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Principles and Practices
Presenting Information at Public Meetings

Historical Document

This document is provided by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ONLY as an historical reference for the public health community. It is no longer being maintained and the data it contains may no longer be current and/or accurate.

What you do and how you do it will affect your audiences' perceptions of you, your organization, and the information you are providing. Prepare and present effectively.

Before the Meeting

Know Your Audience(s)

  • Anticipate interests, concerns, and questions.
  • Consider them in preparation.
Prepare Your Presentation
  • Develop a strong introduction.
  • Develop a maximum of three key messages.
  • Assemble your supporting data.
  • Prepare audiovisual aids.
  • Practice.

Prepare for Answering Questions

  • Anticipate what questions will arise and prepare answers to them.
  • Practice questioning and responding.

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The Opening Presentation

A strong opening presentation sets a tone for the meeting and is crucial in attempting to establish trust and build credibility. Its elements include the following:

I. Introduction

  • A statement of personal concern
  • A statement of organizational commitment and intent
  • A statement of purpose and a plan for the meeting

II. Key Messages

  • A maximum of three take-home points
  • Information to support the key messages

III. Conclusion

  • A summarizing statement

I. Introduction

Remember that perceived empathy is a vital factor in establishing trust and building credibility, and it is assessed by your audience in the first 30 seconds. Include the following in your introduction:

Statement of personal concern
e.g., "I can see by the number of people here tonight that you are as concerned about this issue as I am."

Statement of organizational intent
e.g., "I am committed to protecting the environment and the public. We of the "x" have been involved with this community for a long time and want to work with the community on this issue."

Statement of purpose and plan for the meeting. (Do not use the same statement at each meeting.)
e.g., "Tonight, we would like to share with you the findings of the report for approximately 15 minutes, then we would like to open the floor for discussion, questions, and concerns. We will be available after the meeting for anyone who wishes additional information or to continue the discussion."

II. Key Messages and Supporting Data

The key messages are points you want your public to have in mind after the meeting. They should address central issues, and be short and concise.
E.g., "We have extensively tested wells in the area and found that the water meets all standards for safe drinking."

To develop your key messages:

  • Brainstorm. Think freely and job down all pieces of information you wish to communicate.
  • Select key messages. Identify the most important ideas. Repeat the process until your list is down to three items.
  • Identify supporting data. Other information you listed probably provides support to your key messages; organize it to reflect this.

III. Conclusion

  • Restate verbatim your key messages.
  • Add a future action statement: What is your organization going to do on this project in the short term? Long term?

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Presentation Aids

Audiovisual aids can make your messages easier to understand. People are more likely to remember a point if they have a visual association with the words. More guidance in preparing quality presentations can be found in the book Effective Business and Technical Presentation (Morrisey and Sechrest 1987).

Some Aids to Understanding

  • Charts
  • Illustrations
  • Diagrams
  • Glossaries
  • Maps
  • Video/motion pictures
  • 35 mm slides
  • Site visits
  • Posters
  • Photographs
  • Examples
  • Handouts

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Planning and Preparation

Factors: Room size, Audience size, Seating arrangement, Visual obstacles, Lighting, Electrical outlets

To do: Set up, focus, test, and arrange equipment beforehand.
Designate someone to help with lights.
Leave equipment intact until audience leaves.

Tool kit: Spare bulbs, 3-pronged adaptor, Extension cord, Duct tape, Staff phone numbers, Blank transparencies, Slide tray, Transparencies, Markers/chalk, Back-up notes

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Design Guidelines

Effective visual aids:

  • Are able to stand alone.
  • Illustrate a key concept.
  • Support only one major idea.
  • Use pictures or graphics rather than words whenever possible.
  • Conform to six words per line maximum, ten lines per visual maximum.
  • Feature short phrases or key words.
  • Highlight important points with color or contrast.
  • Represent facts accurately.
  • Are carefully made - neat, clear, and uncluttered.
  • Have impact.

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Presentation Reminders

When planning, practicing, and conducting a presentation, consider these facets of verbal and nonverbal communication.

  • Volume
    The intensity of your voice reflects your confidence, competence, and openness. Watch your audience for feedback. Adjust to your surroundings.
  • Enunciation/Pronunciation
    Speak distinctly and correctly. Be careful with unfamiliar words. Spell and define terms as appropriate.
  • Pace/Rhythm/Pitch
    Vary your tempo. Speak slowly to emphasize key messages, pause for emphasis, vary your voice pattern and length of phrases. Avoid repeating such words as "ok," "like," "not," and "uh."
  • Facial Expressions/Eye Contact
    Eye contact is most crucial. Your mouth, eyes, forehead, and eyebrows also communicate.
  • Posture
    Posture communicates attitude. Try to have a straight stance with legs slightly apart.
  • Gestures
    Gestures can enhance or detract from your communication. Be aware of yours and make sure they are appropriate.
  • Dress/Grooming
    Dress as your audience would expect you to at your place of work or perhaps slightly less formally.
  • Distractions
    Avoid repetitive gestures such as constant throat-clearing, checking your watch, jingling keys or change, and pacing.

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Using Risk Comparisons
(Covello et al. 1988; Covello 1989)

In explaining risk data, you may wish to compare a risk number to another number.


  • Comparisons can help put risk in perspective.
  • Benefits should not be used to justify risks.
  • Irrelevant or misleading comparisons can harm trust and credibility.

Guidelines for Risk Comparisons

  • First-rank (most acceptable)
    • of the same risk at two different times
    • with a standard
    • with different estimates of the same risk
  • Second-rank (less desirable)
    • of the risk of doing something versus not doing it
    • of alternative solutions to the same problem
    • with the same risk experienced in other places
  • Third-rank (even less desirable)
    • of average risk with peak risk at a particular time or location
    • of the risk from one course of an adverse effect with the risk from all sources of the same effect
  • Fourth-rank (marginally acceptable)
    • with cost; or one cost/risk ratio with another
    • of risk with benefit
    • of occupational risk with environmental risk
    • with other risks from the same source
    • with other specific causes of the same disease, illness, or injury
  • Fifth-rank (rarely acceptable - use with extreme caution!)
    • of unrelated risks (e.g., smoking, driving a car, lightning)

Remember the factors that people use in their perception of risk; the more a comparison disregards these factors, the more ineffective the comparison.

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A Presentation Planner






  • Names:
  • Concerns:


  • Statement of personal concern:
  • Statement of organization commitment:
  • Purpose and plan for the meeting:

Key Messages

  • Content:
  • Supporting data:


  • Summary statement

Questions and Answers

  • Anticipated questions:
  • Responses:

Presentation Materials

  • Audiovisuals:
  • Handouts:

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