught courses in communication and communication-related subjects for a number of national and international training/development organizations including PetroSkills, Energy Delta Institute (The Netherlands), The Learning Tree (Malaysia), Integrative Learning & Consulting, Ltd. (Singapore), and the Oxford Management Centre (UK/UAE), He holds degrees from Cornell University, The New England Conservatory of Music, and the University of Cincinnati, and has performed for – and spoken to – audiences in the United States, Central and Western Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, The Ukraine, Africa, The Middle East, and Southeast Asia. He has taught at major colleges and universities and has been an active seminar/workshop trainer/facilitator for businesses in California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and in Angola, Canada, Australia, England, Holland, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Wales, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Benin, and Nigeria.  Today he is a member of numerous training institutes and societies and enjoys a national and international reputation as a communications consultant, lecturer, trainer, and coach.   He may be reached at

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