Preparing a Presentation

From our: Presentation Skills library.

Preparation is the single most important part of making a successful presentation. This is the crucial foundation and you should dedicate as much time to it as possible avoiding short-cuts.

Not only will good preparation ensure that you have thought carefully about the messages that you want (or need) to communicate in you presentation but it will also help boost your confidence. Our pages: Boosting Confidence and Time Management may be useful additional resources as you prepare your talk.

This page covers the following elements of presentation preparation:

  • The objective
  • The subject
  • The audience
  • The place
  • Time of day
  • Length of talk

The Objective

You have been asked to speak to a group of people.  First, ask yourself 'why?' What is the purpose of the presentation, what is the objective, what outcome(s) do you and the audience expect? 

It is useful to write down the reason you have been asked to present so you can use this as a constant reminder while you prepare the presentation.  There are many reasons for giving a presentation or talk, but never lose sight of your objective as determined when you were asked and accepted the invitation.


The Subject

The subject of what you are going to talk about comes from the objective but they are not necessarily one and the same thing. 

For example:

  • The subject may be given to you by an inviting organisation.
  • You may be knowledgeable in particular field.
  • The subject may be entirely your choice within certain limitations.

The Audience

Before preparing material for a presentation, it is worth considering your prospective audience. 

Tailoring your talk to the audience is important and the following points should be considered:

  • The size of the group or audience expected.
  • The age range - a talk aimed at retired people will be quite different from one aimed at teenagers.
  • Gender - will the audience be predominantly male or female?
  • Is it a captive audience or will they be there out interest?
  • Will you be speaking in their work or leisure time?
  • Do they know something about your subject already or will it be totally new to them?  Is the subject part of their work?
  • Are you there to inform, teach, stimulate, or provoke?
  • Can you use humour and if so what would be considered appropriate?

The Place

It is important to have as much advance information as possible about the place where you are going to speak.

Ideally, try to arrange to see the venue before the speaking event, as it can be of great benefit to be familiar with the surroundings.  It does much to quell fear if you can visualise the place while you are preparing your talk.  Additionally, it would also give you the opportunity to try out your voice.  If at all possible, you need to know:

  • The size of the room.
  • The seating arrangements and if they can be altered.
  • The availability of equipment, e.g., microphone, overhead projector, flip chart, computer equipment.
  • The availability of power points and if an extension lead is required for any equipment you intend to use.
  • If the room has curtains or blinds. This is relevant if you intend to use visual aids, and so that you can ensure the correct ambiance for your presentation.
  • The position of the light switches.  Check if you need someone to help if you are using audio/visual equipment and need to turn off the lights.
  • The likelihood of outside distractions, e.g., noise from another room.
  • The availability of parking facilities so you do not have a long walk carrying any equipment you might need to take.

The Time

Often there will be no flexibility in the time of day that a presentation is made.

If you do have a choice of when to give your presentaion - consider the following points:


Morning:

The morning is the best time to speak because people are generally at their most alert.  However, late morning may start to present problems as people begin to feel hungry and think about lunch.

Afternoon:

Early afternoon is not an ideal time to make a presentations since after lunch people often feel sleepy and lethargic.  Mid afternoon is a good time, whereas at the end of the afternoon people may start to worry about getting home, the traffic or collecting children from school.

Evening or Weekend:

Outside regular office hours, people are more likely to be present because they want to be rather than have to be there.  There is a higher likelihood of audience attention in the evening, providing of course that the presentation does not go on for too long when people may have to leave before the presentation has finished.


Length of Talk

Always find out how long you have to talk and check if this includes or excludes time for questions. 

Find out if there are other speakers and, if so, where you are placed in the running order.  Never elect to go last.  Beware of over-running, as this could be disastrous if there are other speakers following you.

It is important to remember that people find it difficult to maintain concentration for long periods of time, and this is a good reason for making a presentation succinct, well-structured and interesting. Aim for 45 minutes as a maximum single-session presentation.

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